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[whitespace] Hopeful buyers jam affordable housing meeting

Families hoping to enter the home buying market take the first step toward a dream

Cupertino--More than 200 people hoping for a crack at buying an affordable home in Silicon Valley's wicked housing market last week took the first step toward making the cut.

A total of eighteen homes in the new Oak Valley development on Cristo Rey Drive will be sold later this year to families who meet a laundry list of financial, occupational and family criteria. Applicants must live or work here or be public service employees.

By the time the Feb. 10 meeting in the Monta Vista High School auditorium ended, more than a dozen applications and checks for processing fees had already been submitted for the below market rate (BMR) units.

Most people, it seemed, were either happy about getting the chance to buy a reasonably-priced home in Cupertino or disappointed that they didn't meet the eligibility requirements. Members of the latter group slowly trickled out of the auditorium at various points during the presentation. Others said they were crossing their fingers.

"We just want to be able to afford our own place," said Sean Everman, who grew up in Cupertino. "And it's ridiculous," added his wife, Loretta, a lifelong resident, "because between us we make roughly $66,000 and we can't even afford an apartment here, and even though we have a one-year-old son, we don't qualify for some of the BMR programs." Because of the high cost of living, the couple said they currently reside with Loretta's parents in Cupertino.

On paper, the 22-year-old couple seem to be just the kind of people the program was intended to attract: Sean works as a county 911 dispatcher for the Santa Clara County Sheriff's Department and county fire department, which he hopes to join soon as a volunteer firefighter. Loretta works in Cupertino as an administrative assistant at a construction company.

"It's a great opportunity for people of different ages," Loretta said. "It really benefits the young couples, like Sean and myself, who are just starting out."

"It would give us a chance to live in a neighborhood that we're not afraid to raise our son in," Sean said. "I know all the crime rates of all the areas around here, and I wouldn't feel comfortable raising our son in those areas that we could afford to live in." He added that most of the county's 911 dispatchers don't live in the county.

Vera Gil of Cupertino Community Services, the company administering the BMR program, said CCS revamped its rating criteria for the city's affordable housing program just six months ago.

The new system, she said, is for people who have lived in Cupertino for one year, have worked here at least a year, or are public service employees like sheriff's deputies, firefighters, city or library employees, teachers and school employees.

Families of three to six are eligible, and must be first-time home buyers. City officials and councilmembers recently decided to give the highest priority to those applicants who meet all three criteria.

Gil said organizers were surprised by the meeting's high attendance. "We were really worried we might just see a turnout of 18 people," she told the audience. "Home prices here in Cupertino are very high and many people living here wouldn't be able to buy the homes they already own if they were buying today."

The 1,440-square-foot duet homes will be priced at $217,500 and $272,500 for moderate and median-income families, respectively. Below-market-rate units are required as part of the permit the city issued to developers building the 178 units . The market-rate homes in the development will cost upwards of $1 million.

City regulations require a dedication of ten percent of the total number of units as affordable homes. Those units will be scattered throughout the Oak Valley development's two main neighborhoods.

The BMR regulations also stipulate that the homes will remain affordable with a deed restriction that will be recorded against the property for 99 years. Values of the homes will rise over time with the Consumer Price Index and any improvements made by the home owners.

Sharon Gentry, a representative of the O'Brien Group, the San Mateo-based developers building Oak Valley, said the first BMR units will be available for purchase this spring. Some of the units are under construction now, and others are expected to be completed by summer.

Some hopeful homeowners left, fuming that they were excluded from the program by technicalities.

Ruben Delgado, a counselor at Monta Vista High School and union rep for non-classroom school employees, said it was "a real slap in the face" that school employees who don't have the same credential as teachers and administrators are excluded from the program, even though they help run schools in Cupertino.

"It's not fair that only teachers can sign up," he said. "A lot of the people who work for the district aren't certified, and they have the same problems with having to live out of the area."

Heidi Spiess, a teacher at Eisenhower School, said she was disappointed that she can't get credit for working in the city: Although she's employed by the Cupertino Union School District, her school is in Santa Clara.

Jim and Sheryl Davis, city employees who live in a rental home in Monta Vista with their two children, said they're hopeful they'll be able to buy their first home here, even though they've lived here for 18 years.

"It sounds like a good program to try and keep employees in the city and close to work," said Jim Davis, who works in the Public Works Department. "We don't want to commute two hours one-way to get here." Sheryl, a crossing guard at Regnart School, said the couple tried to buy in the city three years ago, but real estate prices "got out of hand."

John Pickering, a PG&E employee in Cupertino, helped install the utility lines to the new neighborhood where he and his wife Eve are now applying for one of the new affordable units. The couple, who live in Sunnyvale with their son, tried several times to get on the list of candidates for affordable housing in that city, but were told their household income was just slightly too high.

"We want that opportunity to own, but it's just not affordable outside of this kind of program," Eve Pickering said.
Jeff Kearns

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