Milpitas approves enhanced tenant protection; commits to explore other solutions to affordable housing

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MILPITAS. – Following a series of meetings held by a Tenant Protection Task Force and with several hours of public testimony at their April 2 meeting, the Milpitas City Council took action to provide additional funding towards tenant protection services for robust community outreach and education on tenant and landlord rights with a commitment to look towards other opportunities related to providing affordable housing solutions for the region.

The City currently contracts with Project Sentinel, a non-profit organization that provides housing assistance programs regarding rental issues, fair housing/discrimination, and tenant-landlord dispute resolution. It is the largest such agency in Northern California and has been a HUD approved housing counseling agency since 1998.

Project Sentinel also provides counseling on the rights and responsibilities of tenants and landlords and offers conciliation, investigation and legal referrals to those alleging housing discrimination.

All cities within Santa Clara County (with the exception of the town of Los Altos Hills), all cities within San Mateo County, and the City of Fremont contract with Project Sentinel for fair housing and tenant protection services.

The Council unanimously approved an additional $10,000 towards services provided by Project Sentinel for enhanced tenant protection services, bringing the total amount of the contract for the upcoming year to $35,000.

“This is just the beginning to a lot of work and investment that the City Council has to be prepared to do. Milpitas is undertaking a comprehensive and transparent approach to strengthen tenant protections to keep Milpitians in Milpitas,” said Vice-mayor Karina Dominguez.

“Our Task Force and the strong turn-out from the community display the prescient reality to our housing crisis but the complexities and challenges will result in the City Council facing some emotional and difficult decisions. Today Milpitas families can remain hopeful that our City will take charge on the housing crisis. I look forward to seeing the results of this investment with Project Sentinel and I am excited to see what else staff will bring back to the City Council for action. We will be successful in addressing the housing crisis with more feedback from the community, because that is the most critical component, working with the community on potential solutions.”

Citing the affordable housing crisis throughout the region and the need to have safeguards in place for the most vulnerable Milpitas residents being at risk of eviction, the Council approved the formation of a Tenant Protection Task Force in February 2018. The Task Force was comprised of both tenants and landlords with the intent of collaborating on potential recommendations for the Council to consider related to rental housing tenant protections, including rapid increases in rents and a lack of standardized eviction notices. While the Task Force shared a vision centered on recognizing that Milpitas is a just and compassionate community that takes care of its people and acknowledging that more affordable housing is needed to meet the community’s needs, there was clearly no consensus on potential tenant protection measures, particularly rent control, just cause eviction, and source of income discrimination provisions.

“Affordable housing is a regional issue. It is going to take a lot of collaboration and building upon relationships with stakeholders to work together towards ensuring that we don’t displace residents of Milpitas,” said Councilmember Bob Nuñez.

“I would like to see the City work with the school district and the County of Santa Clara, among other leaders, to work together towards providing innovative solutions. By taking a holistic approach, the potential solutions will be more robust and comprehensive, protecting our community in the most all-inclusive way.”

Since October 2016, Project Sentinel reported receiving just over 200 calls, most of which were requests for general information. The calls that led to direct cases were reported to the City based on three-day notices (six cases); 30/60/90 day notices (36 cases); evictions (23 cases); and rent increases (14 cases).

Staff noted that while these numbers were minimal when compared to the total rental units in the City, the reported numbers are for those tenants who chose to come forward and report their case but do not account for un-reported issues of the same kind from occupants who either complied or relocated rather than seek assistance or who were not aware of Project Sentinel assistance.

With the increased funding, staff will immediately be working with Project Sentinel to increase outreach and engagement to enhance tenant protection with a focus on educational workshops and pre-eviction services, provide ongoing landlord-tenant education and landlord-tenant mediation programs, and provide improved data analytics for a more accurate understanding of service demand.

Staff will also continue to compile data, including mapping neighborhoods that are most vulnerable. Per the direction of Council, staff will be bringing forward a proposal for enhanced tenant support services in the upcoming operating budget for the beginning of the fiscal year, July 1. There are also three affordable housing projects dedicated to very-low and low income households, including:

• 355 Sango Court, a 100 percent affordable housing project with 102 total units. Council will consider a funding commitment for this project in May 2019;

• Senior Lifestyles Development with 48 units set aside for extremely low/very low households. A two-phase continuum of care senior housing residential development, with a building permit already issued for 10 units within Phase 1 and 38 units will return to Council in fall/winter 2019; and

• 1380-1400 South Main, with 10 units set aside for affordable housing. Council approved entitlements for the project in November 2018.

Additionally, last year, the City successfully negotiated a 5-year extension to the expiring Project Based Voucher contract at Sunnyhills and as a result, 149 units will remain dedicated to affordable housing. City staff is currently reviewing a conceptual plan to construct 44 new townhome units at this location.

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