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High rent forces out local advocate of affordable housing

Original post made on Nov 25, 2009

Elizabeth Lasensky stood in front of Eileen Donahoe's Portola Valley residence on a chilly night in February 2007, waiting for Barack Obama to show up for a fundraiser. Ms. Lasensky was not one of the people who had forked over $1,000 or more to hear Mr. Obama speak; she doesn't have that kind of money. Instead, she was volunteering to help out at the event with several other people.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Wednesday, November 25, 2009, 12:00 AM

Comments (24)

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Posted by not a fan
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Nov 25, 2009 at 9:46 pm

I think Menlo Park has quite enough selfish, self-entitled residents already. One fewer will hardly make a dent.

People should live in homes they can afford, not expect the rest of us to provide them with housing.

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Posted by Sad and frustrated
a resident of Menlo Park: University Heights
on Nov 26, 2009 at 9:21 am

When Elizabeth Laskensky moves from our community, our community will be all the poorer for it. The fact that a hard-working person with her commitment to others and her willingness to come under fire for her beliefs has to leave a city she has contributed so much to because she can't afford to stay is a solid argument for below-market-rate housing.

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Posted by Hank Lawrence
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Nov 26, 2009 at 10:02 am

I thought Ms. Lasensky's rent hike was excessive. In the over 30 years as a landlord I never imposed a rent increase greater than 5% for an existing tenant. And I agree with "Not a fan" that people shouldn't live in homes they can not afford. But Ms. Lasensky could afford to live there. It was the unilateral actions of the landlord, that no reasonable person could forsee, that suddenly made her rental unit unaffordable. To criticize a tenant for the unconscionable actions by a landlord just does not make sense.

Greed brings on undesirable Government regulation. And when the Government intervenes for the greater good of society, it invariably goes overboard to the extent that the cure is far more harmful than the disease. To prevent Government intervention we, as landlords, need to be fair and reasonable. We have a responsibility not only to our tenants, but to other landlords as well, to act responsibly to deter unwanted Government intrusion into the free market.

Free markets can only remain free when the participants are fair and even handed.

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Posted by not a fan
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Nov 26, 2009 at 12:26 pm

So what do you want, Hank, rent control? If one landlord gets greedy, there are less greedy ones around. A renter has plenty of options in Menlo Park, including the homes east of the freeway. Much better value in Belle Haven too. That's your free market at work!

We are fortunate to have many stalwart volunteers in Menlo Park, beginning with our city council members who devote untold hours to our community, most of it spent on plans, projects, and decisions that typically have very little relationship to their own personal or professional interests. We have social service organizations in Menlo Park and a lot of kids' activities that use volunteers. When I went to Trader Joe's the other night, there were high school students standing out in the cold collecting food for less fortunate people. Now, that's an example of selfless community service.

With Lasensky, you have essentially a one trick pony who has managed to turn almost every discussion into an opportunity to talk about the need for affordable housing in Menlo Park. Maybe her rants helped some other people, maybe not, but it's always seemed pretty obvious that her main focus of concern was her own wellbeing. Understandable but hardly admirable.

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Posted by Joseph E. Davis
a resident of Woodside: Emerald Hills
on Nov 26, 2009 at 2:55 pm

Government does not intervene for the "greater good of society". It does whatever it does for the good of its constituent politicians and bureaucrats.

Have a Happy Thanksgiving with your loved ones, far from the clammy hand of the state.

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Posted by Hank Lawremce
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Nov 26, 2009 at 4:20 pm

The last thing I want is rent control. It creates artificial shortages of housing stock. But overzealous and myopic politicians can't resist the urge to try to fix something and most of the time they don't know what they are doing thus exacerbating the situation.

What I am suggesting is that landlords act responsibly and take away the excuse for politicians to meddle.

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Posted by And the lightbulb goes off!
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Nov 26, 2009 at 10:08 pm

"Free markets can only remain free when the participants are fair and even handed."

Exactly why we NEED government, Hank, because the above is just plain fantasy!

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Posted by Interested
a resident of another community
on Nov 27, 2009 at 12:53 am

The only time I have known a landlord to raise rent by this amount is when he would prefer the tenant didn't pay it and left.

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Posted by FMV
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Nov 27, 2009 at 8:48 am

she had been paying for 10+ years under $850. for an 800 sf upstairs, updated front corner apt. FMV says $1350. is FMV. Probate situation, court appointed trustee says charge FMV for the apt. FMV says she had a pretty sweet deal for a lot of years, her choice to stay or move on.
Betcha they'll have a dozen applicants to take that space.
Long term, MP should force Stanford to build senior housing on the car dealer lots, not medical/mixed use housing/retail that Stanford wants. Elizabeth,as a long time Stanford employee, should have priority seeding for a Stanford employee affordable housing project. No reason to allow Stanford foot dragging. Their lame excuse that rent has been prepaid for the next 3 years by the parent car companies prevents them from reclaiming "abandoned" properties is absolute RUBBISh. Any superior court judge would order a reclamation of abandoned property by the Landlord, and hold the prepaid rent in trust for reconciliation.
Hope our "new Mayor to be" Rich Cline, a non Stanford alum, has the motivation to start leaning on Stanford, and not wait for the ECR visioning "5 story mixed used projects" that Stanford would love to be entitled for the vacant car dealership sites. He could always suggest that if Stanford doesn't play ball NOW, the city could declare the car dealer strip as "blighted area" and threaten to incorporate it into a "Redevelopment Area" and force Stanford to move on it.
We could envision a mid range hotel, like a Residence Inn, senior housing. No school impacts, nominal traffic impacts as the ECR peak hour volume wouldn't be affected, a great asset to the city treasury and image.

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Posted by Mr. B
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Nov 27, 2009 at 12:50 pm

Legally landlords can charge what they want. but
morally to inflict extreme hardship on a tenant by
raising the rent substantially without warning is sadistic.
This could easily cause someone on the edge to end up homeless.
It happened to me 50% rent increase. I had been living at
my location for nearly 30 yrs. Another tenant an old man in his 80's
on social security soon after the news of the increase was found dead in his apartment.
This tells me that there are a lot of greedy landlords who
want to hide by blaming the victims,and telling the tenants
they have forced out, "you can move to a more dangerous neighborhood where there is lots of crime and murders. It's cheaper there.
And well after all, it is a free market". That of course is a total lie. It is NOT an even playing field. The upper classes have always had many advantages that they take for granted. What has happened to compassion in this country? A very gradual increase to FMV over time, with a warning would have been the humane thing to do.
Such a shock to a tenant could have life damaging consequences.
I'm saddened that this is not recognized.

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Posted by Mr. B
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Nov 27, 2009 at 12:56 pm

Thanks Hank
for your comment above.
Very good points.

You seem to be decent and
fair landlord. I'm sure
your tenants are honored to
have you as a landlord.

I'm sure you can sleep at
night knowing that you
are making a difference
in the lives you touch.

Instead of being on the take.
and using money as the measure
of your manhood. There are some
things that are more important
than money. Compassion, fairness,
kindness, Love. Making a contribution etc.

Warm regards.
Mr. B

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Posted by not a fan
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Nov 27, 2009 at 5:10 pm

If what FMV says is true, I'm astounded. Lasensky had no reason to campaign for affordable housing -- she had it! I was paying that much in rent 20 years ago before I bought a house. Too bad she can't appreciate the fact that she had an incredible deal for many years, and $1350 is not bad either for that location in Menlo Park.

The flip side of the affordable housing issue is that keeping rents artificially depressed will serve to dry up the rental market because owners will convert rentals to other, more remunerative uses. Net result: less rental housing, higher rents. Be careful what you ask for.

FMV, this is off topic but I like your strategies for dealing with Stanford and hope you talk to Rich and other council members about it. We're all tired of those vacant lots and of hearing our city staff say that there's nothing they can do. Time to stand up to the big gorilla, and it shouldn't matter that it's the alma mater of half the people in town.

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Posted by FMV
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Nov 27, 2009 at 7:30 pm

It's all public record, Not a Fan.
Problem is, Schmidt seems to get a lot of attention from Almanac top brass and readers are easily misled by a "bleeding hearts" sob story and alleged injustice.
Remember the bike tunnel under the car dealerships campaign that turned the Linfield Oaks folks against him?

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Posted by Dealio
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Nov 28, 2009 at 8:53 pm

I would be really interested to know specifically which term of use I violated by pointing out the fact that multiple units in my neighborhood are "affordable", and that Ms. Lasensky appears to only want affordable in the MOST prime neighborhoods... apparently the Willows is too dangerous for her?

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Posted by Hmmm
a resident of another community
on Nov 29, 2009 at 4:45 pm

She can move here to EPA, in a Page Mill Property in default property.

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Posted by stop the nonsense
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Nov 30, 2009 at 10:29 am

It's always amazed me how people want to judge another's actions even when they don't have any idea about the other's circumstances. "Dealio" wants us to believe that Lasenksky is too picky (or afraid? or elitist?) to move to quarters he/she only vaguely describes as "affordable," and "Hmmm" offers advice about where she can move with no details of the property involved.

Come on, people. Do you think anyone believes you're really trying to be helpful or contribute constructively to a conversation rather than trying to smear someone through innuendo?

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Posted by not a fan
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Nov 30, 2009 at 4:28 pm

stop, I don't know if you are familiar with the subject of the story, but some of us know her rather well. Unfortunately, many do not perceive her impact on the city as having been positive, and it is hard to generate much pity for someone who has a steady income with good health care and other benefits, no college bills to pay, and a rent that seems quite affordable even after the increase to fair market value.

It was her prerogative to move to San Carlos. I don't fault her for that, but I do take issue with the nonsense that she couldn't find anything cheaper in Menlo Park. A quick check of craigslist shows a number of attractive MP apartments for under $1000, and all the apartments I checked were west of 101.

[Portion removed]

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Posted by not a fan
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Nov 30, 2009 at 5:52 pm

Almanac, it's your site and you can censor whatever you want, I suppose, but it's pretty creepy that you chose to delete that particular sentence. I must have hit a nerve. So sorry.

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Posted by Dealio
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Nov 30, 2009 at 8:38 pm

Stop, as fan pointed out, my contention is that there is affordable housing in very nice areas of Menlo Park. The lack of affordable housing did not force her to leave Menlo Park. As far as the vagueness of my definition? Take it up with the editors, I posted the rents in my original post, but it was inexplicably deleted. The article itself, on the other hand, is indeed vague, only referring to the 60%+ increase. For all we know, the landlord increased her rent from $50 to $80 per month. I would bet that very few readers would feel too bad for her if they knew the details. Many may be sorry to see her leave our community, but I doubt many would feel $1350/month exorbitant for a nice 1 bdrm apartment a few blocks from Santa Cruz Ave.

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Posted by FMV
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Nov 30, 2009 at 9:04 pm

Deallo, not a fan, FYI, this is a former MP mayor Schmidt driven provocative story because publisher Gibboney indulges him at the expense of balanced investigative journalism. They're cycling buddies. A regular turnover of beat reporters who get fed up with their stories getting spiked is testament to the Almanac's being a "society" news gathering weekly fish wrapper.
Whatever happened to Rory and some of the others?
Editorials pushing more and more downtonwn and ECR development are their vain efforts to garner more future advertising revenue streams from new developers and new prospective retail tenants, while gambling that Draegers and Flegels will feel obliged to continue their ad contracts even though they oppose competition from overdevelopment of downtown Menlo.
Notice how Almanac tried to deep six this forum with a newer one on Sunday, then put this back up on "top forums" when they caught some flack about deliberately suppressing dissent.
Talk to Morris Brown

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Posted by not a fan
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Nov 30, 2009 at 10:25 pm

FMV, what do you suppose was deleted from my post? Basically the first paragraph of yours. Let's see if yours stays.

The Almanac is a free newspaper and they pay for this site, but somehow it seems like irresponsible journalism to try to suppress the fact that there is a direct connection between the subject of the article and the publisher of the newspaper. Would a big city paper get away with this? I think not.

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Posted by truth
a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on Nov 30, 2009 at 11:45 pm

This thread has become a joke. Petty and mean comments with no real reason at all. Thanks for the value add everyone.

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Posted by what ignorance
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Dec 1, 2009 at 10:11 am

Amen, Truth. Statements of "fact" about what goes on behind the scenes at the Almanac are silly assumptions, but good for their entertainment value. What's the old saying about the braying animal we become when we make assumptions?

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Posted by not a fan
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Dec 1, 2009 at 10:38 am

If you find no value in this thread, then no need to post!

However, there is a deeper issue here than the nominal topic, and that is censorship. None of the major newspapers seem very interested in Menlo Park -- can't blame them -- which leaves the Almanac as the primary source of information about local issues. This is not the first time we've seen news distorted in this manner. It's not very professional, and it is a bigger issue than whether or not someone chooses to move away from Menlo Park.

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

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