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Grand jury takes aim at affordable housing in Mountain View, Palo Alto

Original post made on Dec 17, 2021

Why is Palo Alto so far behind Mountain View in affordable housing production and what can both cities do to improve their efforts? The Santa Clara County Civil Grand Jury explores these questions in a new report.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Friday, December 17, 2021, 1:58 PM

Comments (29)

Posted by Anita
a resident of Gemello
on Dec 17, 2021 at 3:33 pm

Anita is a registered user.

Great story, thanks for covering in detail what the Civil Grand Jury found. It's nice to see how well Mountain View is doing when it comes to affordable housing. But at 56% of meeting our needs, Mountain View still has a long way to go.


Posted by LongResident
a resident of another community
on Dec 17, 2021 at 11:46 pm

LongResident is a registered user.

Yeah, so Mountain View still gets an F at affordable housing. Palo Alto gets an F- but they're both still failing miserably. I don't see how the grand jury can make the point that Mountain View is better. Failing is failing. It's like they say the city of Mountain View had more morals than Palo Alto but that still wasn't enough. So, solve that shortfall, and it might well fix Palo Alto.

Consider all the jobs and housing demand created in the local area by Google. Google workers live in many cities, but they have plans to build 7000 units of housing -- in Mountain View. Is that fair? Shouldn't they address the problems they cause in surrounding cities too?


Posted by Leslie Bain
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Dec 18, 2021 at 11:09 am

Leslie Bain is a registered user.

The difficult part of the "affordable housing" discussion is that a key question is rarely asked: affordable to who? THIS QUESTION MUST BE ASKED!!! Those at the bottom end of the ladder? Or those at the top, pulling down amazing salaries and yet are unable to buy their own homes? The "solutions" are very different for each. The plight of the former is being exploited in order to create thousands of new units for the latter.

The article is focused on those at the bottom end of the ladder, many people are sympathetic to their struggles. And yet bills like SB9/10 WILL NOT HELP THOSE WORKERS to any significant degree, they are designed to help developers build more expensive, market-rate units that will be completely unaffordable to low-income and even average wage earners. Developers LOVE to build those units: article does not mention that from 2015 and 2023 developers EXCEEDED the RHNA targets for the highest wage earners (650% of target met)!!!

"Meanwhile, moving to lower-cost areas carries its own consequences, the report states, chief among them long commutes." This is a cheesy excuse that neglects the obvious: create more jobs in lower-cost areas. If HP could do it, why not Google?

I have been proud of living in Mountain View because it has been a progressive little city that has tried to balance the needs of ordinary people with the needs of business. We have been open to job creation, because people NEED jobs, and we have been open to affordable housing creation, because people NEED housing. Many of our surrounding communities have a reputation of being elite, bedroom communities. I'm glad to see a report that shows how MV is "doing far better than [others] when it comes to meeting its regional mandates for below-market-rate housing."

Instead of being commended, MV is singled out to grow our total housing stock by over 30%, while residents are mocked for being concerned about impact on schools, water supply, traffic congestion on city streets, and parking.


Posted by LongResident
a resident of another community
on Dec 20, 2021 at 1:19 pm

LongResident is a registered user.

when requirements of a bureaucratic rule are so crazy, it might make sense to shout. i think leslie bain is right that a deep flaw in the way the rhna numbers are formulated is that there is no funding to pay for the bmr units. o/u/c/h/. omg. it's true, the state has passed regulations which cannot ever work without a massive increase in funding for the bmr units, and that's what makes it actually impossible for cities to reach these quotas. mountain view was lucky that it had a market which could sort of support a sharp steep increase in the number of new apartments that were built. but unfortunately a lot of that depended on these units being high price luxury units. we may have now saturated the market for such new units, and developers may hold back for at least a few years in advancing such projects. so it may be hard for the city to meet even its market rate quota going forward.

but notice that mountain view did not even meet half of its bmr quota even using this fluke and duping the developers into overbuilding the market rate projects while the rules said they had to fund including 15% bmr within the project.

qed


Posted by Leslie Bain
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Dec 20, 2021 at 1:32 pm

Leslie Bain is a registered user.

Thanks @LongResident. From the report referenced in the article, "Affordable Housing: A Tale of Two Cities":

"Thirty-two percent of Silicon Valley households earn $200,000 or more annually. This is a larger share of high-income households than the City and County of San Francisco (31%), California (14%), or the United States (9%). Income inequality in Silicon Valley is more than double that of the U.S. overall and has increased by 81% since 1990. The extreme income disparity between the highest- and lowest-wage earners drives up housing costs because increased demand by high-income households creates competition which drives home prices higher. Currently, California’s
real estate prices are rising “three times faster than household incomes, [and] more than 50% of the state’s households cannot afford the cost of housing.”

This point is worth repeating: "increased demand by high-income households creates competition which drives home prices higher."

Exactly.

Building tons and tons and tons of expensive market-rate units is a recipe to import EVEN MORE high-income households into Mountain View. That will make the income disparity situation even worse.

Those who sincerely believe that building tons and tons and tons of expensive market-rate units will drive housing prices down for low income and average wage earners are putting their faith in the wrong horse. None of the backers of this bizarre theory can provide a cogent explanation about how exactly the process works in an area such as ours that already has such high demand for housing. And that's because their "solution" is doomed to failure. Web Link

The way to create more affordable housing is to BUILD MORE AFFORDABLE HOUSING. Period.


Posted by Frank Richards
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Dec 20, 2021 at 3:36 pm

Frank Richards is a registered user.

Leslie, are you proposing that homes in Mountain View be subject to income verification? How else will you ensure that no one with too much money rents or buys an "affordable home?"

Also, I don't think I've ever seen you answer this question: will you be selling your house at market-rate when you sell?


Posted by LongResident
a resident of another community
on Dec 21, 2021 at 1:58 pm

LongResident is a registered user.

Before suggesting that income limits for housing are something new, people should take time to educate themselves. Income limits are ALWAYS REQUIRED for BMR units. The city has contracts with agencies which process applications for BMR units and apply the income limit criteria.

The RHNA quotas for Mountain View this current cycle through 2022 call for 814 very low income units, 492 low income units, and 527 moderate income limit units. Applicants are all vetted repeatedly so long as they rent the BMR units. The quota for above moderate income units is 1093 and there is no income limit to these market rate units, not by law anyway. But the problem is that Mountain View only met 3% or 27% of the quotas for BMR units. For market rate units, over 3 times as many units were constructed as called for in the quota. While there are no required income limits, most of these new apartments were rented for $4,000 or more per month, so yeah, the landlord has income limits for them too, like over $150K per year in income required to rent such new units, if not over $200K.... The income is checked in all cases, just market rate is a floor and BMR is a ceiling insofar as the CHECKING goes.


Posted by Frank Richards
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Dec 21, 2021 at 4:00 pm

Frank Richards is a registered user.

LongResident, before lecturing people, you may want to educate yourself, or at least stop exhibiting your usual behavior of posting misinformation and misleading statistics. RHNA makes no demand or quota for BMR units. As you clearly state above at first, they are requirements for homes affordable to people at different income levels, based on the area median income. There are plenty of places in the country and the world where homes are affordable to people making less than the area median income without subsidies or income verification.


Posted by LongResident
a resident of another community
on Dec 21, 2021 at 6:49 pm

LongResident is a registered user.

RHNA is a California thing, and throughout the state of California the various affordable housing levels are managed so as to verify the income of those renting the subsidized units. This is an absolute fact. There may be some handwaving that goes on for things like ADU's but since we are not even meeting 1/2 of the RHNA low income unit quotas, they don't have a material affect. The income levels for the BMR units are checked! Quibble that not all the RHNA quotas are met by BMR, but the fact is that substantially all of them are of this nature, or rather, they are supposed to be but we're not producing them.

This is a sort of wishful thinking that holds that things are not working as they are for all practical purposes BMR is the only good source of new low income housing units. All this pretending that market rate can address affordability is a sham. That's why Housing is a Human Right opposed SB9.


Posted by LongResident
a resident of another community
on Dec 21, 2021 at 7:08 pm

LongResident is a registered user.

The RHNA enforcement is so ridiculous that people building back yard offices or pool houses count them as an ADU. No chance that anyone will ever live there. But they are counted as new housing units, with a portion counting as low income housing. Cheating. Morally bankrupt.

The YIMBY contingent would like to pretend that new projects like this "gateway" on Castro street with 139 condos will create "affordable" housing. But the truth is these will be brand new $3 Million units. No way is that affordable. But it is market rate at least.


Posted by Frank Richards
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Dec 21, 2021 at 7:17 pm

Frank Richards is a registered user.

LongResident, as much as you are getting indignant and hand-waving, it's a simple fact that RHNA does not demand anyone produce subsidized or BMR units in order to satisfy their allocations. They are simply setting descriptive statistics, that cities are responsible for housing that's affordable for people of different relative income levels. It does not matter if those homes are market-rate, subsidized, public housing, or whatever mechanism. All RHNA says is the city needs those homes.

As you can see elsewhere in the country, you can easily have market-rate homes that are affordable for people making less than 120% of the area median income.


Posted by Leslie Bain
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Dec 22, 2021 at 12:52 pm

Leslie Bain is a registered user.

@Frank, wild to see you criticize others for things you do, namely “exhibiting your usual behavior of posting misinformation and misleading statistics.”

You wrote: “RHNA does not demand anyone produce subsidized or BMR units in order to satisfy their allocations.” This is true. If BMR targets are not met, no consequences are given to either developers or a township!!!

The main thing that happens is people who are desperate for affordable housing put pressure on leaders to “Do something! Do anything,” so BAD BILLS like SB9 and SB10 get proposed and approved. These bills do very little to help low-income and average-income residents! The prime WINNERS from this legislation are Big Tech Web Link and developers, the bills make it easier for these two groups to make tons of $$$ by silencing the VALID CONCERNS of existing residents about schools Web Link , water supply, traffic congestion in MV Web Link Web Link , and parking.

You also wrote: “As you can see elsewhere in the country, you can easily have market-rate homes that are affordable for people making less than 120% of the area median income.” Which is misleading! They don't have the same economy that we do! We are Silicon Valley! Again, from the Grand Jury report:

“Thirty-two percent of Silicon Valley households earn $200,000 or more annually”

“extreme income disparity between the highest- and lowest-wage earners drives up housing costs because increased demand by high-income households creates competition which drives home prices higher”

Importing tons of new Googlers into MV will not push rents down.


Posted by LongResident
a resident of another community
on Dec 22, 2021 at 5:09 pm

LongResident is a registered user.

This is a distinction without a difference. It's important to realize what is the practical effect and the practical goal of the RHNA targets for affordable units. It's almost entirely BMR units. Dragging in hypothetical examples of magical (BRAND NEW) unit affordability without membership in a BMR program by deed restriction, etc. is just that--hypothetical and irrelevant.

The article does mess up too by comparing approvals granted to two of Mountain View's market rate developments ( which did not yield affordable housing for more than 15% of units) to failures of 2 proposals for stand alone BMR unit projects in Palo Alto. It's not clear that the Grand Jury made this mistake, but they should have called out the differences between their examples from the two cities. SIGH.


Posted by Frank Richards
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Dec 22, 2021 at 5:23 pm

Frank Richards is a registered user.

What's the "magical" secret that roughly everywhere else has figured out to allow people at 120% of the area median income afford market-rate homes?


Posted by LongResident
a resident of another community
on Dec 22, 2021 at 6:20 pm

LongResident is a registered user.

The affordable housing RHNA quotas top out at 120% of AMI. Above that it's market rate housing. Mountain View built more than 3 times its quota of market rate housing, and it still did not reduce housing prices for market rate units--they went up!

The Affordable quotas have nothing to do with that however. If you mean that the housing market is higher in the Bay Area, then that's also got nothing to do with the shortfall in the number of Affordable units, BMR deed restricted, or not.

Across the country, the housing market price has seen a steep increase. It's not unique to the Bay Area or to California. The fact that we see a higher market value relates to the extremely high compensation paid to so many Tech workers. What's interesting is that with the remote work conversion, we are seeing Tech worker demand drive up the already high market prices for houses in many different new areas. See Web Link and Web Link for examples of reporting that new factor.


Posted by Frank Richards
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Dec 22, 2021 at 6:32 pm

Frank Richards is a registered user.

There you go again, LongResident, misleading and misinforming. While home prices may be rising elsewhere, it's rare that people making above the median, but under 120% of the area median income, need subsidies to afford home. What's the "magical" secret they've figured out?


Posted by LongResident
a resident of another community
on Dec 23, 2021 at 3:07 am

LongResident is a registered user.

The housing market nationally has high prices all over. Places with growth have the most problem because new construction yields very expensive new housing. We have a lot of growth fueled by Tech workers with monstrous paychecks which they are willing to spend on their housing, since it's still a relatively small portion of their income compared to low income earners.

"Since January of this year, the national median rent has increased by a staggering 17.8 percent. To put that in context, rent growth from January to November averaged just 2.6 percent in the pre-pandemic years from 2017-2019"

See Web Link


Posted by Frank Richards
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Dec 23, 2021 at 8:12 am

Frank Richards is a registered user.

And yet, their market-rate homes are still affordable to people making just under 120% of the area median income. What's the "magical" secret they've figured out? You've yet again posted a misleading statistic without actually addressing the core point.


Posted by LongResident
a resident of another community
on Dec 23, 2021 at 1:57 pm

LongResident is a registered user.

The term "affordable housing" is ambiguous to some, but generally it is different for new units versus existing housing stock. When talking about new units, it generally refers to or implies BMR unit housing, generally rental. In some limited cases which have become less frequent over time, some of the specially priced houses or condos are available for sale. But some take "affordable" housing to mean simply housing some particular group can afford, even if they make over 120% of the area median income. A lot of YIMBY's want to think that somehow they can get a reduction in pricing through market forces due to oversupply for houses they can mortgage when they have an income maybe 200% of AMI. They want a better deal. Wanting a better deal is not the same thing as creating supply for low income households who can't afford anything in an area.

Around here the moderate income housing being very lightly created is BMR units which can cost as much as $4000 or $5000 per month to rent. It costs more than some of the naturally affordable older housing stock owned by people who aren't as concerned about squeezing every dime out of the rent they charge. That's why the current median rental rate is way lower than $4000 per month. There are no rules as to who gets to rent one of the older units (nor should there be) so they can go to a Google worker bee making $160K with her spouse earning $100K as they save up to buy a house later in the Chicago suburbs or they can go to a low income couple making a total of $100K. But you can't create new units that will rent at the rents for the older units already in place for a few decades. One thing that happens is some minor rehab is done on the older units and then the richer couple is willing to pay a bit above typical prices for an older unit. The low income household doesn't have that freedom. That's why we need new housing supply to have more BMR units, and that's why over half of the RHNA quotas is for housing affordable to those under 120% of AMI. Practically based on what's been happening, the quotas are not being met though for moderate income or for below moderate income.


Posted by LongResident
a resident of another community
on Dec 23, 2021 at 2:05 pm

LongResident is a registered user.

One thing that is happening in areas where single family homes are still available for lower prices is that Wall Street is buying them. They see it as a good investment. A lot of cash is flowing to these purchases. They turn them into rentals, but they will get the benefit of future appreciation. By buying in the areas with the most affordability for market rate tenants, they see a change to make a bundle.


Posted by Leslie Bain
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Dec 24, 2021 at 11:26 am

Leslie Bain is a registered user.

"Housing requirements are determined in eight-year cycles through what's called the Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA) process, and Mountain View has pretty good track record for building its fair share. Over the 2015-2023 cycle, Mountain View has already issued building permits for 4,219 homes and has 3,859 more units in the pipeline, putting the city on pace to trounce its housing requirements before the cycle is over.

The only caveat is that the vast majority of those units are market-rate housing, in line with a regional failure to meet the Bay Area's affordable housing needs." - Web Link

RHNA issues targets at various income categories, based on Area Medium Income (AMI). The most recent census (2019) shows AMI for Mountain View as about $150K Web Link

"Housing units, built and planned, for 2015 through 2023 in Mountain View. Courtesy city of Mountain View." Income scale adjusted to reflect 2019 AMI.

Income: RHNA Target, Total (Percentage of Target)

Very Low (0-75K): 814, 371 (45.6%)

Low (75K-120K): 492, 372 (75.6%)

Moderate (120K-175K): 527, 253 (48%)

Above Moderate (> 175K) 1,093, 7,082 (647.9%)


Key Takeaways:

1) Developers clearly prefer to build expensive, market-rate housing units for the highest wage earners (> 175K). They achieved ~650% of the RHNA target for this category of income.

2) RHNA targets for all other levels of income are lower/much lower, and developers fail to achieve them. The worst achievement level was for the very lowest income workers (0-75K, 45.6%). Rents for most at these levels will remain high.

Some in this community care most about "affordable housing" for those at the highest income levels (with bills such as SB9 and SB10), not those at the bottom.


Posted by Leslie Bain
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Dec 24, 2021 at 11:59 am

Leslie Bain is a registered user.

"As of 2019, the report notes, Mountain View was on a path to meet 56% of its affordable housing targets for the period between 2015 and 2023, a number established through the Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA) process."

Where does the number 56% come from? Only the two lowest income levels are included (Low and Very Low):

(371+372) / (814+492) = 743/1306 = 56.9%

If everyone other than the highest wage earners was included, the percentage would be even lower:

(371+372+253) / (814+492+527) = 996/1833 = 54.3%

Summary: lots of housing units are being constructed for the highest wage earners, but for the rest of us not so much. As long as this remains true, rents will remain high for everyone who does not fall into the highest wage earner category.


Posted by LongResident
a resident of another community
on Dec 25, 2021 at 10:48 pm

LongResident is a registered user.

I'd say that the actual problem is that well off individuals continue to kvetch about their own housing costs, as if they were equal to the problem for those with lower incomes. Pretty much everyone who cares about the pricing out of people from living in Mountain View is more concerned with those with low or moderate incomes than with others. BMR units address this problem, including even the moderate income level BMR units. Leslie is right to point out that a serious issue in Mountain View is failure to meet the Moderate income BMR quota, even though the grand jury chose to call it not an issue for affordable housing.

Personally, if some YIMBY making over $150K per year is is concerned that they cannot BUY a home in Mountain View, I just don't care. I know a lot of people who bought a first home in a different community other than the one where they lived at the time. This dates back to 40 years ago. It's not part of the current high cost of housing. If someone making $150K+ per year pays 40% of income to rent a deluxe apartment, well, they can afford it, but when they do that, this is what feeds the development of over priced housing. Somone household with $90K income has a much bigger problem if they have to pay 50% of their income for their housing. Arguing that we should care about the impact of higher housing price equally at all income levels is immoral.


Posted by Frank Richards
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Dec 25, 2021 at 11:07 pm

Frank Richards is a registered user.

LongResident, you don't even live in Mountain View. You're probably a wealthy homeowner in a neighboring city (Los Altos? Palo Alto?), so whatever you have to say about our city, "I just don't care."

And there you go again, confusing affordable units with below market rate units...


Posted by Leslie Bain
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Dec 26, 2021 at 10:45 pm

Leslie Bain is a registered user.

@LongResident, once again you make so many great points. I especially like this one: "Arguing that we should care about the impact of higher housing price equally at all income levels is immoral."

Politicians can be very sly devils, they know how to use words carefully chosen to mislead. Normally when one thinks of affordable housing, one thinks of housing to benefit those at the lowest end of the ladder, the folks who are displaced by gentrification. CA YIMBYs say that they are fighting for "affordable housing", yet lo and behold, they back bills that PRIMARILY help those earning over 175K, instead of low income and very low income workers. And they actually use metrics about RHNA target failures at the low end as fuel for their fight! They LOVE those target failures, they EXPLOIT them to argue that developers should pay as little as possible for the well-being of the community! Crazy! The quality of schools, the water supply, traffic congestion ... all of these issues PALE in comparison to THEIR DESIRE to buy a home. The one and ONLY issue that matters is that THEY are priced out.

"I'd say that the actual problem is that well off individuals continue to kvetch about their own housing costs, as if they were equal to the problem for those with lower incomes." I've got mixed feelings about this. The lack of empathy for, and willingness to exploit, those with lower incomes shocks me. They are USING this suffering for their own ends. However, I do have empathy for anyone unable to buy a home. It sucks to earn a great salary and then hand most of it to your landlord, it really does. Wage slavery. But SCAPEGOATING existing homeowners and blaming us for these problems? The LIES spread on this topic are disgusting.

The existence of jobs in an area increases demand for housing. Well-paying jobs increases the cost. Net result is that JOB CREATORS are responsible for the housing crisis, not older persons who were simply lucky enough to buy when costs were lower.


Posted by Frank Richards
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Dec 27, 2021 at 10:48 am

Frank Richards is a registered user.

Why are Leslie and LongResident allowed to freely lie about people here ("YIMBYs [...] LOVE those target failures", "lack of empathy for, and willingness to exploit, those with lower incomes", etc.)?

The people who are actually involved in resolving the housing crisis, which includes MV YIMBY, care about affordable housing for everyone in California. They work on getting more homes for all income levels, enacting tenant protections, enacting rent stabilization. I agree that "The LIES spread on this topic are disgusting", but those lies and smears all belong to Leslie and LongResident.


Posted by LongResident
a resident of another community
on Dec 27, 2021 at 3:33 pm

LongResident is a registered user.

It's not that YIMBY afficianados are intentionally deceptive. The fact is that in m any parts of California single family homes have risen in value by 35-40% over the past 2 to 3 years. This is more than the cost of apartment rents has risen. Mixing the issue of SFH ownership and apartment rent budget impact relative to household income is inherently going to lead to inconsistencies. The YIMBY's may be duping themselves by doing this, but they do it all the time.

Notice how I didn't use the word "affordable" in the above paragraph. Affordable housing is widely taken in urban planning and lawmaking to refer to BMR unit housing. Hence when talking about existing older stock, the adjective "naturally" is prefixed to the description "affordable." T

I think it's ironic that some comments above say those in Palo Alto and Los Altos have less to worry about in housing cost than do those in Mountain View. Huh? Those places are both generally more expensive than Mountain View. The gap is closing though, which is interesting. If Mountain View didn't have Los Altos to soak up some of the funds from Google YIMBY's in buying very expensive SFH, then the Mountain View SFH prices would be a lot higher. Right now the people with all the cash from their stock options tend to spend in the most expensive places they can conveniently find. No new land is being created for them. That's the problem. The land has to get more expensive or the Tech nouveau millionaires would just buy more of it. It's happening in Palo Alto where the highly wealthy are buying multiple SFH properties and combining them! This could happen in Mountain View too.... but currently they concentrate on Palo Alto and perhaps Los Altos or Los Altos Hills or unincorporated areas in the hills.


Posted by LongResident
a resident of another community
on Dec 27, 2021 at 3:35 pm

LongResident is a registered user.

Oh, Leslie, I meant to point out that the YIMBY groups and the politicians and the real estate development industry are all the same in this housing situation. They all favor development regardless of consequences. The politicians are part of the YIMBY groups and they dupe themselves too.

They all de-emphasize the lower income impacts by treating higher incomes the same, or worse in that the BMR units never seem to get built as much as the above moderate.


Posted by LongResident
a resident of another community
on Dec 28, 2021 at 2:12 pm

LongResident is a registered user.

The median income in the county is around $50K, not $175K. The median household income is $140K, which is still a far lower figure than $175K. So by advocating for individuals making above $175K, one would NOT be advocating for those making near to the median in income. The moderate income level of BMR housing allows for 120% of the median income, so that means concentrating on above $175K is concentrating on those who do not qualify for Affordable housing. That's my complaint about YIMBY's too. Even if they say they are treating all income levels with equal concern, the fact is that those who qualify for BMR housing units deserve MORE concern because it is so expensive to create BMR units and it is happening at such a low rate. In fact, by creating more market rate housing, Mountain View is succeeding at raising the city's median income. The luxury housing units that are created by the profit motive also raise the areas median rent. Lose lose.

It's not such a simple issue as the YIMBY crowd yells.


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