The Menlo Park City Council will kick off the new year with a long-awaited discussion about residential displacement.
The council is scheduled to host a joint study session with the city's Housing Commission at its first 2017 meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 10.
The council in November passed an ordinance that will require apartment landlords to give renters the option to sign a 12-month lease. That ordinance will go into effect on March 6. Because of California laws and other exemptions in the ordinance, it is expected to apply to about a quarter of the city's 13,124 housing units.
The council is expected to talk about other policies it could implement.
One that the council has already talked about is a mandatory mediation policy. 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 – who could be a city employee, a contractor paid with city funds, or a volunteer – to reconcile or mediate negotiations between the two parties. The renter could not be penalized for asking for the meeting.
Similar policies exist in Mountain View and Campbell but have variations in how they're administered.
In a previous council discussion, it was pointed out that the policy could give renters false hope of reprieve: Rent increases in Menlo Park are currently unrestricted, as are evictions.
Other measures the city could take are presented in the staff report:
● 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, to 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 below the market rate.
● Require landlords to pay renters they evict a tenant relocation assistance fee to help them with moving costs. This would apply only to apartment complexes of four units or more, and there would be exemptions.
● Establish a displacement fund to help residents who are being priced out of their communities 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 displacement.
● 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.
The council will meet at 6 p.m. in a closed session to talk about the litigation between East Palo Alto and Menlo Park. Its public meeting will begin at 7 p.m. in the City Council Chambers at 701 Laurel St. in the Civic Center.