By Daniel DeBolt
As rents in their once-affordable neighborhood skyrocket, longtime apartment dwellers on Mountain View's California Street say they have no good options.
"They are my family, they are not just my neighbors," said California Street resident Elena Pacheco, as she sat in her living room surrounded by members of four other households in her building. "We are very concerned about this situation," said Pacheca, a teacher and community organizer.
The 1960s-era complex is like many on California Street, occupied by a mix of the working poor and young tech employees, with two stories surrounding a pool. Some of the buildings were renovated and have higher rents, while others remain on the edge of affordability as an influx of tech employees sends rents soaring.
"Pretty soon I won't be able to stay here," said resident Wanda, who works as a records technician in a law office. "Rents are rising every year by $100 at least."
Wanda and her neighbors pay $1,400 for a one-bedroom apartment in their building near Escuela Avenue, which is below average. The average cost of a one bedroom apartment in Mountain View rose from $1,426 in 2009 to $1,828 in 2012, according to data service Real Facts.
Candelaria shares a one-bedroom apartment with her husband and two teenage daughters. They struggle to get by even though she and her husband both work — she as a janitor at night, and her husband as a tree-trimmer during the day.
"We don't have money to buy new clothes," said Candelaria's teenaged daughter. "Not to be rude, but white people have everything they want and our parents struggle." She noted that her mom has to work a graveyard shift while her father risks electrocution and works in the hot sun trimming trees.
"It's rare that I eat lunch at school," she added. "Supposedly my parents make enough money for us to not qualify for the free lunch. Just because my parents make a certain amount of money doesn't mean we have enough to survive." She said she hopes to get a job as soon as she turns 16 in December so she can help pay for the rent increase the family expects in January.
The women say landlords in the neighborhood are kicking out renters in order to renovate the buildings and raise rents.
"There's the stress of: 'When are you going to get that notice and it's time to move out,'" said Norma, a stay at home mother of three who lives in the building with her husband. "Everyone has been getting it. My mother-in-law has left, my husband's aunt — they all lived around here and they all had to leave. Landlords tell you you can come back, but the rent is almost double. It's like, 'No way.'"
The rising rents mean that the residents are constantly pondering their options.
The women said it has become common to rent out living room space, which has created a dangerous situation for the households' children. Pacheco said she knew of a case where a girl was raped.
"Too many people live there and things happen," Pacheco said. "It's a huge issue, you cannot have a 5-year-old sleeping on the sofa, when you have three guys sleeping on the floor."
If the residents are lucky, they might be able to move into one of about 1,000 subsidized homes in the city. But the demand is so great that people wait for years to get one. "I've been on the wait list for three years," Norma said.
"I've been on it for seven!" added Pacheco.
There is of course, the option of leaving Mountain View for a cheaper city, but the residents are well-versed on all of the drawbacks of moving away. Cheaper rent elsewhere means paying the cost of leaving behind friends, family or a sense of community; paying more to commute a longer distance to work, and there's the sometimes deadly cost of living in a neighborhood where there's more violence. All of it makes it seem worth it to pay higher rent to live in Mountain View.
"I used to live in East Palo Alto — I am terrified to go back there," Moreno said. "It kind of feels like we're stuck, we're barely making it. We're able to pay rent and buy food with WIC (a government food program), but that's it."
Everyone in the room expressed interest in having the city approve a rent control ordinance to contain dramatic increases in rent, like they have in East Palo Alto, Los Gatos, San Francisco, Oakland, and to a limited degree, in San Jose.
"We work in here, we are part of Mountain View, we came before Google," Pacheco said.
When asked about rent control she said, "We need to have something. These mamas who work so hard, a $100 (rent increase) is a lot of money if you clean houses."