Mountain View Voice

News - September 13, 2013

Even professionals struggle with housing costs

Despite a good job, single parent can't cope with escalating rents

by Daniel DeBolt

In a city where rents seem to be climbing higher each week, a single mother of three says she is struggling to find a decent place to live — even with her $70,000-a-year salary.

Juliet said she has lived in Mountain View since 2007, but when her landlord recently died and left the home to heirs with other plans, she found herself in the throes of the worst rental market in city history.

"When I first moved here (in 2007) I lived in a three-bedroom, three-bathroom town home for $2,500 a month," said Juliet, who asked that her last name not be used to protect her children's privacy. "Now you spend that easily for a two-bedroom, one-bath apartment — a place with no air conditioning, no extra amenities — and it's a hole in the wall."

Apartment managers say they are seeing lots of demand for their apartments from tech employees that are filling numerous job openings at Google and other companies. Juliet says she had been first in line to see one promising apartment, but was beaten by someone who agreed to rent it without even looking at it first.

According to data service Real Facts, average rents for a two-bedroom, two-bath apartment in Mountain View went up from $1,897 in 2009 to $2,520 in 2012, and it appears the conditions are right for rents to continue rising.

"Anywhere else in the world I think I would be able to live well," Juliet said.

She works locally in the medical field. One of her kids recently left home for the military, while the other two are still in grade school. She says the cost of childcare, her car payment and all the little expenses of raising kids add up. She says she receives no financial support from anyone else and doesn't qualify for government services.

"I actually had to tell my kid, 'I'm sorry, I can't pay for braces right now,'" Juliet said, adding that she was "sad and emotional" about it.

Last month Juliet said she watched rents in a 1960s-era complex near Fayette Avenue and San Antonio Road go up by $400 a month for a two-bedroom unit. The complex advertised $2,150 a month for a two-bedroom apartment in June, but two weeks later the price went up to $2,500. The manager "pointed out that I should compare the cost of the nearby apartments constructed at the new San Antonio Shopping Center — I was getting a bargain by living at his building!" Juliet said.

Indeed, rents are much higher at the Village at San Antonio, where luxury two-bedroom apartments cost $4,840 a month, and studio apartments run $2,885, far outside Juliet's price range.

Juliet said she saw a similar increase over the span of a few months at a complex at the corner of Villa and Calderon streets, going from $1,900 a month to $2,300 for a two-bedroom apartment in a very plain, older building. Across the street from that complex, at another older, larger complex called Avalon Mountain View, rents for a two-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment range from $2,765 a month for a year lease to $4,465 to stay for two months.

Juliet blames the situation on "greedy" landlords who are taking advantage of a shortage in housing, caused by explosive job growth, especially at Google.

"The competition is so high because I guess all these tech jobs have opened and people are moving in from out of state and out of country," Juliet said. "There's just not enough rentals."

A group which represents local landlords, the California Apartment Association, said the housing market is like any other in which increased demand leads to increases in price.

"Mountain View is near major transportation corridors and major employers, which is driving more and more people to live in Mountain View," said CAA's Joshua Howard. "There's not enough housing in Mountain View to meet the demand for those who want to live there."

Howard said that the 1,500 apartments in Mountain View's planning pipeline would "put a dent in this supply dearth we have in the city."

"There have been some forecasts that suggest that if you increase rental housing across Silicon Valley — there are 15,000 to 20,000 units in different stages of development — that will serve as a pressure release valve in the velocity (that) rents have been increasing," Howard said.

Howard added several other factors have increased the demand, including a lack of homes for those looking to buy instead of rent and strict new requirements for obtaining mortgages.

"That's driving more people to either be renters or stay renters," Howard said.

At the state and federal level, Howard pointed to cutbacks to Section 8 housing subsidies and the elimination of redevelopment agencies, which funded housing programs, as other factors that have made a bad problem worse.

Rents will likely decrease again if Silicon Valley's previous booms and busts are any indication, Howard said.

For Juliet, the volatile nature of the market has taken a toll.

"People who work their tails off in the area are losing out," she said. "Family and friends have moved out of state because they can't afford to live here any longer."

And Juliet is now one of them. She recently contacted the Voice to say that, despite her best efforts, she's just had to move out of Mountain View. "I really tried hard to stay here," she said.

Email Daniel DeBolt at ddebolt@mv-voice.com

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