Menlo Park officials examine options to stem displacement of residents | January 11, 2017 | Almanac | Almanac Online |

Almanac

News - January 11, 2017

Menlo Park officials examine options to stem displacement of residents

by Kate Bradshaw

The Menlo Park City Council began the new year with a long-awaited discussion about residents being displaced by high housing costs.

The council planned to meet with the city's Housing Commission on Jan. 10 for a joint study session on the problem.

Check AlmanacNews.com for updates. The meeting was held after the Almanac went to press.

In November, the council adopted an ordinance requiring many apartment landlords to give renters the option to sign a 12-month lease. That ordinance goes into effect March 6.

Other policies are under consideration, including mandatory mediation. Under such a policy, if a renter has a complaint about a rent increase or eviction notice, the landlord would have to meet with the tenant and a third-party mediator — such as a city employee, a contractor paid with city funds, or a volunteer — in an attempt to reconcile the differences.

This is not binding arbitration. Any agreement the parties reached would be done so voluntarily.

Such policies exist in Palo Alto, Mountain View and Campbell but have variations in how they're administered. All three have clauses that ban retaliation by landlords against tenants who use the mediation program.

In a previous council discussion, it was pointed out that the policy could give renters false hopes. Rent increases in Menlo Park are unrestricted, and landlords don't need a reason to evict tenants on a month-to-month lease. Under state law, landlords must give such tenants 60-days notice if the tenant has lived in the rental unit a year or more. Otherwise, the required notice is 30 days.

Other measures under consideration:

• Reduce the amount of parking required for affordable housing projects, which could cut development costs.

• Promote home-sharing programs, which could increase the number of residents living in the city's existing housing.

• Change the city's below-market-rate (BMR) housing guidelines so that homeowners of BMR houses can sublet rooms to renters at "affordable" rates.

• Change the city's guidelines to allow residents who have been displaced to stay on the wait list for BMR housing for up to three years, which might allow community members forced elsewhere to move back.

• Buy and maintain housing units that are less costly in the existing market and keep them available to renters at a below-market rate.

• Require landlords in some cases to give eligible renters they evict resources to help with moving costs. This would apply only to housing complexes of four units or more.

• Establish a displacement fund to help residents being displaced because of new development. Developers could be required to pay these fees if a study were to find that their development will increase nearby housing costs and displace renters.

• Pass an ordinance limiting how much rent can be increased, to minimize sudden, exorbitant rent increases. Such an ordinance could apply only to some apartments because of California law.

• Require landlords to give justification when they evict someone. This could also apply only to some apartments.

Tenant assistance

The city of Mountain View requires landlords to provide relocation assistance to lower-than-median-income tenants who honor their rent agreements and are being evicted because of renovations or redevelopment.

The landlord must refund the tenant's security deposit; provide a 60-day subscription to a rental agency; pay the cash equivalent of three months of the median market rate rent for a similar size apartment; and pay an additional $3,000 to households with kids or with someone who is older than 62 or is disabled.

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