Mountain View’s Latest Redevelopment Gets Praise for Keeping Low-Income Renters Housing | New

Housing redevelopment has been a thorny issue in Mountain View for years as the city grapples with the scrapping of its naturally affordable apartments to make way for expensive homes. But a project recently approved on Tuesday proved that bulldozing old homes shouldn’t force low-income tenants out of town.

Mountain View City Council unanimously approved a proposal to raze 29 rent-controlled apartments and replace them with condos for sale on Gamel Way. Although typically the kind of project that generates an uproar and strongly frowned upon by tenant advocacy groups, the project received much praise at the September 28 meeting for doing everything possible to allow current residents – mostly low-income families – to stay in Mountain View.

The DeNardi group’s proposal calls for the reorganization of the Gamel Way cul-de-sac in front of Castro Elementary School, the demolition of the existing apartments and their replacement with a four-story, 121-unit condominium complex. The project will overtake neighboring one- and two-story units with building heights exceeding 54 feet tall.

At first glance, the project reflects the painful decisions made by city council in recent years to cut affordable homes for expensive home units. Similar redevelopment plans usually involve code-compliant projects leaving town little discretion to block the project.

And like past projects, the Gamel Way proposal is not subject to SB 330, a key state housing law aimed at preventing displacement. The developer’s application was deemed complete before the law’s effective date of January 1, 2020, according to city officials.

But there are key differences that made the Gamel Way project a slam dunk, winning 7-0 city council approval and support from housing advocates. The first is that the project will replace the 29 rent-controlled apartments with highly subsidized, low-cost condominium units in the redeveloped property. The developer is looking to increase density beyond what’s allowed on the property by using California’s Density Premium Act, which requires affordable units to be replaced at roughly the same price range.

Under state law, nine of future condos must be affordable for those who make up to 50% of the area’s median income (MAI), while an additional 20 units must be available for those who account for up to 50% of the area’s median income (MAI). at 80% of the MAI.

The proposal also differs from previous redevelopment projects in that tenants who are foreclosed during construction will have the first opportunity to return and have the rare chance to purchase a low-cost home in Mountain View. In addition to the benefits, those who enjoy the right of return will also receive temporary accommodation during construction at comparable rents.

For those who don’t want to come back and end up moving into a more expensive apartment, the developer offers to pay the difference in monthly rents for 42 months.

The city was able to negotiate generous rehousing aid and a right of first return in exchange for the sale of a public road. The DeNardi group worked quietly with the city – including numerous closed-door meetings with the council – to buy Gamel Way in order to make the project work. The two parties ultimately agreed on a sale price of $ 4.8 million as well as the benefits of the tenant move.

City Councilor Lucas Ramirez said the project is an example of what the city can do, using incentives and zoning changes, to steer redevelopment in the right direction. For years, board members have wondered how to handle a series of nasty projects that push back middle-class families, and Project Gamel Way could very well be a turning point.

“This particular project serves as an answer to that question and hopefully a model or model that we can emulate with future redevelopment proposals where naturally affordable controlled rent apartments are demolished and tenants are moved,” said Ramirez.

The price of these lower-cost condos depends on family income, but a one-bedroom condo for a very low-income household could cost around $ 264,000, according to city staff. For a low-income family, a two-bedroom condo could cost close to $ 513,000.

Members of East Palo Alto Community Legal Services (CLSEPA), who represent existing tenants on Gamel Way, told council members in a letter that condominium ownership is an exciting opportunity and would be a “dream come true” , but that there are some serious hurdles that need to be overcome. Homeownership means having enough money for a down payment, which some tenants may not have, as well as the financial security to meet Homeowners Association (HOA) fees.

The vast majority of renters are low-income working-class families or retired fixed-income seniors, all of whom will have a hard time trying to buy a subsidized condo.

“The sad reality is that most, if not all residents do not have such a large reserve of funds to allocate for a down payment,” the letter said. “Even residents who managed to save money have had to use up their savings during the pandemic.”

To this end, board members have agreed to consider using a portion of the proceeds from the sale of Gamel Way to help with these costs, whether it is a down payment or an HOA reserve fund. .

Although the project won a lot of love, council members raised concerns that the project could cut down a total of 35 trees, including 12 heritage trees, and pressured the developer to do so. what he can to replant as much as possible. City Councilor Pat Showalter pointed out that owner Tod Spieker owns many residential properties in Mountain View and could compensate for the loss of greenery on Gamel Way by planting more trees elsewhere in town.

Developer Kevin DeNardi, speaking on behalf of Spieker, said there was no real appetite to plant more trees, but he would be willing to put some money in to help the city. to restore its canopy. He estimated that it would cost between $ 10,000 and $ 15,000 to plant trees on Spieker’s properties, and that he would be willing to contribute an amount yet to be determined to meet the city’s goals.

Residents have already received a notice to release Gamel Way homes on June 30, 2022, in order to start construction.

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