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Thousands Of Below Market Rate Housing Units Disappearing, Putting Seniors At Risk

FOSTER CITY (KPIX 5) -- Affordable housing in California, already an extremely rare commodity, will likely become even more rare in the next decade.

Nearly 32,000 units of affordable housing in the state are expected to be converted to market rate housing in the next 10 years.

That puts tenants like Venessa Franklin of Foster's City in a position to be displaced. Franklin has lived at the Foster's Landing apartment complex for more than 30 years. She says she'll never forget the feeling she had when she first walked into her home all those years ago.

"I said, 'My God, this would be a blessing.' And it turned out to be that way," Franklin said.

She had just gotten out of a bad marriage, was staying with family and needed a home for her two boys.

Franklin lives in what is known as a BMR or "below market rate" unit, a specific type of affordable housing. Each tenant pays 30 percent of their income toward rent. BMRs are extremely difficult to get; they're rare and every day they're disappearing.

"Someone came to the door New Year's Eve and handed us an envelope. And it was just a shock. We just couldn't believe it," Franklin said.

The BMR status at Foster's Landing that was set 30 years ago expires December 31st of this year, a fact most tenants did not know when they moved in.

To qualify to remain in a BMR unit, tenants have to prove every year that they cannot afford market rate housing. So Franklin and tenants in 74 other BMR units will have no choice but to leave.

"A lot of us are seniors. We have people that are 80-years-old and they really don't know what they're going to do," Franklin said.

""This is really just the tip of the iceberg," said Mark Schwartz, the CEO of the California Housing Partnership.

Schwartz said these kinds of "bad surprises" happen to tenants like Franklin all the time. Right now, the state doesn't even have a mechanism to track all of the affordable housing contracts that are about to expire.

"Developments out there like Foster's Landing aren't even in the database yet," Schwartz said.

From what the California Housing Partnership has been able to track, they've found 31,821 affordable rental homes are at risk of converting to market rate in the next 10 years. 9,064 -- or 28 percent of those homes -- are scheduled to convert to market rate in the next year. Schwartz says Foster's Landing is proof there are many more we don't know about.

"There are loopholes in the existing state preservation notice law that have allowed owners of developments like Foster's Landing to not file documents regularly that are transparent," he said.

"The reality of the matter is this is really a human tragedy. It's a story that Foster City is dealing with, but it is not unique to Foster City," city council member Sam Hindi said.

Hindi said he has been trying to strike a deal with Essex, the owners of Foster's Landing, for more than a year now.

"To try to acquire the property, if you will, so we could preserve it. And that is not a feasible option due to the cost. It's going to take about $50 million, number one. Number two, we do not have a willing seller," Hindi said.

California Housing Partnership was able to help pass a state law that will require all affordable housing groups to report their expiration dates to the state, but the database likely won't exist until next year. All it will do once launched is track expiration dates. It doesn't incentivize owners like Essex to help preserve below market rate housing.

Schwartz says for owners like Essex, the incentives aren't always there.

"They're looking at real estate as assets that make money," he said.

For Franklin this will mean displacement, she's going to move to Georgia to be with family, dozens of other seniors at Foster's Landing could end up on the street.

"It's hard, really, really hard, especially when you spend your life doing everything you're supposed to do," Franklin said tearfully.

Foster City is set to vote on setting aside funds for relocation assistance for tenants in Foster's Landing next week. Other tenants are being put on a list for affordable housing, but the next opening for an affordable apartment in Foster City is likely a three year wait away.

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