County buys affordable housing complexes with Measure A funds | July 5, 2019 | Mountain View Voice | Mountain View Online |

Mountain View Voice

News - July 5, 2019

County buys affordable housing complexes with Measure A funds

by Kevin Forestieri

Santa Clara County's $950 million housing bond has helped pay for the construction of more than 1,000 new affordable units since it passed in 2016, almost entirely aimed at helping the neediest residents at risk of homelessness.

But not all of that money is flowing into new construction. Late last year, the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors pivoted toward preserving existing affordable housing projects, voting in December to invest more than $29 million in three housing properties in San Jose. With an eye towards buying more properties in the future, supervisors said policies need to be in place to ensure a county takeover doesn't inadvertently displace tenants or make things worse for the existing residents.

There has been plenty of interest lately in leveraging the county's Measure A funds for affordable housing preservation, Supervisor Cindy Chavez said at the July 2 board meeting. Doing so can bail out property managers in financial straits, improve the quality of life in aged apartments and earmark more units for formerly homeless residents in need of senior, disability and other support services.

Supervisors voted in December to purchase two deed-restricted affordable housing properties known as Markham Plaza in San Jose and provide $10.2 million in loans to renovate the properties. Under the terms of the agreement, 100 units would be redesignated "permanent supportive housing" for high-needs residents most at risk of chronic homelessness. The property developer, Core Companies, is also seeking more Section 8 Project-Based vouchers.

The deal was seen as an effective way to preserve more than 300 apartments that were plagued by problems. Core Companies reportedly faced rising expenses over the last 12 years while rental revenue — restricted by tax credit regulations — stayed flat. The financial crunch led to decreased staffing, which in turn has caused more tenant dissatisfaction, higher turnover, more wear and tear on the units and leasing challenges, according to a county staff report.

But Chavez said she worried about the existing tenants who may be at risk of displacement under the deal with the county. Many of the residents are living on a tight budgets, relying on food stamps and Supplemental Security Income (SSI), and don't have Section 8 housing vouchers. Even a modest rent increase by the property manager would leave these families with less than $100 a month for food.

"What we wanted to make sure of is that we were not, as we're investing in the preservation of housing, displacing people," Chavez said.

Supervisors voted 4-0 to craft guidelines that would ensure the county does not push any current residents into homelessness, including weighing the "rent burden" on the low-income families and the range of support services needed to retain tenants. County Supervisor Joe Simitian was absent.

To date, county supervisors have approved $234 million in Measure A spending, the vast majority of which has helped pay for the construction of 1,437 new housing units. The remaining $29 million has gone into preserving the Markham Plaza and Curtner Studios apartments in San Jose. None of the housing developments supported by Measure A funds are located in Mountain View.

Email Kevin Forestieri at kforestieri@mv-voice.com

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