Federal budget cuts raise affordable-housing rents | October 18, 2013 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

News - October 18, 2013

Federal budget cuts raise affordable-housing rents

Section 8 residents in Palo Alto feel the impact of sequester cuts

by Elena Kadvany

In July, a Palo Alto single mother of two who lives in affordable housing received a letter alerting her that the rent for her three-bedroom apartment was going to be increased from $71 per month to $808 as of Sept. 1.

"I was thinking, 'I need to do something,'" she said recently, tearing up as she recalled reading the letter.

"And then I feel bad because where are we going to live?" she said, referring to her son and daughter.

The mother, who will be referred to as Dolores for purposes of anonymity, lives in Section 8 housing, a federal housing-assistance program that provides vouchers for low-income families, the elderly and disabled. She is one of many Santa Clara County residents who felt the blow of federal sequester cuts that slashed $21 million from the Housing Authority of the County of Santa Clara's Section 8 funding in March. The housing authority, which provides affordable housing for more than 16,500 households through the federal Housing Choice Voucher (Section 8) program, came up with $6 million, leaving a remaining $15 million gap to cover.

Faced with the choice of raising rents or putting up to 1,000 residents out of a home, the county agency chose the former, implementing rent hikes and other cost-saving changes to the housing program.

As of Sept. 1, Section 8 residents are required to pay 35 percent of their gross monthly income towards rent, up from an average of approximately 27 percent, according to the county housing authority. Certain allowances that had previously been taken into account when calculating a resident's rent, such as utilities and deductions for expenses like child care or health insurance, were eliminated.

The county housing authority also changed its voucher policy, adopting the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's minimum standard for how many bedrooms a Section 8 family can qualify for. Previously, a three-person family qualified for a three-bedroom unit. As of Sept. 1, the head of the household (including spouse or partner) receives one room, plus one additional room for every two people, regardless of age or gender.

Georgina Mascarenhas, director of property management for the Palo Alto Housing Authority, said she believes "the greatest impact is to residents who the housing authority has determined actually qualify for a smaller unit size."

Dolores is one of those residents. Her options were minimal: Relocate, pay the different between the two rents or transfer to a smaller unit, provided there was one available (the Palo Alto Housing Corporation has long wait lists for all unit sizes, enough applicants to fill vacancies for the next five to seven years, Mascarenhas said, and waiting lists for Section 8 sites only open every five to seven years).

Relocating is especially problematic for families with children who are in local schools, Mascarenhas said.

Both of Dolores' children attend high school in Palo Alto.

Candice Gonzalez, the Palo Alto Housing Corporation's executive director, said that residents forced to move also might try to find housing at specific low-income housing complexes, which have been funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). That option is in contrast to using a housing voucher that can be transferable from apartment to apartment.

With so-called "project-based" housing complexes, residents are only entitled to the assistance while they live at the specific property; the subsidy remains with that property and is provided to residents who live there, Mascarenhas explained. Residents using housing vouchers would have to give them up in order to live in a project-complex.

"This definitely displays the need for project-based subsidy affordable housing in Palo Alto," Gonzalez said.

Dolores and her children were lucky; a resident living in a two-bedroom unit had recently given notice to vacate, so Dolores' request to transfer to the smaller unit with cheaper rent was quickly approved.

She's now paying $134 per month and gave her son and daughter the bedrooms. She said she either sleeps on a mattress in a small living area — propped against a wall during the day — or with her daughter.

Currently unemployed due to the need to care for her daughter, who has ongoing medical problems, her only source of income is child support, so Dolores applied for financial assistance from InnVision Shelter Network, a Bay Area organization that provides housing services and support, and other organizations that offer one-time emergency assistance funds to help cover the unpaid balance from her previous unit. She met with a job coach this week with the goal of finding a job.

If the two-bedroom unit hadn't opened up, what would she have done?

"I don't want to think about it because I don't know," she said.

There are 291 residents in Palo Alto Housing Corporation units receiving Section 8 housing vouchers, 39 of which were affected by the federal sequester-induced cuts made this spring, Mascarenhas said. Rent hikes ranged from $6, the lowest, to $877.

Nancy Medina, who lives alone in a studio in the Palo Alto Housing Corporation's Tree House Apartments on West Charleston Road, is toward the lower end of that range. Her rent, which was $26 when she moved in two years ago, went up $30 on Sept. 1.

"It did go up at the time I wasn't working, so either way, it would have been a lot for me," she said. "But now I have a job at least to keep me going and help out with PG&E, rent, telephone — which is important.

"It's a blessing," she said of her Tree House studio. "It has been really a blessing for me."

Medina is able to get to her job as a caregiver in Hillsborough thanks to a Tree House Apartment program, which provides residents a free transportation pass from the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority.

"Every little bit counts," Medina said. "It really does. I'm just grateful that I'm able to go from point A to point B for work in order to continue paying for my rent or whatever that's needed in the home."

Federal budget cuts were felt county-wide, with about half (1,125 out of 2,670 units) of 30 developments owned by the county housing authority occupied by Section 8 tenants, said Alex Sanchez, the authority's executive director.

However, only 3.6 percent of county residents couldn't pay their September rent on time — 97 households out of the 2,670 total units, according to the county agency. Twelve of those notices were sent to Section 8 voucher holders, less than 1.1 percent of all properties. As of Oct. 8, six remaining Section 8 households had yet to pay rent.

Sanchez said he has been "surprised" by Congress' lack of consensus on a federal program that has had bipartisan support for years.

"It is a major shift," he said. "I think it's not necessarily going in the right direction."

In anticipation of more residents not being able to afford higher rent, the Housing Authority of the County of Santa Clara is in the process of establishing the Sequester Eviction Prevention Program, which would provide emergency financial assistance to households facing eviction as a result of the Section 8 funding cuts. The program is currently in the fundraising phase; the authority itself has contributed $500,000; the County of Santa Clara, $1 million; the City of San Jose, $250,000; and Finally Home (a pool for Sunnyvale and City of Santa Clara funds), $70,000.

Dolores and Medina repeatedly stressed their appreciation for affordable housing in costly Palo Alto. Both said they love the area: It's safe; they like their neighborhoods; there are good schools.

"I want to tell you, this program for housing, I think it's wonderful for everybody that really needs it," Dolores said. "It's helping me to help my family. I bless God for it because ... for a single mother, it's very hard to pay rent."

Editorial Assistant Elena Kadvany can be emailed at ekadvany@paweekly.com.


Like this comment
Posted by Wondering?
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 20, 2013 at 4:44 pm

It’s not surprising to see this article, given that the PAHC has come under so much scrutiny, and criticism, because of their heavy-handed, and possibly even dishonest, dealing with the public over the Maybell Orchard development.

What’s interesting about this article is that the Weekly seems to have failed to ask a lot of questions about why this women is in the predicament that she is. It would be interesting to engage her with questions like:

How long have you been unemployed?
What kind of job did you have before you become unemployed?
Why can’t you work part-time when your kids are in school?
Where is the father of your children? Doesn’t he have some financial responsibility for their upkeep?
Do you have any family that can help you?
Where were you living before moving into publicly subsidized housing—which you are calling “affordable”?
Why is moving to a more affordable community impossible?
What do you plan to do when your children graduate from high school?
What do you think society is paying to subsidize you and your family?

Maybe to some this article is a heart-tugger, but for those of us whose parents lived through the Great Depression, and WWII, it’s difficult to believe that this woman is even remotely trying to live her life like the rest of us--who live within our means, pay the taxes that are necessary to fund the government, and subsidize the millions that are now on food stamps, and dependent on checks from the government.

Perhaps some people will be appalled that there are people in Palo Alto asking this women: “when are you going to get a job and pay your own way?” .. but the question needs to be asked.

Like this comment
Posted by nice place
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 20, 2013 at 4:52 pm


Especially in Palo Alto, the economy has been strong.

She has the advantage to not have to commute.

Like this comment
Posted by The weekly is part of the problem
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Oct 20, 2013 at 6:35 pm

The Weekly puts out an editorial against affordable senior housing and then wants us to tear up of PAHCs efforts to keep people in homes.
Weekly, you can't have it both ways. You're position is stopping affordable housing. Now you see the result.

Like this comment
Posted by Jose79845
a resident of another community
on Oct 20, 2013 at 7:16 pm

Why isn't anyone shutting down the DEA? Didn't campaign mode Obama say that is was an "utter failure?" The DEA remained open during the shutdown as an essential service.

Like this comment
Posted by Vote Against Measure D
a resident of Green Acres
on Oct 20, 2013 at 10:49 pm

@ The weekly is part,

[Portion removed.]

Measure D and the people who are opposed are NOT against affordable senior housing. The ordinance was a REZONING ordinance. Being against a bad plan does not make someone against affordable housing. If PAHC and the City hadn't insisted on zoning that violates even the highest density zoning designation in Palo Alto by 25%, they would be building now. Eden Housing faced the same choice, so they chose to build under the existing zoning and got the units built. [Portion removed.]

As for the hike in rent - that's really rough. Rather than spending tens of millions for 60 units where the specific need is dubious, why aren't we considering a subsidy program instead? 35% of people's income when the income is very low is brutal. [Portion removed.]

Like this comment
Posted by No, VOTE FOR Measure D
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 20, 2013 at 10:56 pm

[Post removed.]

Like this comment
Posted by JQPublic
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 21, 2013 at 12:32 am

Section 8 should be gutted. Taxpayers should not subsidize $80/month rent for a 3 bedroom apartment in PA.

Like this comment
Posted by Vote AGAINST D
a resident of Green Acres
on Oct 21, 2013 at 1:55 am

[Post removed.]

Like this comment
Posted by paweekly against affordable housing
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 21, 2013 at 7:41 am

This clearly shows the result of PaloAlto Weekly's bias. There could be 60 affordable senior housing units added. Instead the Weekly and those like it fight as hard as they can to prevent affordable housing being built in Palo Alto.

Like this comment
Posted by doesn't add up
a resident of Palo Verde
on Oct 21, 2013 at 10:35 am

These numbers do not add up. Is the $71/month rent really 35% of "Dolores" gross income? Does she make $200 a month as a caregiver in Hillsborough or was an increase in income just not reported? Even unemployment would be more than $200/month.

And a 3BR apartment for the cost of a bag or two of groceries while plenty of Palo Alto families have their kids - god forbid - SHARE bedrooms with their siblings while both parents work long hours and save to squeeze into a $1m+ "starter" homes. That is true in many neighborhoods here - working families living in 2 and 3 BR homes with mortgages, supporting situations like the one reported.

I'm a life long democrat, but am with "Wondering" on this one.

Like this comment
Posted by doesn't add up
a resident of Palo Verde
on Oct 21, 2013 at 10:45 am

I wonder if the poster two comment up would Define Affordable and who is "entitled" to it.

I say this - as a Democrat - with several friends that are college- and grad school-educated families who have had to move their families out of Palo Alto - pulling their kids out of our schools - because they could not afford egregious rent increases by their landlords, most of whom inherited their houses and pay 1/10th the property taxes my husband and I pay. We are talking boosting rent from $3500 to over $5k/month for a, wait for it, 3BR house! Who will come to their rescue? No one. They suck it up and deal with it. I'm a newcomer here, but we've worked hard and saved for years to afford the oppty to live here. My relatives cannot afford it, but I don't expect someone else to cover for them. That is just life. Again - Lifelong, realistic, third generation Democrat.

Like this comment
Posted by Berry
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 21, 2013 at 10:55 am

+1 Wondering?

Like this comment
Posted by JA3+
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 21, 2013 at 12:40 pm

"... for those of us whose parents lived through the Great Depression, and WWII, it's difficult to believe that this woman is even remotely trying to live her life like the rest of us--who live within our means, pay the taxes that are necessary to fund the government, and subsidize the millions that are now on food stamps, and dependent on checks from the government."


Like this comment
Posted by Garrett
a resident of another community
on Oct 21, 2013 at 12:41 pm

Wondering also but then again I don't know the why or how the people in the article endec up in the this situalion. Poor decision, bad career move, money problems, illness or family problems. Going to college doesn't mean you get to live in Palo Alto or anywhere in the area but home prices with rents rising. Rising to a point that a starter home or afforable rent needs to be miles away from ones work.

Everyone's life is different or something happen beyond their control. Not everyone went to college and got high paying jobs or ended up being successful. Just earning a wage to live near your job and making sure you don't have any bad luck or family problems.

Like this comment
Posted by Mike
a resident of University South
on Oct 21, 2013 at 1:12 pm

Seems like some of you didn't read the article. Let me point out one part:

"Currently unemployed due to the need to care for her daughter, who has ongoing medical problems, her only source of income is child support..."

After taking out deductions, $71/month rent could be 35% of "Dolores" gross income.

I'm not saying it's right for her to game the system like this because she should be gainfully employed during school hours.

Like this comment
Posted by sersiouly
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Oct 21, 2013 at 1:49 pm

I think a lot of people around here pay at least 35% of their income. My husband and I definitely pay more than that for housing and we're in a much higher tax bracket and got the bare minimum in housing. I think it's absurd that someone would be paying $71 for rent. I want to feel sorry for this woman, however, seriously, not everyone can live in Palo Alto. Not to be harsh or anything but if you can't hack it, get out.

Like this comment
Posted by Garrett
a resident of another community
on Oct 21, 2013 at 2:36 pm

One could go out and find some kind of work and get a paycheck. Sounds easy until you run income limits that will reduce your benefit or whatever agency rule, regulation or requirement.

Like this comment
Posted by Leland and Michelle
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 21, 2013 at 2:49 pm

Only young and rich people should be allowed to live in Palo Alto. Let's keep this city elite. We don't want a variety of people who don't fit the criterion, young and rich only.

Like this comment
Posted by ThePlaceToBe
a resident of Green Acres
on Oct 21, 2013 at 3:03 pm

Houses can actually be bought in places like Detroit, Michigan. So many affordable houses can be BOUGHT there as well as in Indiana, too. With houses selling for $15,000-$75,000 one can be like Zuckerberg and buy his/her home and the 4 houses surrounding it!

Like this comment
Posted by Vote AGAINST D
a resident of Green Acres
on Oct 21, 2013 at 3:06 pm

@paweekly against,
None of the people in this story would qualify to live in the proposed Maybell project you allude to. The income range there is limited to 30-60% of area median income, which is up to several times above the poverty limit, and actually a pretty decent income if in a less expensive area.

It makes sense to house people near their jobs, but it would be a mistake to be limited by City boundaries in our larger metro area to address such a problem. Doing that means overly expensive units that ultimately are a drop in the bucket to meet the need. The real answer is saner, more holistic planning, and better transportation systems.

Like this comment
Posted by NOS4A2
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Oct 21, 2013 at 3:46 pm

What is considered low income in one city can be considered middle income in another

My son, his wife, and their two children can qualify for low income housing in Palo Alto, but not in Redwood City, where my son works, or in San Carlos, where his wife works, nor in San Jose, where they both used to work. So, they are on a wAiting list for low income housing here.

They will have to pay 35% of their income for rent but most people are paying half of their income or more for rent or mortgage, so it is a welcome bargain that will allow them to put money in the bank. However, there will still be nowhere for their children to play.

Like this comment
Posted by nice place
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 21, 2013 at 6:17 pm

I want to apologize for my initial post which was kind of caddy about how nice the apartment looks. I don't think judging families living in affordable housing is fair.

The programs are the ones that need to be judged.

Affordable housing in Palo Alto has become really expensive, something needs to change.

WHo even knows how this whole story really works.

From the Maybell deal, this seems to be a developer's game, mixed with City Hall, both behind very misleading "non-profit" organizations.

Non-profit does not necessarily mean good, or smart, or appropriate, it just means the money a non-profit makes goes back into the organization, to keep doing what they do. Until they come to your neighborhood.

Like this comment
Posted by Vote Against D
a resident of Green Acres
on Oct 22, 2013 at 9:31 am

@nice place,
I answered frankly myself, that it's more nicely appointed than my home, but that's not necessarily because of money - there are good thrift stores in this area, freecycle, and kids at Stanford throwing perfectly good stuff away every semester - I think we should not judge people harshly if they are resourceful. That is ultimately how they will get beyond the circumstances.

But you are right that the programs deserve scrutiny, that is ultimately how the public can know they are providing for the least among us rather than essentially letting some win the lottery without addressing the real need.

Like this comment
Posted by Garrett
a resident of another community
on Oct 23, 2013 at 10:11 am

We have young people coming here getting high paying jobs with new kind of tech companies or those older firms. Mark Zuckerberg came here which he did well along with those who worked at the beginning of Facebook. I don't see anything wrong with people coming here making money or wanted to come and work.

But that is the problem when you get away from the high paying jobs of the tech sector which you will find whole another world. The world of jobs that might pay well but not enough. Might be a good income in another state but here you are going into low income wages. The cost of living in the Silicon Valley have risen so much in the last 20 years.

Like this comment
Posted by Neighbors Helping Neighbors
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 25, 2013 at 10:19 am

Dear Neighbors & Friends,
Palo Alto is certainly not the same affordable place it once was. NHN formed in 2012 as a result of too many households in crisis. If you know of anyone struggling or about to lose their dwelling, please have them contact us. We may not have all the solutions. NHN will do our best to fill the gaps.

What We Do:
We are a group of volunteers striving to provide groceries to Palo Alto and recently Mtn. View families, seniors and singles who are unable to qualify for 'safety net' programs like Cal Fresh (formally food stamps) or food closet assistance. However, extra food items collected are given to local food closets. Also, our City of Palo Alto Family Resources trained volunteers & two retired healthcare professional, provides peer counseling and referrals for other life's challenges (housing, healthcare, professional counseling, legal issues, etc.) for those who may need extra help. Since too many of the housed 'at risk' on our roster are becoming homeless we have created our "Passion Programs"; "Networks for "Shared No/Low Cost Housing", "Quick Cash Jobs", Temp/Full Time Jobs, Carpool/Rides, Free Healthcare programs, etc. Plus emergency crisis management for those households and individuals in crisis.
Palo Alto Online Palo Alto Weekly Article: Catching neighbors who fall through the gap (January 25, 2013)
Web Link
Like us on face book to get more details on our programs, services and upcoming events. Such as, CRV Container' Fundraiser Sat. Nov. 2nd benefits ‘Motel Stays' & 'Gym Memberships' fund for Un-housed and Annual Food Drive, Oct. 14th to Dec. 14th.
Click this link for more details on our Face Book page,
Web Link

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.