Silicon Valley at Home Policy Manager Mathew Reed spoke at an August 27 meeting at the Palo Alto city council, where he pressed council members to provide remedies to long-time tenants of the President Hotel Apartments, who are being evicted because the new building owner plans to convert the below market rate apartments into a hotel.
The city council responded by passing an emergency ordinance that requires landlords to provide relocation assistance to renters being displaced who make less than 100% of the area median income (AMI). While the urgency ordinance applies to the residents of the President Hotel Apartments, it also will apply to any other structure with 50 or more units. It is anticipated that the Council will revisit the ordinance to respond to a number of unanswered questions.
SV@Home supports policies that protect the current affordable and naturally affordable housing stock, and policies that provide relocation benefits to people displaced for new development. And while the ordinance is certainly a step in the right direction, we will be seeking future changes to:
- Incorporate a grace period. The ordinance should include a meaningful grace period prior to residents’ being evicted to provide families ample opportunities to find commensurate housing in a severely constrained housing rental market.
- Project size threshold. We urge the Council to consider expanding applicability of the ordinance to residential developments of 10 units or more – a threshold reflected in ordinances in neighboring jurisdictions.
- Conversion ordinance. We urge the Council to consider adopting a conversion ordinance to define a process and expectations prior to the conversion of multi-family residences from rental to ownership or from residential to non-residential uses.
Facing dozens of evictions, Palo Alto passes ’emergency’ renter protections
By Marisa Kendall
PALO ALTO — When dozens of families living in a downtown apartment building found eviction notices slipped under the doors last June, they reached out to their local elected officials, pleading for help. The response came this week: the City Council pushed through Palo Alto’s strongest ever renters protections, approving an emergency ordinance that forces large landlords to compensate displaced low-income tenants with cash.
The controversial ordinance highlights the growing pressure on local leaders to come up with solutions as a shortage of affordable housing pummels the Bay Area’s low-income renters.
After three hours of contentious debate, which dragged on into early Tuesday morning, council members voted 7-1 to require owners of buildings with 50 or more units to provide relocation payments of up to $17,000 to some tenants who are evicted through no fault of their own.
“This is a big deal for Palo Alto,” said Mathew Reed, policy manager for SV@Home, an organization that advocates for affordable housing. “It’s a big deal because it does provide some protection, but I think it’s also a big deal in that it indicates that council has recognized this challenge in a way that it hadn’t in the past.”
The emergency ordinance went into effect immediately after it was passed and will apply to some tenants being displaced from the Hotel President apartment building in downtown Palo Alto, as the new owner converts it into a hotel.
The new city rules protect renters who find themselves out of a home in certain situations — they would be covered if their landlord decides to take the building off the rental market, for example, but not if they are evicted for failing to pay rent. Landlords must pay displaced tenants three times the market rate of the apartment they are leaving, which amounts to $7,000 for a studio, $9,000 for a one-bedroom apartment, $13,000 for a two-bedroom apartment and $17,000 for an apartment with three or more bedrooms.
Only tenants who make less than the area’s median income — $113,300 per year for a family of four in Santa Clara County — are eligible.
Councilman Greg Tanaka was the sole vote against the emergency ordinance, which he criticized as being rushed.
“I feel for the people in the President’s Hotel,” he said, “but I want to make sure we’re doing the right thing for Palo Alto.”
Landlords who are forced to pay tenants to relocate likely will start charging extra fees, Tanaka said. In the long-term, that could make rents more expensive, he said.
The California Apartment Association’s Tri-County Division also opposed the ordinance.
“Rather than specifically address displacement caused by a building’s redevelopment, the City Council adopted an ordinance with a far-reaching scope that makes it more difficult for rental housing providers to offer safe homes for Palo Alto residents,” Rhovy Lyn Antonio, vice president of public affairs, wrote in an emailed statement.
By passing the emergency ordinance, Palo Alto joins several Bay Area cities that require relocation assistance — including Oakland, San Jose, East Palo Alto, Berkeley, Mountain View and San Francisco.
But in Palo Alto, the ordinance marks a major shift for a city that has no rent control and doesn’t require landlords to provide a reason before evicting tenants, Reed said. The council last year rejected a proposal to impose those renter protections.
Reed links Palo Alto’s new ordinance to the plight of more than 50 families about to be evicted from the Hotel President apartments downtown. Built in 1929 as a hotel, it now offers studio and one-bedroom apartments that rent for slightly below market rate, due to their size and age.
In June, developer AJ Capital Partners bought the building, announced plans to turn it back into a hotel by 2020, and slipped eviction notices under the residents’ doors. Tenants must be out by Nov. 12.
The city threw a wrench in those plans last month, alerting the developer that the property is not zoned for a hotel. But the owner is going full-speed ahead with the evictions.
“My client will be taking the coming days, and potentially weeks, to determine its options and next course of action, while continuing to work with and assist the relocation efforts of the tenants of the President Hotel,” AJ Capital’s lawyer, Dave Lanferman, wrote in an emailed statement.
AJ Capital, which initially had offered tenants $3,000 each to move out, opposed the new ordinance.
“While it may understandably be tempting for the city to consider some new form of governmental intervention in the private rental marketplace,” Lanferman wrote in a letter to the city Monday, “it is very questionable whether the proposed ordinances would effectively, or lawfully, promote the city’s stated housing goals.”
For Diane Boxill, who has lived in the building for 30 years, the eviction notice was a shock. Now Boxill, who teaches piano lessons out of her studio apartment, is scrambling to come up with money to hire movers and pay first and last-month’s rent and security deposit. So far Boxill, who can’t move her belongings herself due to a spinal cord injury, hasn’t found a company that can move her for less than $6,500.