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A single mother's BMR experience

Original post made on Apr 2, 2008

Jean Nolan and her two sons moved into their three-bedroom condo in the Greenhouse off San Antonio Road in 1993.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Wednesday, April 2, 2008, 9:28 AM

Comments (37)

4 people like this
Posted by Ed
a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 2, 2008 at 11:25 am

Greedy...very greedy. Nolan was given the opportunity to live in Palo Alto at a cheap she wont pass it on to another family in need?? She has truly adopted the Palo Alto Way....

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Posted by DTB
a resident of another community
on Apr 2, 2008 at 1:05 pm

Jean Nolan shows a visitor her three bedroom, below-market-rate home in south Palo Alto. She believes the limited appreciation rate on her unit is unfair.

[Portion removed.]

If you don't like what the taxpayer has given you then move to somewhere else. BMR housing is what it means. Live with it.

I can see why she lives alone.

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Posted by MidtownMom
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 2, 2008 at 1:19 pm

Is this woman expecting sympathy from people? Hey - she got to enjoy her own home, benefit from the tax deductions, got an opportunity to send her kids to the school district ... all this was because she qualified for the below market rate.

Is the appreciation of the property lower because it will still be tagged as a 'below market' property i.e. someone else in the same position as this women should be able to afford it?

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Posted by Carl
a resident of Palo Verde
on Apr 2, 2008 at 1:32 pm

This one takes the cake! Imagine how bad it will be when ABAG forces us to build 1500 more BMRs! This woman has the true welfare mentality. If ABAG housing is approved, an entire class of victims, like this woman, will begin to control the politics of PA.

1 person likes this
Posted by parent
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 2, 2008 at 1:36 pm

Not everyone feels the way this woman does: 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. That is the whole point of the program.

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Posted by common sense
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 2, 2008 at 3:29 pm

This woman works for a law firm - she got a BMR unit priced at less than 1/2 the market value in return for what? On a 30 year mortgage, she pays about $700/month for a 3 bedroom place. She had choices:

1) She could have bought in the SouthBay, commuted to work, and built up alot more equity,
2) She could have rented, but her rent now would be $3,000 or more a month.

But this woman feels entitled to a home priced below what others pay, and now feels she should be entitled to the appreciation everyone else got!

One effect of the BMR program is to subsidize Wilson Sonini, so they didn't have to pay her a big enough salary to afford a market rate unit.

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Posted by Sargent Shriver
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 2, 2008 at 4:33 pm

My son owns a BMR unit in Palo Alto development. We feel absolutely grateful for him to have had this opportunity. All aspects of the financial structure of the deed and the restrictions were disclosed to us. He gets to live in nice unit for relatively little money. Any appreciation that might come his way when he decides to sell will just be gravy.

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Posted by Cry me a river
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Apr 2, 2008 at 4:39 pm

But wait there is more.

1) She also pays less property taxes for her BMR home.
2) She saves on commuting expenses from her BMR home to her law firm.
3) She had a high quality of life being so close to her home and her (at the time) children's schools.

No mention about her opportunity to save and invest the money representing the difference in her BMR costs and the real money that us other tax suckers have to pay and continue to pay to live in this area.

No mention that she could have bought a home in my town at the time for less.

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Posted by neighbor
a resident of The Greenhouse
on Apr 2, 2008 at 8:10 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

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Posted by Oh brother!
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 3, 2008 at 1:17 am

Given all the many financial advantages Ms. Nolan got from the BMR program, why didn't she save something for her retirement along the way?

Okay, so let's let her get market value for her unit. But she should have to convert the contract - pay the city the market cost of the original unit, with interest, and market rate rent for all the years she lived there, with interest. And reimburse the county for all the property taxes she saved, with interest. Can someone calculate just how much Ms. Nolan would then owe the City of Palo Alto??? How about at least some thanks for the first-rate living conditions and education it subsidized for her and her children? And the STABILITY of being able to stay in one place, not have the place sold out from under her in a hot market, not have her rent raised beyond all reason year after year, not having to endure the expenses of unexpected moves...

When I think about all the crappy, impermanent rentals my family has had to endure to enjoy the other benefits of living in this town, with more than half of our gross income going to rent, and then becoming one of the area's "house poor" in order to buy - I can't help shaking my head at Ms. Nolan's bilious ingratitude. If we had been able to get into BMR, we would have been glad and grateful, with far better capacity to save to buy than we did renting. And better living conditions in the meantime. Sounds like Ms. Nolan didn't buy because she didn't want to suffer the lower living conditions and sacrifice that the rest of us ordinary people make to live here.

Now we're paying in some cases ten to thirty times in property taxes what our older and financially better off neighbors are paying - and yes, it's a painful amount relative to our income. That's the way it works around here. Just like they did decades ago, we're sacrificing now because hopefully someday we'll be old people with good equity and relatively low property taxes, too. Like I said, we would have been so much better off if we could have gotten into a BMR unit for a few decades versus renting, you can't save any money renting around here. We would have been only to glad to make any profit. (I'm no financial genius, but I looked into the program in the 80's, and the situation was very well spelled out.)

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Posted by Nora Charles
a resident of Stanford
on Apr 3, 2008 at 1:56 am

Nora Charles is a registered user.

I found myself getting angry as I read about this woman. She has one hell of a nerve! She was given the opportunity to live in Palo Alto at an amazing price on a condo. As others have pointed out, she has been paying a fraction in property tax of what her fellow residents are paying (yet receiving the same services). And now she has the nerve to complain? She was given a chance, and now she resents someone else being given a chance at her BMR condo. How charitable. Perhaps there should be better screening so that only really deserving people qualify. Or better yet, make them available only for police, fire fighters, or teachers who work here.

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Posted by Joy
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Apr 3, 2008 at 8:15 am

What if all the BMR units in Palo Alto are sold off at market rate, we lose our stock of BMR units. How will we ever satisfy ABAGS demands for ever more BMR units to be built in Palo Alto, we will never have enough. We'll have to start tearing down good single story homes to build multi-story BMR units.

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Posted by Lisa
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 3, 2008 at 8:27 am

WOW, I was a legal assistant for a law firm in Palo Alto for 12 years and I was a single mother of 2 sons, I wish I'd figured out I was eligible for a BMR unit. Do you know how much a good legal assistant makes? Much more than someone who you'd think was eligible for BMR units. I've been a renter all these years - stupid me!!!

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Posted by dott31
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Apr 3, 2008 at 4:44 pm

Isn't this called "eating your cake and wanting it too"?

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Posted by realist
a resident of another community
on Apr 3, 2008 at 10:12 pm

It's more like demanding cake after paying the bread price.

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Posted by local house poor
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 4, 2008 at 11:13 am

My family sold a house in Michigan before the market tanked - after a similarly long residence, I think they made $25,000 and were grateful it was that much.

Ms. Nolan needs a reality check. Maybe we should make BMR a little more like Habitat for Humanity, to avoid this kind of greedy, self-absorbed nonsense. If Ms. Nolan had to do some community service to keep her unit, perhaps helping people who are barely getting by in this area because of the horrendous cost of housing, she might have a completely different attitude.

I only hope her vocal selfishness does not hurt this important program.

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Posted by Neighbor
a resident of The Greenhouse
on Apr 4, 2008 at 11:17 am

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

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Posted by Paul
a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 4, 2008 at 2:13 pm

Yeah, and some tens of millions of other Americans to boot. This forum is (or ought to be) focused on providing BMR housing in Palo Alto. It seems to have become a digital-age set of stocks for pillorying one Ms. Nolan.

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Posted by local house poor
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 4, 2008 at 5:16 pm

That's a good point, Paul - the critical question here is, is Ms. Nolan representative of the people who benefit from the BMR program, or is she - as unsympathetic a character as she is portrayed - a rare and unusual case?

Because if she is representative, then it's probably time to rethink how the program is run - meaning, adding some of the elements per the above post such as Habitat for Humanity requires so that people aren't just given everything - but if she is rare, one has to ask what was the motivation behind the Weekly featuring her instead of someone else more representative and sympathetic?

How about it Weekly staff? How about running a balancing story to give a better idea of which is the case? Does the BMR program give grateful people a leg up, or does it promote greedy resentment in more people than just Ms. Nolan?

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Posted by MER
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Apr 6, 2008 at 11:28 am

I think the point that Ms. Nolan is making is that 15 years ago she paid 1/3 of the market price and would like to get 1/3 of the market price $200,000 when she leaves. Clearly that would keep the unit within the program.

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Posted by JD
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Apr 6, 2008 at 11:32 am

I agree. Ms. Nolan paid 1/3 of market value for her unit, and should receive 1/3 of market value when she sells it. Makes sense to me!

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Posted by FPR
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 6, 2008 at 11:41 am

It's hard to believe how easily you can be judged by a few comments.
I know Jean, and she is one of the most caring, giving people in the world. In addition to being a good friend, she is a good citizen, giving of her time to support causes that are aimed at bettering the world.

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Posted by Neighbor
a resident of The Greenhouse
on Apr 6, 2008 at 12:46 pm

From the original story:

"Although Nolan signed a deed that limited her equity appreciation, she said she hadn't realized its implications."

Ms Nolan worked in a law office--surely, if she did not understand, she could have gotten a lawyer to explain to her the implications.

"Since the City Council is now reviewing the affordable-housing program guidelines, she believes the contract is irrelevant, she said."

Do contracts become "irrelevant" if the city reviews and/or changes the guidelines?

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Posted by FOJ
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 6, 2008 at 2:00 pm

Jean Nolan isn't asking for the market value of $600,00. Since she paid a third of market value, she is only asking for a third of the current value(about $200,00). I don't think this is unreasonable. It will allow her to retire elsewhere, making the BMR property available for others.

I think it's to her credit that she's willing to give up the unit when she retires. She could, like others mentioned above, remain there well into her retirement years, enjoying a benefit meant for those who work in Palo Alto, thereby depriving another young family of an affordable home.

Let's offer our BMR resdidents a reasonable amount for their units so they will move on after they retire.

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Posted by Frank
a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 8, 2008 at 2:36 pm

FOJ, you miss the point. Our neighbor Jean enjoyed all the advantages. She lived in a unit worth well above what she was paying for it. She got to live near where she works, send her kids to top schools. At a time when the market rate for what she lived in was 3X what she paid, that was a true gift.

Now its a few years later. Jean looks around and decides that she doesn't like the deal so much, after all. Nobody can take back the education her kids got, the time she saved in commuting, etc. No unwinding the benefits she got. So now she wants to rewrite the deal and get 100% of the appreciation her condo has had since she bought it. Of course since she only bought 1/3 of the condo, she's kindly offered to take only 1/3 of the appreciation.

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

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Posted by Mike
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Apr 8, 2008 at 3:35 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.

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Posted by parent
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 8, 2008 at 7:23 pm

Excuse me, FOJ, but your comment "I think it's to her credit that [Jean Nolan] is willing to give up the unit when she retires. She could, like others mentioned above, remain there well into her retirement years, enjoying a benefit meant for those who work in Palo Alto, thereby depriving another young family of an affordable home." is rather unfair. If you are referring to my original post at the start, please know that my mother, who bought her condo in the 1970's, still works full-time even though she is a senior. I don't know her plans after retirement, but I don't believe there is any clause in the contract that says she must move out of the home she purchased immediately once she is elderly and retired. Why do you think only young families are deserving of BMR housing? Surely seniors are also. These units are not rentals. They are condos purchased by their owners. If my mom moves after retiring, she will not begrudge the fact that she will not make a big profit (as Jean Nolan seems to be doing) because she understands that she benefited from the opportunity to buy at a good price when she couldn't afford anything else.

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Posted by parent
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 8, 2008 at 7:31 pm

One more note to the above post: My mother's tiny 2-room condo housed three of us. It's not as if she is hogging a large "family home" now.

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Posted by Lyn
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 8, 2008 at 3:00 pm

I dont think Jean is unappreciative or greedy. She paid her mortgage and homeowners dues every month like everyone else. She painted, did the floors and everthing else another person would do to their home. Unlike the others, she will never see a penny for it. I think the BMR housing has great merit but it also has some problems. You pay the same association dues, property tax and assessments as everyone else. This is not easy for a lower income person and it makes it impossible to ever get ahead or invest in anything. Other people rely on the equity in their home as an investment, but a BMR person has none. The fact that the housing prices and everything else has skyrocketed keeps her in the position of never being able to get ahead. She can't even rent out her place even though it belongs to her. There are problematic issues.

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Posted by AAA
a resident of Ohlone School
on Sep 16, 2008 at 1:52 pm

I think the BMR housing is more likely you rent the house from city. You can't own it and don't drean you win a lottery.

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Posted by for palo alto
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 8, 2008 at 2:05 pm

i would like to have teachers, fire fighters and policemen qualified for BMR first.

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Posted by Dee
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 17, 2008 at 9:10 am

I've been on the waiting list for over 3 years now to purchase a BMR unit. They actually make you attend classes to explain how the purchase plan works. This year, there was a couple of people who couldn't accept the fact that they couldn't buy a condo or townhouse at way below market rate and then turn around and sale it for the inflated market rate. Ms. Nolan strikes me as that type. She too advantage of a great program designed to help hard working individuals get ahead, but obviously thought that somehow, when the time came and she wanted to move, she would be able to sale for at least 600% above her purchase rate. The rules, at least in her mind, were not meant for her (and apparantly, still aren't). For shame!

Speaking for those of us trying to get into BMR, with an honest appreciation for the program and what it stands for, I ask, please do not shut it down. It works. Rental units in Palo Alto are not that great but they are extremely expensive. Most homes in Palo Alto are also not that great and they are also extremely expensive. I remember 10 years ago seeing a one bedroom cottage going for a million dollars. BMR is the only way for many to have a place to stay at a reasonable price, while sending our kids through a good school system. And while it may not build equity, it does build good credit and standing in the community.

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Posted by Tsk, tsk
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 17, 2008 at 10:14 am

Is there anything more to say? I too, was angry after reading this and have learned something from it. I am glad that she cannot make money off the condo. It is serving the intended purpose then. If she wanted to make money, she should have bought in Mountain View or Sunnyvale. They must have made it very clear when she was buying that it would not appreciate. She even worked for a law office where details matter.

Any update on this story? If she moved to Ohio, the $45,000 she makes off this sale could allow her to retire!

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Posted by Robert
a resident of another community
on Jan 4, 2009 at 4:27 am

Wow. I just read the post and i agree that she should only get what the city approved ($132,000). I can see why she would like to get more profit from her years of maintenance and upgrading the unit but she has to understand that she bought into a unit that will restrict her from selling the unit in the future. It was stated in the contract

I bought a BMR condo in SF 2 years ago and befor buying i thought about the postives and negitives over a BMR. The postives outweighed the negitives. If these programs weren't around for low income buyers i would never had a chance to buy a home of my own. When i sell i know i will make little or no money but the owning a condo and living in a area i love is more rewarding that the money.

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Posted by lynn
a resident of South of Midtown
on Apr 21, 2012 at 10:56 am

I have had my BMR for 24 years and have done my best to keep it up with new flooring and etc. but it is over 24 years old. Do I upgrade the bathroom before I sell it? Will I waste money by doing this? How do I know how much work should go into it to sell but not waste money that I do not have?

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Posted by Hmmm
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Apr 21, 2012 at 12:19 pm

Lynn - are there professional types you can ask about this? I'd think it would make sense for it to go on the market as a fixer-upper of sorts, due to your limitations & the limitations of the program.

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Posted by palo alto mom
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 21, 2012 at 12:21 pm

Lynn - The PAHC websites states that "In appropriate cases, an amount equal to the depreciated cost of significant improvements made to the unit by the BMR owner for which the owner can provide receipts and the full amount of any special assessments paid by the BMR owner to the Homeowners Association for the maintenance and repair of common areas are added to the resale price." I would contact them and ask if the upgrades you are making will be added to the resale price. If you are only upgrading to sell, I assume there is a fixed price you will get and you will receive that and no more, so I wouldn't bother to upgrade anything unless you are staying. I don't what your obligations are to update the property above and beyond simple repairs and maintenance, most house in Palo Alto are sold "as is" with no obligation for the seller to pay for any repairs.

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

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