A Right to Lease for Sunnyvale

Sunnyvale is facing a housing and displacement crisis. Working people are having difficulty paying rent, and are increasingly being forced to leave our community. Yet we offer little in the way of tenant protections above those required by state law. 

This July, at the urging of Livable Sunnyvale, our City Council agendized a study issue calling for a right to lease ordinance that would require landlords to offer their tenants a six- and twelve-month lease at terms equal to or better than any month-to-month lease that they offer. This proposal does not impose controls over the amount landlords can raise rents; it only requires them to offer longer term leases at favorable terms compared to their shorter leases. This proposal is modeled after the ordinance Mountain View had prior to the passage of rent control by ballot initiative in 2016.

That’s a mouthful. So let’s talk about why this is needed, and what it would mean for our city.

One of the most alarming things I’ve heard as I’ve become more and more involved in housing activism is from working people who’ve told me that they’ve faced more than one rent increase in a year. Most landlords at the upper end of the market already offer twelve-month leases at favorable terms, since that means that they can go longer without having to fill a vacancy. After all, large corporations value stable cash flow, and every day an apartment is left empty is lost money. At the lower end of the market, however, many landlords appear to only be offering their tenants month-to-month leases. Their goal appears to be to simply extract as much rent as possible from their tenants.

Life on a month-to-month lease makes it impossible for tenants to plan their future. They’re left in limbo, never knowing when the next rent increase will come, never knowing when they’ll be forced to pick up and move. Moving and apartment hunting costs time and money that is in scarce supply. The average intrastate move costs over $1,100. Even without hiring movers, people will need to take time off and recruit help. And there is no guarantee that one will be able to find an affordable home within range of one’s job.

Moves aren’t cheap.

Frequent moves are especially damaging to children. Frequent moves during childhood are associated with increased risks of depression and anxiety and poorer academic performance. When a student switches schools during the school year, the effect can be hugely disruptive, both to the student and the classroom that they move to. A British study has shown that students who move even once midyear suffer distinctly impaired educational outcomes.  This disruption is even greater when it affects a teacher or staff member. Now, it is no longer one student whose education is at risk of disruption, but dozens.

Every time their landlord raises their rent, renters are faced with the choice of the disruption and expense of a move or accepting the rent increase. This leaves them in a distinctly weaker negotiating position with their landlords and could allow landlords to extract even greater rents than our already desperate market would allow.

A right to lease ordinance would reduce the frequency of moving expenses and help protect children from the disruption of being forced to move during the school year. It would leave renters in a better negotiating position with their landlord, and make it easier for them to plan a life for their family. Finally, it grants them some small degree of peace of mind. The rent increase might still come, but at least you’ll know when it will come and have time to prepare.

It’s worth taking a moment to discuss that second clause, which requires that the offered leases be at terms equal to or better than any month to month lease offered. This is really, really important. Without this clause, landlords could simply offer the required leases at a prohibitively expensive rate, to force tenants back onto the month-to-month. The ordinance would be toothless.

The costs of this proposal are modest. Other than enforcement and education, it imposes no costs on the City of Sunnyvale. Nor does it impose an unreasonable burden on landlords. Because this proposal does not control how much landlords can increase rents, it avoids the potential economic problems associated with rent control. Nor does it impose any burdens on tenants, who would still be free to take a shorter term lease if that better suited their needs. Indeed, the ordinance would require six-month leases be offered as well as twelve-month leases.

Adopting a right to lease ordinance won’t solve the housing crisis, not by a long shot. But it will give some much-needed stability and protection to tenants and will have no substantial negative effect on landlords. Adopting this ordinance should be a no-brainer.

So what’s next? Next February, the city council will prioritize the study issues it wants city staff to work on. If the right-to-lease ordinance is going to become a reality, we need to show up and advocate for it to be ranked as highly as possible on the list of next year’s study issues. If we’re going to make this ordinance a reality, we’ll need the good people of Sunnyvale to let our Council know that this is a priority during the public hearing on study issues.

Want to get involved? Livable Sunnyvale meets the third Wednesday of every month at Toyota Sunnyvale from 6:30 to 8:30. We hope to see you there!


(Image credit: http://www.jbsa.mil/News/Photos/igphoto/2001770707/)

Survey on Accessory Dwelling Units

Sunnyvale is reviewing regulations for Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs), also known as “granny flats” or “in-law” units. An ADU is a small dwelling located on the same property as a single-family home, which includes its own kitchen/bathroom. It can be a part of the main home or a separate structure.

Sunnyvale’s current code places the following limits on ADUs:

  • Minimum lot size 8,500 square feet
  • Maximum unit size 700 square feet
  • 1 bedroom maximum
  • 20-year deed restriction requiring owner occupancy

This study will consider possible changes to allow more ADUs to be built, and to what standards. The concern is to allow residents to expand the housing supply while avoiding negative impacts to quality of life.

The State of California has declared that ADUs are consistent with single-family home zoning and density standards and considers ADUs to be a viable option to create more affordable housing in existing neighborhoods. ADU standards were recently liberalized state-wide. This study will also serve to reconcile Sunnyvale’s regulations with the new state standards.

Background on ADUs in Sunnyvale:

Residents are invited to share their perspective on ADU regulations at http://sunnyvale.peakdemocracy.com/portals/209/Issue_5092

New regulations will be reviewed by the Housing and Human Services Commission in July, the Planning Commission in September, and City Council likely in October.

Sunday: Affordable Housing Community Meeting

Sunday, June 25, the Faith and Action Committee from St. Cyprian are hosting a community meeting to review what is going on with affordable housing. Sunnyvale City Council Officials will be present for this Community Meeting.

Attend this meeting in order to:

  1. Express the need to protect Renters
  2. Learn what is the plan for Housing in the City of Sunnyvale
  3. Share the results of the St. Cyprian Parish Survey focused on Housing
  4. Establish a direct relationship with Sunnyvale City Officials and with allies from our community.

Sunday, June 25, 2017 at 1:00pm – 2:30pm
St. Cyprian’s Parish Hall
1133 W Washington Ave, Sunnyvale, CA 94086

For more information, call 408-442-4190

 

Silicon Valley Report Card: economy booming, housing shortage and commute time worse

The San Francisco Bay Area Planning and Urban Research Association, commonly known as SPUR, have updated their Silicon Valley Indicators for 2017. Some key takeaways:

  • The regional economy continues to grow … but at a slower rate
  • Unemployment is under 4%
  • Home prices continue to outpace income growth
  • Last year added 115,000 jobs … but only 6,000 homes
  • The median home price in Santa Clara County is now $1,080,000
  • Fewer than 30% of residents can qualify for a mortgage at that price

On infrastructure, jobs/housing balance, and commute times SPUR reports:

It comes as no surprise that the physical infrastructure of Silicon Valley is experiencing a lot of strain. What’s worse, we haven’t been making very good decisions to actually improve it. Despite adding more than 115,000 jobs last year, the region only approved 6,000 housing units.

Less than half of the new commercial space approved last year (and about a third in 2014 and 2015) were near transit — meaning that we’re still putting jobs in places where driving is the default transportation option.

Most commuters in Silicon Valley know this problem intimately, as their travel times have gotten longer and longer. The Index reports that the average commute in Silicon Valley has gotten about 17 percent longer in the last ten years.

Sunnyvale City Council Passes General Plan Revision

NOTE: originally posted by Adina Levin at greencaltrain.com. Republished with permission.

Earlier this month, Sunnyvale City Council passed an update of the Land Use and Transportation Element of its General Plan, by a 6:1 vote. The plan anticipates adding commercial space for 42,000 jobs and 15,000 housing units through 2035, worsening the jobs/housing balance from 1.44 to 1.73.

At the same time, City Council passed a motion to support further study of additional tools that could improve the jobs/housing balance, due to concern about the housing shortage and affordability. Most community comments at the meeting supported the growth in the plan but wanted to see more housing and an improved jobs/housing balance.

The City Council maintained a policy to create “village centers” – walkable, mixed-use areas which had drawn mixed community response. Some valued opportunities for more housing in increasingly walkable places, while others were concerned about density and traffic. Council supported a requirement that proposed Village Center proposals have community outreach before review by the Planning Commission. Council also added consideration of the southwest corner of Sunnyvale/Saratoga as a village center which would be served by the new, frequent VTA 523 service.

Overall, the plan envisions to have growth concentrated in focused areas such as the Downtown, Lawrence Station Area, and some growth in the Village Centers. Over time, Sunnyvale has been strengthening its goals to have more sustainable transportation and fewer car trips in its change areas, including a new policy in an early adoption phase to have transportation demand management for residential developments.

Wednesday, April 26: The Future of El Camino Real

ECR+Plan+Study+Area+by+the+City

ECR Plan Map, City of Sunnyvale

This Wednesday, April 26, the Sunnyvale Sustainable and Affordable Living Coalition, Greenbelt Alliance, Sunnyvale Cool, Sunnyvale Democratic Club, and Friends of Caltrain are hosting a panel discussion, moderated by Tara Martin-Milius, regarding the future of El Camino Real in Sunnyvale.

Questions that will be explored:

  • How can we create great neighborhoods that we can all afford?
  • What can be done to make safer places for walking and biking with smart transportation choices?
  • How will the future of the corridor affect our economy, our environment, and our quality of life?

Panelists include:

Larry Klein, Sunnyvale City Council Member, former Planning Commissioner, a long-time advocate for affordable housing, open space, and walkability. Larry was involved when the Downtown Specific Plan was kicked off more than 15 years ago. He was previously on the Sunnyvale Planning Commission for 9+ years.

Adina Levin, a passionate transit advocate, co-founded Friends of Caltrain and currently serves on the Menlo Park Transportation Commission, the San Mateo County Congestion Management and Environmental Quality Committee, and the Silicon Valley @ Home policy advisory committee.

Kirk Vartan, owner of New York Pizza in Sunnyvale. Kirk is a strong advocate for smart urban design, including transit, housing, and agrihood. He is Co-chair of the Stevens Creek Advisory Group in San Jose, which addresses issues and opportunities that will come with the development of that region’s urban villages.

Marie Bernard, Executive Director of Sunnyvale Community Services since 2010. The mission of Sunnyvale Community Services is to prevent homelessness and hunger in the local community, helping 8,000 people each year with financial aid, food assistance, case management, and bringing together 2,000+ volunteers from public, private, and faith communities.

Jaime Fearer, AICP, Deputy Director in San José, is passionate about where we live and is interested in the critical intersection of equity, public health, and active transportation planning and advocacy. She focuses on California Walks’ partnerships across the state, to positively influence policy that will improve pedestrian safety and walkability. She represents San Jose on the VTA’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee.

Details:

Wednesday, April 26
7:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m.
Ballroom, Sunnyvale Community Center
550 E. Remington Dr. Sunnyvale, CA 94087

RSVP: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/the-future-of-sunnyvales-el-camino-real-a-panel-discussion-tickets-33120918559

Sunnyvale ECR Corridor Specific Plan: http://plansunnyvaleecr.m-group.us/

Questions: contact Sue Serrone at sueserrone@comcast.net

Sunnyvale City Council to consider General Plan revision: more jobs, more transit, less housing

On April 11, City Council is expected to review a revised draft of the Land Use and Transportation Element (LUTE) which is a chapter of the city’s General Plan. The objective is to move Sunnyvale towards being a “Complete Community” that is less dependent on automobiles. Major strategies include:

Village Centers: modify existing shopping districts to include housing. This will increase the housing supply at village centers and expand commercial opportunities for businesses there. Village center will be located near transit lines, improving the odds that residents can commute without driving.

Jobs/Housing Balance: Sunnyvale will add proportionately more jobs than housing. Under present conditions, Sunnyvale has 1.44 jobs per housing unit. By 2035, Sunnyvale will have 1.73 jobs per housing unit. This will make jobs more plentiful, and make it more difficult for residents to secure housing within Sunnyvale.

Multimodal Transit System: city policies will emphasize complete streets, carpooling, mass transit and bicycle infrastructure. As we approach and exceed Sunnyvale’s capacity to transport residents via private automobiles, residents will need better access to more efficient transportation.

LUTE-2035

Development will focus on transit corridors and village centers. Proportionately more jobs will be added. Most existing residential neighborhoods will remain low density.

What do you think? Let City Council know!

Contact City Council to share your thoughts on the LUTE.

City Council is expected to review the changes next Tuesday, April 11, at 7 pm in the City Council Chambers, 456 W. Olive Ave. Members of the public are welcome to speak at the meeting for up to three minutes each.

UPDATE: the City Council agenda for April 11 has been published. Council will review the Land Use and Transportation Element as agenda item #4.