City begins talks on redeveloping older apartments - Measure V Too Costly
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Large push of projects replacing rent-controlled units expected

Perhaps a glimpse of things to come — an attractive new housing project came before the City Council on Oct. 3 that seemed tailored to fit the city’s wishes to a tee: a proposed new neighborhood of small-sized rowhouses priced for middle-income families to buy as starter homes.

There’s just one hiccup: This project will require demolishing several dozen rent-controlled apartments and possibly pricing some tenants out of town.

In a study session being closely watched by developers, the Mountain View City Council on Oct. 3 signaled early support for opening up the city’s zoning rules to allow aging apartments to be rebuilt as for-sale homes. But while some council members expressed nervousness about displacing residents, they acknowledged that they expect to soon see many similar proposals to redevelop rent-controlled units.

The proposed project by the San Ramon-based SummerHill Homes calls for 60 new “rowhouse lite” homes that would be built on a cluster of parcels near Walker Drive in the city’s North Whisman neighborhood.

Katia Kamangar of SummerHill Homes described the proposed homes as smaller than typical rowhouses, and she promised that would mean they would be priced on the low end of the market. A one-bedroom unit is expected to cost upward of $700,000 while a larger three-bedroom will likely cost up to $1.12 million.

“This is an exciting opportunity to do a new type of housing in Mountain View,” Kamangar said. “We feel we offer a new form of housing with a significantly lower price point, and this opens up a new market that’s not currently being serviced.”

While this proposed housing would be comparatively cheap for Mountain View, city staff noted it would likely still be too pricey for most tenants living in the apartments on the proposed project site.

The Walker Avenue site is currently occupied by a cluster of 56 apartments known as the Moffett Manor. These apartments were described by city staff as naturally affordable and in relatively good condition for their age. The Moffett Manor site is currently listed as for sale for $26.8 million, and the owner has accepted an offer that hasn’t been closed yet, according to real estate listings.

Andre Pena, a Moffett Manor tenant, told the Voice that for his two-bedroom apartment he is currently paying about $1,750 a month, which was recently lowered due to a citywide rollback on most apartment rents. With his IT job at Apple Inc., Pena and his wife were making about $130,000 a year, but that still wasn’t quite enough to buy a home in Mountain View, he said.

Their neighbors, including line chefs, house cleaners and other services workers, would be in far more trouble if they lost their homes, he said.

“I’d bet all the money in my pocket that nobody in our complex will be able to afford one of these new units,” he said. “This feels like a back door to ebb away at rent control.”

The Oct. 3 study session was focused on a package of zoning exemptions required for the Moffett Manor redevelopment to comply under the city’s land-use rules. The city staff report didn’t mention Mountain View’s rent control program.

Nevertheless, council members repeatedly brought up rent control as a factor at play in the redevelopment project. At an affordable-housing study session last month, council members had asked staff to investigate ways to revise a subset of R-3 zoning — normally reserved for apartment projects — to also include more opportunities to develop denser ownership rowhouses.

City staff decided to arrange a study session for the SummerHill proposal because it was the first of its kind to broach these issues.

“Rent control is having landlords looking at the viability of their projects,” said Councilman John McAlister. “I see a lot more of this coming. I’m sad to see them go, but I’m glad we’re getting more ownership housing.”

Council members backed plans for reviewing future R-3 redevelopment proposals on a case-by-case basis. They signaled they want to encourage redevelopment projects, especially for new ownership housing. But some council members also warned that their support is conditional — they were also concerned about displacing low-income families.

Mayor Ken Rosenberg was philosophical, remaining unclear about whether he thinks the tradeoff is worth it.

“We have 56 households in Mountain View who are in naturally affordable housing, and this will displace them all,” he said. “Which rent-controlled locations are (we) willing to scrap? I don’t know the answer to that right now.”

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