In pricey Bay Area, 92-year-old WW II veteran facing eviction [The Mercury News :: BC-REAL-DISPLACEDVETERAN:SJ]
SAN JOSE, Calif. - In his 92 years, Paul Mayer has survived World War II. He's battled skin cancer and congestive heart failure. But it's the fight to keep his apartment of 44 years that he fears he'll lose. He has until April 4 to clear out.
"I'd be willing to pay more rent if we could work something out with them," Mayer said on a recent afternoon, surrounded by 1970s furniture and family photos inside his studio apartment. "But they didn't even bother. They just said, 'Get out.' And I don't know where to go."
The property owner, Peggy Ramirez DeMaio, said that although Mayer has been a model tenant, all renters in her 16-unit building must go so she can fix it up.
"It's nothing personal," DeMaio said. "Everybody is being evicted because everything is getting renovated. It's costing more money than it's worth. At first I felt really bad, and I tried to work around him, but I couldn't." Noting that Mayer pays less than a quarter of the average rent in the area, she said, "That's ridiculous."
Mayer is part of the latest chapter in the story of San Jose's housing struggle: A city that bills itself as the Capital of Silicon Valley is grappling with how to house those the technology industry and its vast riches have left behind - waitresses, schoolteachers, janitors, retirees and countless others.
Figures released last month showed the average rent in the San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara metro area was $2,640, more than twice the national average of $1,272, according to the Axiometrics research firm.
San Jose leaders last year toughened the city's rent control law, and are pursuing other renter-friendly measures - but that hasn't helped tenants like Mayer.
Mayer has been paying a discounted $525 for his studio because the complex's previous owners had asked him to manage the place. As Mayer got older, he stepped down after 25 years of managing the complex, but his landlords let him keep the rent deal - even after the original owners sold the building.
After the DeMaio family bought it in October 2016, they told Mayer, who was on a month-to-month lease, and other tenants their leases wouldn't be renewed. It's considered more cost-efficient to renovate a fully vacant building all at once, which means the tenants have to go.
"I don't want you to think I'm cold-hearted," DeMaio said. "Of course I feel bad about it, but there's nothing I can do. Does anyone feel bad for me that my mortgage is so high and I'm only getting ($525) from him?"
Mayer's daughter, Anne Sherman, 59, said her dad wants to remain independent, and doesn't want to move in with her or go to an assisted living facility.
"To put someone out on the street at his age - how could you do that to another human being?" Sherman said. "He risked his life for this country and now he's being discarded. We never in a million years saw this coming. We thought our dad would die in this place."
Sherman is fighting back on his behalf, and has appealed to the city to step in. A mediation at City Hall is set for this week. But city housing officials say there's not much they can do.
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While Mayer's studio is among the 45,820 units built before 1979 that are covered by San Jose's rent-control law - and limited to 5 percent annual rent increases - its terms don't help in his situation. Unlike San Francisco and other major cities, San Jose doesn't have a "just-cause ordinance," which requires landlords to provide an acceptable reason for refusing to renew a tenant's lease. San Jose Housing Director Jacky Morales-Ferrand was looking into creating a policy last year, but faced strong opposition from landlord groups who said it would make it too difficult to evict problem tenants.
"I think San Jose needs stronger tenant protections," Morales-Ferrand said. "There was so much opposition from the landlord community with implementing this type of protection. In San Jose, a landlord is able to evict a tenant without giving a reason."
But Joshua Howard, senior vice president of the California Apartment Association, said such a law "takes the control over who lives on the property away from the owner and makes it more difficult for them to provide safe housing for otherwise good residents."
"Being forced to go into court and prove that someone is being a problem on the property forces them to bring in other tenants as witnesses - and good law-abiding renters don't want to testify against their neighbors," Howard said.
Councilman Chappie Jones, whose district includes Mayer's apartment, says he'd support such a policy if the data shows no-cause evictions are a widespread issue. He said he "rarely" hears about it.
"I think there should be something in place - whether it's a good-cause ordinance or another form of that," he said. "It's a question of how extensive that policy is."
Landlords of rent-controlled apartments are required to notify San Jose City Hall when they evict a tenant, but the city has only gotten 500 notices in the past year. Morales-Ferrand said she needs more data to show no-cause evictions are a problem before she can propose a policy to city leaders.
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Sherman says she hopes San Jose passes a law to help vulnerable tenants like her dad. Paul Mayer, meanwhile, checks the newspaper's obituary pages every day. Recently, he saw the obituary of a man who was only a few months older than him, and cut it out as a reminder to appreciate each day.
"I'm just taking it one day at a time," Mayer said. "When you get to be my age, you can't make long-range plans. If this goes through like they planned, I don't know whether there's a place for me."
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