Shame: the cost of ownership

Kay Wright, 61, doesn't usually tell people she lives in a below-market-rate (BMR) home.

She's overheard other residents of Abitare, a downtown condominium complex, talking about "those BMR owners."

Few BMR owners interviewed by the Weekly, even those who are extremely happy with the affordable-housing program, were willing to give their names. Even owners who addressed the City Council and submitted letters, which are public records, called the Weekly and asked not to be mentioned by name.

"I'm ashamed to be part of the BMR program. I'm embarrassed I even got involved in it," said one owner, "Kathy."

When she purchased in 1985, she was a "busy, single mom working full-time."

"I didn't know what one-third CPI meant," she said, referring to the appreciation formula that has brought owners about a 1 percent increase per year.

"We just thought we were lucky to get it," she said.

Joel Davidson isn't an ashamed BMR owner. He serves on the board of his homeowners' association, as do other affordable-housing program participants, said Marlene Prendergast, executive director of the Palo Alto Housing Corporation.

And although some recent owners may be happy now, they will realize later the costs of the program, Kathy said.

"Twenty-two years down the road they will be unhappy," she forecast.

One family who bought a BMR in the recently constructed Arbor Real, which replaced Rickey's Hyatt along El Camino Real, said they only wanted to get their children into Palo Alto schools, not earn money.

Wright said she decided to speak about the issue because she wanted to warn future participants.

"I want people in the future to know not only the disrespect you get, but also, is this where you want to invest your money?" Wright said.

— Palo Alto Weekly staff


Posted by parent, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 2, 2008 at 1:14 pm

My mother, a very low-income single parent raising two kids, bought a BMR condo through the Palo Alto Housing Corporation in the late 70's and we are so grateful for the program. She would not have been able to afford anything at market rate, but because of the program, my sibling and I were able to continue attending Palo Alto schools and living in our home town. Now we are grown, college-educated professionals living in our own homes and able to give back to our community (Palo Alto) and help the mom who worked so hard to support us. Thanks so much, Palo Alto Housing Corp! You helped us stay in the community. My mother, who still lives in her condo, does not resent the fact that her unit has not appreciated at market value because she wants other low-income, struggling families to have a chance to buy, just as she did.

Posted by Tom, a resident of Professorville
on Apr 2, 2008 at 6:25 pm

I applaud parent's attitude. The mission of Palo Alto's BMR program should be to offer housing at a low cost, not to provide subsidized opportunities for private capital gains. It can continue this mission only by controlling appreciation rates so each BMR unit remains a BMR housing opportunity for its next owner.

Posted by Mike, a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Apr 2, 2008 at 10:33 pm

I came away from the article on BMR housing amazed at the lack of gratitude many of these program beneficiaries express. Poster child Jean Nolan bought a condo in 1993 for $114K when similar ones sold for $250K. If put nothing down and took out a 30-year loan at the 1993 rate of 7%, she would be paying about $750/mos. 15 years later she has paid $135K and can sell her condo at the city-regulated price of $132K. So she lived in a nice condo for 15 years for only $3K! My neighbors who have lived in apartments since the early 90's will walk away with zero dollars in their pocket when they move; the rent went up in smoke.

It's even worse than that; a better calculation of what Nolan should have been paying is what her neighbors who forked over the full freight for their condo spent. At 7%, they've been paying around $1600/mos. Nolan has lived for 15 years in a condo worth $800 more every month than what she has been paying, she will sell and get back every penny but $3K of what she actually spent on her mortgage. This somehow leaves her bitter and the plan is "totally unfair".

Nolan is jealous her neighbors can sell their condos for more than she can get. Of course back in 1993 Nolan could have bought a full-price condo somewhere for $114K and kept all the appreciation for herself, but she didn't realize the market would boom. Nobody did, real estate was flat or even slightly declining from 1990 thru 1997. So she jumped at the chance to live close to work, to send her kids to great schools. Now that in retrospect it turns out she should have bought somewhere else, she wants to have her cake and eat it too.

Posted by Nora Charles, a resident of Stanford
on Apr 3, 2008 at 2:02 am

Nora Charles is a registered user.

Such greed! She should be ashamed. Does she not want another person or family to experience the same opportunity she was lucky enough to enjoy?

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 3, 2008 at 7:54 am

If our current stock of BMR units are sold off at the current rate of regular housing in Palo Alto, we will lose our stock of BMR units. How will we ever have enough BMR units to satisfy ABAG if they are sold off later at the regular price?

Posted by Abolish BMR Units, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 8, 2008 at 1:49 pm

Why should a lucky few be able to arbitrarily benefit from something others work hard to attain on their own? Letting the BMR units reset to market rate units would allow the dream of home ownership in Palo Alto to be achieveable for more people who have actually earned and saved enough to live here -- rather than those lucky enough to have government connections or to those who have worked the system. I'd love a a bigger house and lot than the one I can afford here , but I don't think I should steal from others in order to get it.

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