Some tenants displaced by redevelopments and remodels in Mountain View will receive a more robust package of relocation benefits from now on.
On Tuesday, the City Council voted 6-1, with John Inks opposed, to approve five amendments to its 2010 tenant relocation assistance ordinance, which kicks in when four or more units are removed from the rental market. Property owners are responsible for providing the relocation benefits.
The changes were spurred by recent public outcry over a row house project that displaced several low-income households.
One of the amendments would double the amount of relocation assistance paid to displaced tenants. They would receive the cash equivalent of three months' median market-rate rent for a similar apartment instead of two months of the current rent.
In Mountain View, the median rent for a one-bedroom, one-bathroom unit is $2,230. It is $2,310 for a two-bedroom, one-bathroom unit; $3,110 for a two-bedroom, two-bathroom unit; and $3,390 for a three-bedroom, two-bathroom unit.
Other amendments would bump the sum special-circumstance households receive from $2,154 to $3,000 and require relocation assistance to be paid within 15 days of a tenant's request and the remainder when the tenant vacates the unit in question.
The council struggled with the fifth amendment, which raises the eligible income level for relocation assistance. Councilman Jac Siegel argued that it should be set at 100 percent of area median income, not the 80 percent suggested by Linda Lauzze, the city's administrative and neighborhood services manager. Under the current ordinance, the level is set at 50 percent.
"We have helped create this environment where the lower income, affordable housing is being displaced by high-end luxury housing," Siegel said. "And we did that, of course, by creating all the jobs and demand for more housing here at a very rapid rate. This isn't going to solve the problem for people but it will lessen their burden."
Jim Neal, a resident of Mountain View, urged the council to go a step further and remove income limits altogether.
"I really do think that we should be trying to help the maximum amount of people because we do have a large number of people here that are impacted by this," he said.
Other council members said setting the level at 80 percent would guarantee the ordinance provides help to those who truly need it. Councilwoman Margaret Abe-Koga said she knows engineers who make $90,000 per year but elect to live in low-rent apartments because they want to spend their money on other things.
"This is for me about helping folks who really need assistance and I think it's important to tie it to something," she said.
"I actually think it's quite amazing that we're doing this, because indeed our neighbors are not doing this," added Councilwoman Ronit Bryant. "It is true: Mountain View is a city that cares about all its residents, but we have to focus the help where it's most needed."
Inks argued that the amendments would drive up the cost of a type of housing the council is trying to support.
"It is a difficult situation and a challenge, but when property owners and developers redevelop their property, it's not just to line their pockets," he said. "They are actually serving other tenants who are willing to pay more money for better value, a better place to live, a new place that is energy efficient. So, I don't think that it's really fair to put a tax or a burden on those who are actually trying to improve their property."