After hearing of more than a few instances where tenants have been evicted from entire apartment complexes to allow landlords to renovate and raise rents, the council voted to significantly beef up the city's tenant relocation ordinance that was first adopted in 2010. It remains the only such ordinance in Silicon Valley. The City Council voted 5-1 to adopt the changes, which member John Inks opposed. Mayor Chris Clark was absent.
A key change is a raise to the income limit for those who would qualify for help, which was previously set at 50 percent of the area median income, equal to $101,900 for family of four. Few households qualified at that level, so a raise to 80 percent of AMI was approved Tuesday, which doubles the number of qualified tenants in one particular downtown complex where evictions are taking place, said city planner Linda Lauzze. Council member Jac Siegel moved to increase the income limit to 100 percent AMI, but no council member seconded his motion.
The local chapter of the League of Women Voters supported raising the income limit to 100 percent of the AMI, because "there is still a gap between what these tenants can afford and market median rent, particularly with larger units," the group said in a letter to the council.
"Unfortunately at this point, 80 percent AMI is also low income," said council member Ronit Bryant.
According to a city staff report, a household earning the AMI for two people, $81,500, could afford rent of $2,037. But median rent for a two-bedroom, one-bathroom apartment in Mountain View is $2,310.
The council also voted to increase compensation for displaced tenants. Previously tenants would receive their full deposit plus two months of their current rent. Now, displaced tenants will receive the deposit plus three months of median market rent, which would equal $1,690 a month ($5,070 total) for a studio apartment and $3,390 a month ($10,170 total) for a three bedroom apartment. "Special needs" households with a senior citizen or disabled member will now receive an additional $3,000, up from $2,154.
"We are a small city with a big heart and we are causing this displacement somewhat ourselves," said council member Siegel, apparently referring to the city's land use policies favoring office development, adding to pressure on the housing market.
There was little sympathy for the growing number of displaced tenants from Don Bahl, a property manager and developer who helped elect John Inks to council.
"People are saying, 'It's not my fault,' but they are really suffering the consequences of their freely chosen actions they took earlier in life," Bahl told the council.
Inks said it would put a financial burden on landlords wanting to renovate or upgrade their properties, though Lauzze said, "I'm not sure the ordinance would be a disincentive to doing remodeling or upgrading."
The ordinance applies any time a landlord evicts four or more tenants within a year. Environmental Planning Commission members can be credited for catching a possible loophole in a previous iteration of the ordinance, which would have allowed landlords to get around the requirement by evicting only three households at a time.