Mountain View votes to raze rent-controlled apartments, displace dozens

Mariza Kendall | San Jose Mercury News | Link to article

Mostly low-income renters have until December 2019 to move out

MOUNTAIN VIEW — Despite hours of impassioned pleas from residents who will lose their homes, the City Council voted early Wednesday morning to allow the eviction of more than 70 tenants and the demolition of their rent-controlled apartment building to make way for new town houses.

Council members voted 4-3 to approve a proposal by Morgan Hill-based developer Dividend Homes to raze the 20-unit rent-controlled Royal Viking Apartments on Rock Street and replace the complex with 15 new town homes. Just after midnight Wednesday, they approved a plan that gave residents an extra six months to vacate the building — requiring them to move out by the end of 2019.

Councilmen Christopher Clark and John McAlister, Vice Mayor Lisa Matichak and Councilwoman Margaret Abe-Koga voted in favor of the project.

The owner of the Royal Viking Apartments has the right to get out of the rental business, Clark pointed out.

“We can’t force them to stay in business and rent to you all in perpetuity until the building falls down,” he said.

Most of the Royal Viking residents are Latino and work low or middle-income jobs as nannies, construction workers, receptionists and nursing assistants. They pay about $2,000 a month to rent two-bedroom apartments — which would typically cost $3,395 in Mountain View, according to RentCafe.

“This will be the last Christmas that I will probably get to spend with my parents, which is heart-breaking and sad,” 25-year-old Royal Viking resident Rocio Carrillo said after the vote. Carrillo, who was born and raised in Mountain View and still has family there, said she likely will have to move out of the area.

Josh Vrotsos, a representative of the developer, on Tuesday emphasized that though his proposed town home plan would reduce the overall number of housing units on the site, it would increase the number of bedrooms from 40 to 43. Residents have been offered the city’s required three months of market-rate rent, plus an additional year’s rental subsidy to make up the difference between what they are paying now and market-rate rent, and help finding a new place to live. Vrotsos estimated Royal Viking tenants will receive an average payout of $25,000 or $26,000 per family.

The new town houses likely will sell for $1.3 million and up, he said.

On Tuesday evening, one tenant after another told council members that the payout offered isn’t enough for them to uproot their lives and families. Dozens of residents and their neighbors and supporters packed the council chambers and spilled into the aisles, waving signs supporting affordable housing while they waited for their turn to speak.

“If we move, then it’s going to be really stressful finding a new home,” said 13-year-old Royal Viking resident Ashley Morales, the youngest of more than 30 people to speak. “And homes are really expensive and we might not have enough money for that. So we want to keep living in our apartments because we grew up there as little kids.”

Before Tuesday’s council meeting, Royal Viking tenants and supporters congregated outside City Hall to protest the proposed town homes, chanting “sí se puede” and holding aloft homemade signs that read “We love living in Mountain View” and “No more forced displacement.”

Janet Werkman, a 68-year-old Mountain View homeowner, was there to protest the displacement of low-income renters that she says is ripping her community apart.

“I’m very, very troubled by what’s happening here,” she said. “They’re very important members of our community. They work here. Their kids go to school here.”

In addition to saving Royal Viking Apartments, the protesters also hoped to convince the City Council to temporarily suspend demolition of all apartments within Mountain View, in an effort to prevent developers from converting additional affordable rental units into market-rate, owner-occupied homes. That proposal didn’t get much traction from city leaders Tuesday night.

In an effort to replenish the region’s short supply of homes available for purchase, Mountain View officials have been green-lighting projects that promise to build more for-sale homes — even if it means bulldozing existing rental units to do it. The number of tenant households that received a notice to vacate because their building was being redeveloped or remodeled jumped from four in 2014 to 350 last year, according to the city. So far this year, 135 households have received such notices.

Despite the fact that the city has approved similar developments in the past, Mayor Lenny Siegel called the plan to force the Royal Viking tenants out of their homes “wrong.”

“We have people who are the backbone of our community,” Siegel said, “who, based on the evidence I’ve seen, will be forced to leave Mountain View or live on the streets.”