Even professionals struggle with housing costs

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

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.


Like this comment
Posted by Honor Spitz
a resident of another community
on Sep 17, 2013 at 2:14 pm

How sad and scary to read about the escalating cost of housing in the area, most particularly the skyrocketing rents. Situations like this are not good for a community; the only one benefiting (for the moment, at least) are the greedy landlords.

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Posted by Some benefits
a resident of another community
on Sep 17, 2013 at 2:37 pm

Well, it's not exactly true the only people benefiting are greedy landlords. My family has benefited because the schools are getting better. When we first bought our townhome the school wasn't very good, but it's gotten a lot better and now by the time my kids will start next year the school is pretty good. Which is lucky for us since we couldn't afford to move to a better school district now.

You are free to argue that the positives of better schools for those of us who can stay (even if we're not rich) don't outweigh the negatives of some original residents being displaced (and I may not disagree with you entirely) but for my personal situation we actually have benefited and I'm not a landlord. I'm sure I'm not the only one enjoying this benefit. Changes like this are always a double-edged sword - good for some, bad for others.

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Posted by Mcbutters
a resident of Stierlin Estates
on Sep 17, 2013 at 3:02 pm

LOL @ the people who are paying $2,885 for a studio apartment. Oooh look at that view of Walmart. Isn't it spectacular!!! LOL.

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Posted by Martin Omander
a resident of Rex Manor
on Sep 17, 2013 at 3:10 pm

Blaming "greedy" landlords doesn't help. To those who do: when was the last time you turned down a raise? If you didn't, why should landlords?

Having said that, the rental situation is terrible. What we need is freer zoning, more housing and more walkable developments. Increasing supply is the only way to sustainably lower prices.

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Posted by hmax
a resident of another community
on Sep 17, 2013 at 3:24 pm

Oh yeah, Thank You Google...the Evil Empire casts its dark shadow which is choking Mountain View...devoid of any personality with its workforce of thousands of automotons ever increasing and pushing decent people out of the area...apparently History hasn't been taught in schools for decades otherwise they could see how it's going to end up...brings to mind Aldous Huxley's "Brave New World" published circa 1932...Silicon Valley of the Dead

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Posted by garibaldik
a resident of Gemello
on Sep 17, 2013 at 3:27 pm

it is easy to call this demand and supply, market demand, free makret, etc...but when this bubble does burst, lot of these complex owners will have tons of vacancies and they will simply become ruins and they will become eye sour. there is so much of speculation..not all these companies are going to succeed. it is deja vu, Bubble 2.0. BTW, 70K is not much of money these days especially with 3 grown up kids. I feel sorry for the lady and as a family she can't live with strangers unlike Many single people who live with room mates in many of these one bedroom and two bedroom apartments and that is the only way many people can afford to live in MtnView and close to their work place.

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Posted by Member
a resident of Shoreline West
on Sep 17, 2013 at 3:34 pm

@Some benefits: It's a sad reality that "enjoying the benefit of better schools" is a phrase that is even muttered in our society. Every child in every community should be able to attend a 'good school', and it is a very sad state that we are 'enjoying the benefit’ while the other qualities of our lives are paying the price.

I moved here in 1999 and rented a 2x2 duplex on Sylvan and the rent was $1,600 a month (and had to have a roommate to afford it). I thought rent was outrageous then (and THAT was at the height of the boom at that time, where you would show up to view a unit and there would be 50 people standing in the yard!). But as a single parent with a job offer, how could I turn it down? That same duplex is now renting for $2,800 a month.

I am sure that most single parents will agree that providing our children with stability is more challenging than that of two parent households, and it is our greatest priority. So we hold on, cut back where we have to, work more than one job and pray that we can keep paying the greedy rents until we can move on.

My kid graduates in 2015 and I cannot WAIT to get the heck out of this town!! Unfortunately that means I'll have to find another job, in another city (perhaps another state) BEFORE I can move. I'm sure I am not the only person who is too busy paying for food, rent and the necessities of life in lieu of building up a six month cushion that would allow me a financially free transition.

I'll be 52 when she graduates. I will lose any seniority in my current position by vacating it and I’ll be competing against twenty-something’s in the hiring process. Gee, won’t that be freak’n fun?!?

And to Martin Omander – could you possibly BE one of those greedy landlords on the defensive? The average pay raise for 2013 is projected to average just 2.9 percent, according to Forbes’ citation of the U.S. Compensation and Planning Survey. Landlords can raise their rents whenever they want (unless locked in to a long term lease). They have the freedom to write a month to month lease, which allows them to increase their rent by whatever amount they want, as often as they want, as long as proper & legal notice is served on a tenant. I guarantee you, in this market; Landlords are raising their rent more than 2.9 percent a year.

Like this comment
Posted by Swatch watch
a resident of Monta Loma
on Sep 17, 2013 at 3:42 pm

My rent has increased 30% in 3 years, living in a tiny townhouse complex. It sucks and so does the landlord.

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Posted by Private schools
a resident of Monta Loma
on Sep 17, 2013 at 4:24 pm

"Every child in every community should be able to attend a 'good school'"

They can if they go to private schools.

What is free is no longer of value to most. ie public schools

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Posted by Risks
a resident of Cuernavaca
on Sep 17, 2013 at 4:34 pm

Landlords also go through vacancy periods where they bring in $0. Sort of like being fired on short notice with no option of jumping to another job (unless you want to sell a below-water property). And if the landlord still carries a mortgage, that monthly bill doesn't go away. Similar for insurance, etc.

Even if a unit is vacant for 2 months, that's 17% of the year, and would be a 17% decrease in year-to-year income.

Easy to blame landlords, but they're carrying the risk.

Is this going to be a news story for the Voice once a month?

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Posted by Member
a resident of Shoreline West
on Sep 17, 2013 at 4:57 pm

@ Private schools - Forgive my assumption, but are you saying only private school are good? If so, it only strengthens my statement that "Every child in every community should be able to attend a 'good school'". 'Good' does not mean 'excellent', 'outstanding' or 'above average'. But this is another conversation for another day.

Today's topic is struggling to pay rent in a greedy landlord market.

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Posted by myob
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Sep 17, 2013 at 5:18 pm

Say you own a house or apartment you'd like to rent out. You have a line of people out the door, and you know that you can get, say $3,000 for it per month. A single mom with three kids stops by and says all she can afford to pay is $2,500 per month. You have a choice now: you can rent to her and be a nice person and miss out on $6,000/year, or you take the higher rent a bunch of other people are willing to pay. I think when it comes to personal finance, most people, no matter how good and noble and non-greedy they consider themselves, will take the money. Oh, and if you take the lower offer from the mom, you're also likely in breach of fair housing laws and could be sued, especially if one of the people who you turned away at a higher price is in a protected group (basically, not a white man).

Don't go blaming those soulless Google people either. I've lived in Mountain View for fifteen years now. Before Google, LinkedIn, Intuit and others brought a lot of jobs here, downtown was basically dead. Today, it's much more vibrant, under active development, and as the businesses here do better, so do their owners and their employees.

Wealth coming into an area is always a good thing, what's needed is more housing to increase supply and drop prices, but existing home owners fight that tooth and nail, since it's a good idea to have cheaper high density housing, just nowhere near them. Homeowners need to get out of the way, the city council needs to get out of the way, and allow the city to grow.

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Posted by Mel
a resident of Bailey Park
on Sep 17, 2013 at 5:53 pm

@myob - As a property management professonal, I can confidently say that a home owner cannot be sued for accepting an offer that is lower than they originally marketed the home, nor can they be sued for accepting a higher offer (it's called negotiating and it's done all the time).

A landlord can be sued for discrimination (race, religious affiliation, sexual orientation, etc...). The amount the rent is does not fall under any of those catagories. A landlord can charge a buck a month if they so choose.

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Posted by AC
a resident of Shoreline West
on Sep 17, 2013 at 10:53 pm

I am one of the soulless Googlers (well I am not in Google but in a small-ish company, but I benefit from the boom). I will probably move out of MV soon... when I rented here I got ~1700 400-500ft (large) studio with W/D and other perks. However my friend who tried to move lately (less than a year later) was quoted like 2400 or something for one bedroom.
Why pay 2400 to live in a so-so place with asbestos warnings, if I can pay 2800 in SOMA. $400 is not nothing but for 15~% you can get a miles better apartment AND environment for just about everything except raising kids (which I don't have) and communing (reading on Caltrain all the way :))

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Posted by @myob
a resident of Monta Loma
on Sep 18, 2013 at 3:14 pm

Yes, you want more and more people, with more and more cars and traffic. Really smart idea, NOT!!

If this tech bubble that we are once again in bursts, the developers will be holding bag, while no one will rent. Remember, all bubbles eventually burst.

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Posted by Adam Smith
a resident of another community
on Sep 19, 2013 at 8:01 am

Rents around here are out of control! My roomates and I searched for an entire month but could find nothing affordable. We tried Hillsborough, Woodside, Atherton, even Los Altos Hills. We were FORCED to rent an apartment near San Jose State.

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Posted by Amelia
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Sep 19, 2013 at 9:07 am

Three children and no support from the father? That's an outrage! Is it even legal for a parent not to provide financial support for their kids?

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Posted by Garrett
a resident of another community
on Sep 20, 2013 at 7:33 pm

Google for its greatness as a company that is growing, investing in new ideas and products which means jobs. When is creating jobs a bad thing, when do creating wealth by selling a product or space on a product a bad thing. Look at how some of the banks and the housing bubble that was created? You know what I won't even go there.

Google is not the only player in Mountain View and the Silicon Valley. Every week I search and pick up a paper and read something about Mountain View. Maybe we should stop people from buying anything from Mountain View because fear of someone who works in Mountain View. Might have to get a place to live here.

What about all those other person that don't work for Google or some other tech business? They have to take their chance like everyone else in the tough housing market and wait till they all want to buy homes. The home prices here will soar to dazzling heights.

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Posted by PamelaH
a resident of another community
on Sep 25, 2013 at 8:05 pm

Web Link

We moved out of my hometown, Mountain View last year to gorgeous Brentwood about an hour away, still able to commute. We bought a gorgeous new house for $399,000 4 bedrooms, 3 baths, 2 story in a GATED community. My son walks to a fabulous school and the culture is more conducive to raising kids. VERY friendly people, they don't flip you off, they are kind, courteous - just not like my old Mtn View. My son is getting a better education up here too. I would get out of that sad town - all of Silicon Valley SUCKS. I miss family, but we are so glad to have moved here! Brentwood is more laid back, friendly people, 10 minutes from the Delta for boating and fishing .....awesome! We paid $2600/mo for an apartment in Mt View last year, INSANE!!! We were tossing our money away. Get smart and get out of dodge.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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