Mountain View city council should enact rent control


No teenager should have to worry about the status of their housing situation. While important, issues like rent prices and real estate volatility add external pressure to students who, at this time in their lives, should be focusing on their education. However, dealing with these problems is an unfortunate reality for students at our school, and if rents in this area continue to rise, we will lose this 20 percent of economic diversity that makes our campus such a unique place.

There’s no doubt that the high price of rent is a hotly debated topic in Mountain View. The issue has plagued the city for years, and it’s obvious why. According to the city, rents have risen by an average of 53 percent over the past four years, and the constant demands from tenants, landlords, and other interest groups have pushed the city council to rapidly pursue a variety of solutions in recent weeks.

Although these measures will help to relieve rent hikes in the short term, they are not actual solutions to the housing shortage crisis that this area, especially Mountain View, faces. The city needs to aggressively build new housing in order to accommodate its growing population. Rent hikes have had a significant effect on our campus, and students would benefit to be aware of this issue as it develops.

Multiple factors have contributed to the increase in housing prices, but the most important factor is the increased demand for housing from employees of large tech companies such as Google. Employees who want to live in the area are often able to pay exorbitant rents, driving out long-time residents who can’t afford to keep up.

The city has been looking at a variety of programs in response to the issue, while seeking to avoid absolute rent freezes. Under one program, residents can apply to the Community Services Agency (CSA) and receive monetary aid to help them pay increased rents for up to four months.

Another ordinance will allow tenants to lock in their leases for up to one and a half years and avoid rent increases. In early December, the city also ordered its staff to draft a detailed proposal for a three-step mediation program designed to reduce unreasonable rent hikes and tenant evictions.

But these solutions won’t make a sizeable dent in reducing rent prices or solving the actual housing shortage at all. According to city estimates, the $150,000 set aside for the rent relief program will only serve about 75 families. A major drawback of the mediation program includes the subjectivity of what a reasonable rent hike is, which doesn’t stop the problem of high rent in the first place. And the city’s continual influx of high-wage tech workers will continue to drive up demand and push out old tenants.

Eventually, the city looks likely to resort to directly controlling rents. However, even that won’t be enough to solve the problem. Without new housing development, prices will continue to increase and residents will continue to be evicted.

The city is currently reviewing a number of projects in the North Bayshore area that would add more housing. Those will help, but more development is needed — fast.

On campus, rent hikes affect a sizeable amount of students. About 20 percent of our students take advantage of our free or reduced lunch program, and many of these students live in apartments in Mountain View. Those who can’t afford the rent hikes are forced to leave their friends and move far to cheaper places like San Jose, Gilroy, and even Sacremento.

Those who are can barely afford their rents can’t spend much time with their parents, who often each work two to three jobs to cover the rent. Despite their parents’ best efforts, many students are forced to take jobs to help support their families. As a result, these students often don’t have the time or money to pursue the extracurricular activities to which wealthier students have access. These students typically live in one or two room apartments with their families, and their monthly rents range from almost $2,000 for one bedroom to around $3,400 for a two-bedroom place.

Students tuned into these issues are better able to become more involved and connected with their peers who need help. The CSA provides aid in the form of financial and housing counseling, active, well-informed youth are key motivators for the community and those who have the power to change things in the community.

No single group can solve the city’s housing issues, but if students and community members organize to raise awareness, they may be able to spur decisive action by the city. Our school’s economic diversity is one of our greatest strengths. Keeping rent under control and striving towards effective long-term solutions allows us to preserve that unique diversity and benefit those at the school who need it the most.