In pricey Bay Area, 92-year-old WW II veteran facing eviction

By RAMONA GIWARGIS | The Mercury News (Tribune News Service) | Published: March 15, 2017

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.

©2017 The Mercury News (San Jose, Calif.)
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