But the funds used — known as "below market rate" or BMR funds, which come from fees developers pay in lieu of putting affordable units in their new projects — come with a catch. The city only offers the money if tenants can find new housing in Mountain View, which is not so easy.
The Community Services Agency told the Voice this week that only one of the 64 families being forced out at Summerhill Apartments at 291 Evandale Ave., where 144 high-priced condominiums are planned, so far has been able to find an affordable rental unit within city limits, as the policy requires.
Instead of $895 for a two-bedroom unit, the family now will pay $1,400 a month. The mother who found the housing said her family will have to give up luxuries, like going to the movies, to pay the higher rent.
The controversial relocation ordinance has other problems. For example, the owner at Summerhill is requiring that outgoing tenants give at least 30 days notice in order to receive the one or two months' free rent. But tenants say rare low-rent units must be taken immediately or they will disappear, so they often miss out on this benefit.
Planning commission members recently weighed in on the issue, giving a thumbs-down to the council's decision to use BMR funds for relocation. Commission solutions involved more help directly from the developers: One would require an additional free month of rent from developers, and another would have developers add another $2,000 for tenants with special needs, such as children or disabled persons. (The latter recommendation, at least, was a step in the right direction.)
It is a sign of Mountain View's tight rental housing market that even with more than 15,000 units available, few can be found for very low income tenants. Given the current trend, which likely will get worse as the impact of the sub-prime lending crisis pushes rents upward, more and more low income tenants will be forced out.
The city cannot require developers who are upgrading aging rental housing stock to find homes for every displaced tenant, at similar rent. But city officials should review the current relocation policy and shift the entire financial responsibility back to developers, who after all have the most to gain when tenants are evicted. The BMR funds are designed to create new affordable housing stock, not aid developers in their eviction of low income tenants.
In addition, two requirements — the owner's requirement at Summerhill that tenants give 30 days notice to receive their last month free, and the city's requirement that tenants find replacement housing in Mountain View to qualify for the financial aid — are not tenable and should be waived.