The following story was printed in this morning’s (Jan. 30) Daily Post.
By ALLISON LEVITSKY
Daily Post Staff Writer
After 41 years of renting a three-bedroom apartment in a Section 8 building owned by the nonprofit Palo Alto Housing, Joseph and Evelyn Haletky are having their $1,467 monthly rent raised by an estimated $1,000 a month.
The Haletkys moved into the Webster Wood Apartments in 1978 and raised their children at the 68-unit building at 961 Webster St. in Palo Alto. Joseph Haletky, a Stanford-trained choral conductor, worked as the music director of TheatreWorks and, later, as an accountant in San Francisco and Mountain View.
Today, they’re both 71 and great-grandparents.
Evelyn Haletky’s health is failing, her husband said. What led to hike? Like 22 of their neighbors, the Haletkys have long paid the “contract rent” for their apartment, a fair market rate charged to middle-class tenants who make too much money to qualify for Section 8 housing.
Section 8 tenants are renters who make less than half the area median income — $53,200 a year for a couple — and pay Palo Alto Housing 30% of their income for rent.
But the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has recently updated its contract rents for Webster Wood. Under the previous contract, the Housing department didn’t adjust contract rents with the market, allowing tenants like the Haletkys to pay “artificially low” rates, Palo Alto Housing CEO Randy Tsuda told the Post on Monday (Jan. 28) night.
“This is extremely unusual at a Section 8 complex,” Tsuda said.
Joseph Haletky spoke out at the Palo Alto City Council meeting on Monday, expressing shock and frustration at a letter he’d received on Jan. 11 informing him that his rent would be tripled from $1,467 to $4,545.
The Post asked Tsuda about the increase, and Tsuda explained that continuing tenants like the Haletkys could be grandfathered in as Section 8 tenants if the new contract rent is more than 30% of their income.
That likely means the Haletkys can pay 30% of their income for rent, which Joseph Haletky estimated to be $2,500 or $2,600 a month.
“I don’t find that acceptable,” Joseph Haletky told the Post yesterday. “They’ve handled this really poorly, and there’s no justifi-cation for the sharp increase other than ‘HUD approved it.’ Well, the current HUD is run by Ben Carson, who is a Trumper. That says a lot.”
Joseph Haletky, who works full time, complained that Palo Alto Housing hadn’t properly explained the increase to him in the letter or follow-up conversation, or informed him that he could be grandfathered in as a Section 8 tenant.
“They haven’t explained what those limits are. That information was not in the letter that could have been explained a little more clearly,” Joseph Haletky said. “It’s abandonment of their vision to make housing affordable in Palo Alto.”
Up until recently, the Haletkys have only seen modest rent increases. The last one was an increase of $70 a month last summer.
“You don’t have to gouge people in order to make money,” Joseph Haletky said.
Joseph Haletky acknowledged that he’s had a great deal for years. Decades ago, when his first wife became anemic during her third pregnancy and had to quit her job, they were only paying $85 or $90 a month to live at Webster Wood. Downtown Palo Alto rents in general have skyrocketed in the meantime, Joseph Haletky said.
For example, the First Lutheran Church down the street at 600 Homer Ave., where Joseph Haletky is a member, rents out a four-bedroom house on its property to a young family for $8,250 a month.
The Haletkys may end up moving into a smaller apartment at Webster Wood. Evelyn Haletky may qualify for a smaller Section 8 apartment on her own. She will likely need assisted living soon, Joseph Haletky said. And Joseph Haletky has been in talks with a friend in La Honda who has a lead on an apartment that’s around $1,400 a month, where he could live but it would be too isolated for his wife.
“I’m doing my best to try to hold it down,” Joseph Haletky said. “It’s not easy when you live in the same ZIP code as Mark Zuckerberg and Marissa Mayer.”