Struggling tenants find unlikely savior: luxury housing

Developer pitches saving old apartments as affordable housing

Politics does indeed make strange bedfellows, and Tuesday night's City Council meeting was a classic example.

A packed house of predominately Latino families came before the City Council on June 4 to express their fears of being priced out of Mountain View. They echoed the common refrain of the housing crisis -- ever-rising rents are threatening to drive out the city's service workers, its poor and its diversity.

But the group's call to action could have elicited a double-take for anyone listening. The families were advocating in favor of 226 new luxury apartments being planned by Prometheus Real Estate, a firm often criticized for spurring gentrification in Mountain View.

"I'm delighted to hear these officials from Prometheus are flexible," community activist Job Lopez said to the City Council. "Hopefully the developer and owner will work with you to achieve not only what they want but also what our brothers and sisters need."

However ironic, it was an alliance that made sense for all stakeholders. The tenants and families who attended the meeting almost all live at a nearby 48-unit apartment complex at 660 Mariposa Ave. Those apartments are more than 50 years old and priced significantly under market rate, about $1,800 a month for a two-bedroom unit.

But the age of the Mariposa apartments was showing, and its days seemed to be numbered. Prometheus had acquired the property a few years ago for more than $24 million, and it seemed all but certain to be destined for redevelopment.

That led to the curious scene at the June 4 meeting, in which Prometheus representatives pitched an 11th-hour deal -- What if they preserved the old Mariposa apartments in exchange for the affordable housing they were obligated to build as part of a separate project?

In his presentation, Prometheus Vice President Jon Moss gave a walk-through of his firm's plans to build 226 new apartments at 1696 Villa St. This large development has been winding its way through the city's review process for years, and city planners had estimated that Prometheus would need to either provide 33 subsidized units or pay $10.8 million in fees to meet its affordable housing requirements.

In a letter sent to the city over the weekend, Moss proposed using money for the Villa Street project's affordable housing to save the Mariposa apartments. He acknowledged it was a last-minute idea, and a lot of factors still need to be investigated. But Moss explained he was impartial so long as the council approved his project.

"We have this property down the street that has similar units, and it seemed like a potential win for the city, community and the residents that live there," he said. "If this creates too much angst and complexity, we're more than happy to just pull this proposal, and we'll just do the (affordable housing) on site."

But while the Prometheus team acted nonchalant, dozens of residents from the Mariposa apartments were in a state of desperation, describing it as a matter just short of life or death. Standing with her parents, seventh grader Erica Lopez told the council her dream of someday going to college was at stake if they lost their apartment.

"If my family had to move, it would ruin my personal life," she said. "I've lived here all my life and I've always hoped in my future in trying to get into St. Francis High School, going to Foothill and going to university."

Speaking to the Voice, Moss said there are no definitive plans for the Mariposa property. The site could be redeveloped or sold off, but that decision has not been made yet, he said.

Prometheus briefly listed the Mariposa apartments for sale earlier this year. The listing was later removed before any sale transpired, but it served as a reminder to residents of how precarious their situation is.

But the proposal to save the Mariposa apartments left many unanswered questions. If the idea went forward, the nonprofit Bridge Housing would buy the apartments from Prometheus with the city's help. But before that could happen, Bridge Housing officials said they needed to inspect the property to determine all the aging building's repair and maintenance issues, which could run as high as $200,000 per unit. Prometheus officials acknowledged that three other housing nonprofits had been in talks to take over the Mariposa property, but they withdrew after finding it wouldn't work financially.

Speaking to that issue, Brad Wiblin of Bridge Housing indicated his group still needs to figure out the right formula for rents if they took over the Mariposa apartments. Their goal is to keep all current tenants in their homes, but also to eventually bring rents to what's considered affordable for households earning around 80% of the area median income, he said.

City staff indicated they also need to do some homework to compare the value of saving 48 run-down apartments at Mariposa against building 33 brand new inclusionary apartments at the Villa Street property.

"We'd need to look at a pro forma," said Community Development Director Aarti Shrivastava. "We need to get to a point where (the affordable housing options) are determined to be equitable."

City staff proposed approving the Villa Street project with the caveat that the affordable housing component is still up in the air. Once all parties finish their due diligence, the city could decide whether it's worth saving the Mariposa apartments. If the answer is no, then Prometheus would be required to build affordable housing as part of the Villa Street project.

Overall, the City Council was receptive to the idea, describing it as an innovative workaround to one of the city's most intractable problems. Elected leaders have faced a series of harrowing decisions in recent months involving redevelopment projects that require displacing large numbers of low-income families in order to build market-rate housing. If they could dodge a dilemma down the road, council members said they were willing to give the deal a try.

"If we can avoid displacement, then it's worth looking at," said Councilwoman Margaret Abe-Koga. "I understand the timing issues, but I do appreciate the possibility of a win-win situation."

It was an idea that generated unanimous approval, even though there was plenty of nervousness about the uncertainty of the proposal. Plus, it would be a solution that only maintains the status quo.

"We're not creating any new affordable housing units, but we're just preserving what we already have," said Councilwoman Alison Hicks. "Just thought I'd point that out."

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133 people like this
Posted by Hmmm. . .
a resident of Bailey Park
on Jun 8, 2019 at 8:41 am

Why does this article characterize Job Lopez as a "community activist" when he is best known (outside of his own circle) as the indentified vandal-by-night of campaign signs for a candidate he didn't like Web Link which was widely condemned, including by past supporters such as Lenny Siegel. That notorious behavior (in between writing indignant letters to the Voice Web Link ) showed his principles more fully. The same willingness to bypass law and civility in the service of a cause he favored (a.k.a. "I know best") is a behavior familiar to students of modern history and the rise of 20th-century dictatorships eager to have their own ruthless way with anyone they didn't like, once they gained political power -- the same underlying attitude writ large.

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Posted by @Bailey Park
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Jun 8, 2019 at 2:18 pm

[Post removed due to disrespectful comment or offensive language]

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Posted by The Business Man
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Jun 8, 2019 at 5:30 pm

The Business Man is a registered user.

Just understand.

This Prometheus group was the same group that funded the fight against CSFRA.

Promethuesu is getting SUBSIDIZED by the public to provide the affordable housing.

Public money being used to increase private profit.

This is insane, the City council is saying it will pay money to them forever from the City taxpayers.

$10.8 million dollars in replacement is nothing because of the units are charged $3000 a month time 226 per year will collect $8.13 Million a year. Thus if that is expected to be able to achieve 20% profit then the cost of the operation can be claimed to be $6.5 Million a year. Leaving a yearly profit of $1.6 Million. Thus it might take 6.5 years longer to break even on that payment. But that will be a loan for as long as 20 years will cost $860,000 a year. Even with this, they will receive a 10% profit for 20 years. The Mortgage will be paid in 30 years, thus it will be safe to say the operational expense will drop by 50% during that time which will result in a profit of $4,380,000. After the mortgage is paid.

Simply put, that is nothing regarding the lifetime earning which will last at minimum 50 years which will come to ($.74 M*20) + ($1.6 M *10) + ($4.38 M * 20)= $ 118.4 M.

That comes to an average profit of $2.36 Million

What a joke?

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Posted by The Business Man
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Jun 10, 2019 at 5:03 pm

The Business Man is a registered user.

Prometheus is acting like an extortionist, extortion because it is defined as:

Extortion (also called shakedown, outwrestling and exaction) is a criminal offense of obtaining money, property, or services from an individual or institution, through coercion. Extortion is commonly practiced by organized crime groups. The actual obtainment of money or property is not required to commit the offense, and making a threat of violence which refers to a requirement of a payment of money or property to halt future violence is sufficient to commit the offense.

The term extortion is often used metaphorically to refer to usury or to price-gouging, though neither is legally considered extortion. It is also often used loosely to refer to everyday situations where one person feels indebted against their will, to another, in order to receive an essential service or avoid legal consequences. Neither extortion nor blackmail requires a threat of a criminal act, such as violence, merely a threat used to elicit actions, money, or property from the object of the extortion. Such threats include the filing of reports (true or not) of criminal behavior to the police, revelation of damaging facts (such as pictures of the object of the extortion in a compromising position), etc.[citation needed]

In law, the word extortion can refer to political corruption, such as selling one's office or influence peddling, but in general vocabulary the word usually first brings to mind blackmail or protection rackets. The logical connection between the corruption sense of the word and the other senses is that to demand bribes in one's official capacity is blackmail or racketeering in essence (that is, "you need access to this resource, the government restricts access to it through my office, and I will charge you unfairly and unlawfully for such access").”

Demanding the subsidies for providing housing to 33 units from the city is very similar if not actual extortion.

At the same time Prometheus and the City of Mountain View is commiting acts very similar if not acting out Bribery because it is defined as:

Bribery is the act of giving or receiving something of value in exchange for some kind of influence or action in return, that the recipient would otherwise not offer. Bribery is defined by Black's Law Dictionary as the offering, giving, receiving, or soliciting of any item of value to influence the actions of an official or other person in charge of a public or legal duty.[1] Essentially, bribery is offering to do something for someone for the expressed purpose of receiving something in exchange.[2] Gifts of money or other items of value which are otherwise available to everyone on an equivalent basis, and not for dishonest purposes, is not bribery. Offering a discount or a refund to all purchasers is a legal rebate and is not bribery. For example, it is legal for an employee of a Public Utilities Commission involved in electric rate regulation to accept a rebate on electric service that reduces their cost for electricity, when the rebate is available to other residential electric customers. Giving the rebate to influence them to look favorably on the electric utility's rate increase applications, however, would be considered bribery.

A bribe is the gift bestowed to influence the recipient's conduct. It may be money, goods, rights in action, property, preferment, privilege, emolument, objects of value, advantage, or merely a promise to induce or influence the action, vote, or influence of a person in an official or public capacity.[3].

If the City receives the $10.8 Million it looks very similar to a bribe. The city has been receiving these payment in lieu of providing affordable housing as defined under state laws as of 2019. The fact is the city is making money out of these payments. The City should be informed.

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