No end in sight to Bay Area housing woes

SAN FRANCISCO — In the San Francisco Bay Area, home of Silicon Valley, the lack of affordable housing remains a consistent problem for local communities.

On the sidewalks of San Francisco, under the shadows of million-dollar condominiums popping up in and around the Financial District to serve the burgeoning tech-class, lie reminders that the region’s booming economy doesn’t benefit everyone. The homeless population of San Francisco, up 17 percent from 2013 to 2017, is a daily, visible reminder of the shortage of affordable housing in the region.

In a city where the average home sells for about $1.6 million, and one-bedroom apartments rent for $3,200 monthly, access to housing is increasingly a luxury item for those with low and middle-incomes.

The problem of high housing prices extends well beyond the limits of San Francisco: virtually all of the Bay Area faces a housing shortage that has led to skyrocketing home prices and the displacement of existing communities through gentrification.

The Institute of Governmental Studies at UC Berkeley found in a 2017 study on displacement that families who were forced out of their communities by rising rents often ended up in areas with fewer job opportunities, longer commutes and fewer healthcare resources.

But gentrification doesn’t only affect the people being displaced. Increasingly, cities in the Bay Area are losing vital low and middle-income workers who perform the jobs necessary for communities to function, like teachers, firefighters and service workers.

There are few signs that this displacement will stop in the near future. As companies seek to expand their presence in Silicon Valley, and the pace of housing cannot keep up with demand, more workers and families will either have to make tough decisions to stay in their communities or be forced out altogether.

A report published in May found that Santa Clara County, the heart of Silicon Valley, has the largest share of residents leaving the area of any other county in California. Looking for affordability, they are leaving for cheaper states like Texas and Arizona, or cities such as Sacramento.

Another survey found that 46 percent — nearly half — of Silicon Valley residents say they are likely to move from the area in the next few years. That is up from 40 percent in 2017 and 34 percent in 2016.

And those who can afford to stay may end up living in areas with few educators, service staff and other workers who fulfill the necessary roles for a thriving, healthy community.

As Congresswoman Jackie Speier said in an October 2017 interview, “When the big earthquake does hit, where are our first responders going to be? Not here.”

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