As the city's rents become increasingly unaffordable for many of the city's workers, 400 Mountain View voters reached by phone by Godbe Research were asked if they would support a property tax that would help the city pay for affordable housing development. With support from 67 percent of voters needed to pass, the survey found that only 53 percent expressed support for a $59 parcel tax. That number rose to 59 percent support when likely voters were given more information.
Support peaked at 66.2 percent when the tax was decreased to $29, which would raise only $551,000 a year from the city's 19,000 or so parcels.
The city paid $15,000 for the survey.
Council members did not express support for moving ahead with a parcel tax in a study session Tuesday. Instead members wrestled with other fee options and a philosophical question: who should pay for the city's affordable housing?
Only three members supported a new fee on rental housing — Mike Kasperzak, Ronit Bryant and Laura Macias — while Margaret Abe-Koga and Jac Siegel held out for more information and options. Libertarian council members Tom Means and John Inks participated little in the discussion as neither support subsidizing affordable housing.
Abe-Koga and Siegel found themselves in the hot seat, as Mayor Kasperzak probed them to find out what could make them pass a fee on rental housing. With 1,250 apartment units in the pipeline, the proposed fee equal to 3 percent of a project's value could raise $12 million if the council acts soon.
Abe-Koga was hesitant to bring back a fee on rental housing because "the root" of the problem was the increasing number of jobs in the city, she said. She has expressed concern before that fees on housing development are passed onto renters, while others say it is passed onto selling landowners who have seen big increases in their property values in recent years.
"We really have to look at this more carefully," said Abe-Koga. "I don't think folks know that given all the commercial development we are expecting we will generate $9 million from a housing impact fee. I just feel more comfortable with that. I see the direct tie."
Kasperzak and others want to replace major sources of affordable housing revenue that have recently been lost. The city's previous 10 percent fee on rental housing development was eliminated by a court decision in "Palmer v. the City of Los Angeles." Another source was the downtown revitalization district, which the state eliminated last month, killing a relatively stable source of about $1.2 million a year in affordable housing funds.
Despite the lost revenue, city staff members say that affordable housing revenues will rise in the next few years, thanks to a surge in office development proposals for the Whisman area. The city has received $37 million in affordable housing revenues since 2001, averaging $3 million a year. But with commercial housing impact fees making up almost half of affordable housing revenues — after almost five years of contributing almost nothing — revenues are estimated at over $5 million in 2012, nearly $8 million in 2013 and just over $7 million in 2014.
Even with the growing revenue it is unclear whether the city can meet the demand for affordable housing as rents are reportedly rising around town as new tech job growth brings in new residents. Downtown resident Bruce Karney told the council about a senior who had his rent raised by $200 and told Karney he would probably have to leave the city. Resident Jarrett Mullen said he had spoken with employees at REI who said they could never afford to live in Mountain View and instead commute from Gilroy.
"We need to provide some options for people who aren't just working in high-tech," Mullen said.
The city has been unable to spend much of its affordable housing funds until recently, when it put out a "Notice of Funding Availability" to solicit projects. Council members seemed to have mixed opinions about the city's ability to spend the funds. Abe-Koga said the funds needed to be "spread out" to more people.
Since 2006, the city has approved 275 affordable units, including 120 efficiency studios at San Antonio Place, 104 senior homes at Paulsen Park and 51 affordable family homes at Evelyn and Franklin streets, which alone cost $12 million.
Thanks to NOFA, in November the council was able to spend another $10 million to support three affordable housing projects totaling 85 units, including 52 efficiency studios and 25 homes for disabled people.
At least another $8 million is still available.