We’re comfortable, we’re fine, you know? But I drive an older car, I live in a funky little like cabin basically with my kids and while I don’t have any real complaints about it often strikes me as strange you know, 130,000 in just about any other part of the country goes a lot farther. So you know for a teacher I think we do really well but you know I live in a very strange place where like, I’m driving my 2004 Subaru that works and runs, but it’s an older car, and I get flanked by all sizes traffic in like Tesla’s and Bugatti’s and shit, and I just got to wonder like what is this place? What am I doing wrong you know?
MUSIC CUE: 1500 Stories theme music
Welcome to 1500 Stories, a podcast about something Americans don’t like to talk about–economic class. My name is Jen Myhre and I founded 1500 Stories back in 2015. I have a day job teaching sociology–or as I like to call it, delivering the bad news–at a community college in Silicon Valley and when my day job ends my work as a visual artist, documentarian and community organizer begins. 1500 Stories is an art and digital storytelling project about economic inequality in the United States. The title was inspired by a poster created by economist Stephen J. Rose depicting roughly the bottom 90% of Americans in terms of income and wealth. In order to capture that other richest 10%, the poster would need to be 1500 stories tall. That’s five miles long!! And one day it hit me–STORIES!! No matter where they fall on the economic ladder, everyone has a story.
And before we get too far in, just a quick heads-up about the audio quality. 1500 Stories is a labor of love. Volunteers and students, rather than radio professionals, gather all of the stories in the 1500 Stories project archive. They conduct interviews in all types of odd places and often on their phones. So our audio quality can’t always live up to public radio standards, but the stories are SO worth it. 🙂
This episode is the second of two part series on the housing crisis in the Silicon Valley. The first episode shared stories of overcrowding–multiple people, both family and roommates, cramming into small spaces to be able to afford avoid the monthly rent or mortgage, as well as stories about the high cost of rent. Renters make up roughly half of those in the San Francisco Bay Area, but this second episode will focus on two other categories of people whose lives are shaped by the housing crisis–home owners and the unhoused.
In the opening, Antonio, who is a 37 year old Latinx college teacher and home *owner*, asks himself both “What is this place?” and “What am I doing wrong?” As a sociologist, I would argue that the first question is more fruitful than the second. Antonio, like so many other 1500 Stories participants, isn’t doing anything wrong. He works hard, he pursued higher education, he chose a career in public service, he loves his family and he tries his best. It’s not about his choices. As a sociologist, I would say we need to look at the larger social forces to explain why a teacher with a graduate degree can barely hang on to middleclassness, especially in the Silicon Valley. And as we learned in Part One of Even the Engineers Are Renting, the high cost of living in the Silicon Valley makes even the routine expenses of daily life a challenge for a majority of workers. Like rent, Silicon Valley housing prices are also at levels that can seem unimaginable. In 2020, the median sale price for a single family dwelling was $1.34 million in the Silicon Valley and $1.55 million in San Francisco. So needless to say, home ownership is out of reach for many in the Silicon Valley. We learned in the last episode that in San Jose, the current median income is $100,000. As a college teacher, Antonio makes over that median, but not by a whole lot. And, like many others in the San Francisco Bay area, he had to look for a place to buy well outside of the place where he works in order to find something affordable.
I live in the Santa Cruz Mountains, part of a small community called the Redwood Estates.
It’s a little cluster of mountain houses, um, it’s up Highway 17. I think that anyone who visits my house would say it’s a modest little house. It’s in the mountains, it’s this funky little 900 square-foot house, it’s got two bedrooms; my kids, I’ve got three kids in a bedroom that’s about as big as this office which is packed with furniture, the whole house looks like a fucking preschool. It’s good, it’s comfortable and safe, I love the neighborhood for the kids.
Antonio has crammed his family of five into a 900 square foot house so that he can have a safe neighborhood for his kids. But he is also aware of some of the social costs in that choice, costs that relate to ideas about economic class.
It’s part of the postal code of Los Gatos, but it’s not part of the town of Los Gatos, so like, in a way, I live in the county of Los Gatos, California, but I don’t really live in Los Gatos.
that community is really different from the town of Los Gatos’ community, not just in terms of the cultures, which are in many cases radically different, but in terms of the mean income, and in terms of the laws. So, the town of Los Gatos, for example, specifically doesn’t let people who live in my community have free access to their parks. Yeah, so they make it very clear, like, you are not part of the town of Los Gatos, even though we share the same school district, and you know, what have you. there still remains this kind of, um…class and culture divide between the town.
There’s a lot of young families that are moving to the community because it’s, I mean, it’s the closest thing to like, affordable housing that the south bay has had to offer for quite a while. I mean, it’s still very expensive there, but much more affordable than anything in Los Gatos, Campbell, or surrounding areas.
I think about… I think about how much it feels like I work and how much on paper it feels like I earn; and when I was a kid if someone told me I was gonna earn 130,000 bucks a year, I thought I would be set, you know? But I happen to live here, and here in the South Bay, that’s not really the case.
As Raúl from the previous episode observed, “even the engineers are renting” in the Bay area. And that echoes Antonio’s comment that he thought he would be set at a household income of $130,000 but that’s not really the case in the Silicon Valley. He’s not set. As we learned in the previous episode of 1500 Stories, working people at various income levels have had to move out of the Bay area to find housing that is at least slightly more affordable. And the people leaving tend to be poor and disproportionately Black or Latinx, as Urban Habitat, a community organization that works for sustainable development in the Bay area, has documented, calling this displacement a resegregation of the Bay area. This movement out has led to longer commutes and traffic congestion as folks chase lower mortgages and cheaper rents outside the Bay area. Antonio is one such person who had to move further away from work to find a house he could afford. Longer commutes add considerable stress to our minds and bodies and family relationships. Several studies have shown that long-distance commuters suffer from a range of physical symptoms from headaches and backaches to sleep disturbances and even digestive problems or high blood pressure. And even though Antonio has a graduate degree and a solidly middle class job as a college teacher, that’s not enough to live easily in the Silicon Valley. The average salary for a teacher in the Bay Area is $65,450 which is well below the poverty level and median income of $100,000. This means for a teacher in Santa Clara county, they would have to spend 75% of their income on housing just to stay in the area where they work. And as we also learned in the previous episode, as California goes so goes the nation—housing affordability is increasing a problem in many places in the U.S. But for those who are lucky enough to be able to afford to buy a home in the Bay area, home ownership still confers a lot of benefits, as we will see in the next story. Colleen, a 31 year old white woman, is another teacher. She took a big cut in pay when she left a job in biotech, and makes less than Antonio now, but she had good reasons for doing it. And it is home ownership–of a sort–that has allowed her to weather that pay cut.
Especially with my biotech job that I had, the last job right before I became a teacher, we had one test that we’re doing. And the only thing that was different everyday was how many samples we got. So that just became really mind-numbing for me. I couldn’t take it. And I’ve been coaching volleyball since I was nineteen years old so I thought, you know I really like Science if I could only coach Science and then I realized I could. It’s called “teaching”. For that record I’m very happy that I did that.
I make less as a teacher than I did as the clinical laboratory scientists, but I’ll eventually make it back there. And I supplement my income by coaching volleyball as well. And so that helps a lot. And then renting out one of my rooms of my house to another teacher, so that also helps to kinda keep all of the costs down and everything.
If Antonio had to buy a funky little cabin up in the mountains because that was the only thing he could afford on his professor salary, then how was Colleen, now making about $75,000 a year, able to afford a home in the Silicon Valley?
I was renting a house, or renting an apartment in San Jose with one of my, with another teacher friend and our landlord came to us and said, “Hey, this is my best part of mine and actually you guys have to move out because I want my daughters to live here.” And so, we were kinda sad about that, we liked the apartment and we liked the locations and everything.
So we had to find somewhere else to live. Around that same time, my parents had a bunch of stock that they wanted to sell and so they… they said, “You know what? We kinda don’t want the stock anymore. We’d liked to make another investment. We’re thinking of making the real estate investment. So if we bought a place, would you wanna live there and pay the mortgage?” And I said, “That sounds like a really good deal for me of course.”
Then it sort of became, well actually, we should probably going on something kinda like half-way and here’s about how much we have to spend and here’s what you would qualify for a mortgage. So this is just about our price range, then my mom and I, that following June, went and looked at bunch of places within like 3 or 4 days.
I think it was like our 3rd day of house hunting, we saw my place that I have now. And it was a good price range and it was good location and we put in an offer and got it accepted and so… very quickly all of the sudden got in a lot of debt. And now I lived it in my current neighbor.
So it almost doesn’t feel real that I have such a big mortgage or that I have so much money that I owe other people, but at the same time, I know that’s sort of the game that everybody plays in order to be able to afford housing. I’m lucky in that my parents put a pretty big down payment on the house and then I got the mortgage, so I’m building the equity and credit and stuffs in my name. But then, they still have the investment because they’re on the title of the house. I feel really lucky in that regard to have that sort of situation. The mortgage is just a really big number that I can’t really wrap my brain around. I just know what I pay every month.
One of the reasons real estate prices are so high is because of gentrification. Gentrification is a process in which wealthier people scoop up real estate in poor urban areas at low cost, displacing existing inhabitants and raising the cost of living. The entire state of California is being gentrified, but Los Angeles and the Bay Area are the hardest hit. These areas are being hit harder with gentrification because of the proportion of people of higher education and higher income. More than half of the low-income households in the Bay Area are at risk or already experiencing gentrification. Nearly one-third of poor neighborhoods in Oakland and San Francisco experienced gentrification between 2013 and 2017, the highest rate in the country according to a new national study, and poor neighborhoods in San Jose and Sacramento are also gentrifying. Colleen doesn’t use the word gentrification, but the situation she describes, in which her family was able to find a good investment property in an area that she refers to as “up and coming” is a good description of the process.
I think that my neighborhood is sort of up and coming. So I live kind of near to one of the Cal Train stations that’s in San Jose. And I live in a townhouse so there’s like sixteen townhouses in my little sort of one box section. That there’s kinda two rows of them, and then around me, there’s one street that’s got a bunch of apartment complexes, or like there’s some apartment complexes around. And then there’s some houses that are little bit older. And it seems like every time that a house sells in that neighborhood, it sells to someone younger who updates it a lot. But that a lot of the houses have been in families for generations and generations for that land has. So there are kind of like a lot houses that are a little bit on the older or less kept up side as well. Then because I live so close to the train station there’s a lot of sort of foot traffic by my house. So people walking from one other street or from a parking spot to the train station. So it’s sort of eclectic neighborhood cause there’s pockets for the street or two.
Or there’s a lot of people who bought houses recently and so there’s really nice new construction and then there’s just sort of old, run-down houses a little bit too. So I’m interested to see what happens in the next couple years cause right near the train station, there’s another big empty plot of land and I think their doing some developing on that now that all of a sudden, lots of dump trucks and things are showing up. I think that then will be interesting to see what they’ll put in there too.
But even just in a year that I lived there, my house sold for… or the house next door to mine sold in the fall for almost a hundred thousand dollars more than mine sold before the year before. So the neighborhood is up-incoming and lots of people are trying to get in sort of that area. I feel pretty secure about my purchase, but I wouldn’t walk around my neighborhood at night, like alone, ever, still.
Let’s zoom out a bit from Antonio and Colleen to dig a little deeper into the roots of the Bay area housing crisis. The housing shortage is caused by a whole passel of factors. Federal affordable-housing programs have been cut by over 50% since 2000. City governments can face constraints that discourage zoning for new housing. From a city government’s perspective, giving your available land to new housing doesn’t make much sense if a sales-tax-paying restaurant or clothing store is waiting in the wings. Cities often favor commercial development over housing because they can make more money off of it, so they tack fees on housing construction. Also zoning laws often rule out building UP, thus ruling out building for more population density, and since land between San Jose and San Francisco is a peninsula with water on three sides, there is no spreading out. And because the construction industry in California has experienced an exodus of workers, the cost of new building has also increased significantly because there are literally fewer construction workers. More scarcity equals more expensive. Most cities have not issued enough housing permits to keep up with new jobs. This equates to higher prices. Once again, more scarcity equals more expensive. So there’s basically been an increase in population but no increase in housing units.
Also good old fashioned classism discourages building affordable housing units. The Not-in-my-Backyard phenomenon can stall or stop the building of subsidized or affordable housing. Marin County got an exemption from the state’s housing quota stating the affordable housing construction wasn’t consistent with Marin’s “suburban character.” As you can see, there are lot of different reasons for the shortage of available housing and high prices for homes in the Silicon Valley. Let’s come back to Colleen’s story, about the benefits that accrue when one *is* lucky enough to own a home. Gentrification means that on the one hand, we have families like Colleen’s who can view Bay Area real estate as an investment and are in a position to benefit from escalating housing prices.
I feel like when it’s a townhouse, maybe that sort of like a starter house
On the one hand, folks like Colleen can see a townhouse as a starter house, which they will eventually sell when it appreciates and move into an even nicer house. If she’s as lucky as her neighbor, in a year her townhouse will be worth $100,000 more than it is now. And on the other, we have all of the overcrowded renters we heard from in the previous episode who can only dream of home ownership. But there are also people struggling even more than the renters whose stories we heard. There are the people you are about to hear from next, people who have experienced homelessness. These are the people for whom the housing crisis can be literally a matter of life and death. They are people who *rejoice* when they are finally able to make it into a rental. 40% of California households struggle to afford the roof over their heads so it shouldn’t be surprising that California accounts for 12% of the nations population but 20% of the homeless population.
The primary reason people state for becoming homeless is not being able to afford rent. In 2017, an estimated 28,200 individuals were homeless across the nine county Bay Area, making it the nation’s third largest population of people experiencing homelessness, behind only New York City (76,500) and Los Angeles (55,200). Santa Clara County, the heart of the Silicon Valley, saw a double-digit increase in its homeless population over the last two years. The Bay Area homeless population is composed primarily of older males, but is also disportionately made up of people of color and LGBTQ+ people relative to the general population. Sandra, a middle aged Latina former small business owner, shared how the Great Recession was the catalyst for the events that led to her time on the streets.
I landed a job in Silicon Valley. I was born here in San Jose, raised, in 1961. When Silicon Valley started up I started as a tester and then I became a technician. For 9 years I did that. And my mother and father were up in age and my mother was diagnosed with Huntington’s disease so I was starting to take care of her. I started this – selling benches and tool boxes for a company and this gentleman just asked me: I need some distributors, like you to help me sell my product. And I owned that company–Me–for 18 years. I was a female small business, not making a lot of money but making enough and to hire people. And so, hiring my crew to put those benches in becuase I put them into like Applied Materials, Intel, oh man you name it, all these companies over here in Silicon Valley. And also the air force bases so all that, and even Kaiser Hospital, that was one of my biggest customers. That went down, when AIG bailout in 2009 And then also my mom passed away that year too, of the disease but…The businesses, and all the foreclosures that were going on it was like a Rolodex Card for my customers that were out there. They were all going out of business first and then the big ones, and then even just the little machine shops. Sometimes it was budgets with the government and I had gone through 2 similar recessions depending on the maybe it was manufacturing or maybe it was the government some of their bases that closed down. They were always different but this last time, this whole Silicon Valley was like a ghost town and all my customers, I started going farther and farther out of this area, just to try different niches of the market but there was nothing out there.
Sandra’s story shows us the domino effects of the Great Recession—the ways in which business closing in one sector of the economy lead to the falling of businesses in other sector—a history we have seen repeat itself during the COVID-19 pandemic. And in Sandra’s case, the economic struggles of her failing business coincided with a devastating personal loss.
And then after that, I had some family issues with my dad and then after my mom died I checked out and then I tried to commit suicide. Once. I still miss her and him, cause he’s gone too. But, life goes on, and my shutting down in my life, I just became homeless.
Stories like Sandra’s are not uncommon. Homelessness can happen to almost anyone living in the bottom 90%. Homelessness is a result of multiple and compounding causes. In addition to eviction or inability to pay rent, a crisis — such as a job loss or a medical condition — can precipitate homelessness. Trauma and loss of family safety nets can play a role. Things like a divorce or the death of a family member can result in the loss of the family home. Institutional exits can be a trigger. — Institutions such as the armed forces, foster care, prison system or hospitals exit individuals onto the street. Both mental health conditions or a disability can make it particularly difficult to find or hold a job or housing. In the Spring of 2017, I did a series of interviews with unhoused people in downtown San Jose, and stories of family violence and mental illness were common across nearly all of those interviews. And then, as Sandra shares, life without a place to live has its own varied and intense sets of stressors and traumas.
My life ended up being on the streets here How am I gonna do my laundry? How am I gonna – where am I gonna put my stuff before I go look for a job or that kind of stuff – before it gets stolen I lived on the 22 for like about on and off for a year It was during the winter time It’s safe in there because you’re on camera.
Route 22 is a bus line that runs 24 miles west to east from Palo Alto to San Jose, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. In effect, it has become a kind of mobile shelter for many unhoused people in the Silicon Valley. Many women put up with violence in order to have a place to sleep at night. (SFcontroller.org) And like Sandra, some of the women I interviewed saw the Route 22 bus as a sanctuary from potential violence. Sandra was lucky enough to get together with one of the many programs in San Jose offering services to unhoused people—the Downtown Streets Team.
And then I just joined Downtown Streets Team. And they just motivate you to do better, now I’m housed in Gilroy so that’s a great thing I’ve been there for a year and a half and I’m blessed with the most gracious landlord in the world. We work together. She’s 78 years old and she’s cool. I’m only 55 years old right now and I’m just happy that life is going so much better. Because I know that it can turn on me and it will turn on me because I have now been diagnosed with my mom’s disease so now I’m gonna get it too. I’m still gonna just go through my life and just get it. Just do it. I’m just blessed to have every day of my life still and grateful and -just keep coming to these meetings cause they tend to lift me up because it gets a little lonely out there.
We just heard from Sandra, a Latinx woman in her 50s. Aida, whom we will hear from next, is a younger African-American woman. Women, like Sandra and and Aida, whom we will hear from next, make up just under a third of the unhoused population in the Bay Area. People of color comprise over half of the unhoused population. Aida’s period of homelessness was a direct result of eviction and the ongoing difficulty of finding an affordable place to live. And unlike Colleen, Aida didn’t have parents ready to sell stock and help her with a down payment on a house.
In December of 2014 the apartment complex we were living in, the one in front of us, one of the apartments caught fire. So it was because of the tenant’s drug use. The owner was undecided to sell or to remodel. So he decided to sell. And so the last remaining tenants were given money, to find another place so everyone moved out. The whole complex was empty.
In a place where rents are so high, eviction can be a trigger for homelessness. And in some places, landlords don’t even need a reason to evict tenants. The city of San Jose didn’t pass a just-cause eviction regulation until 2017. Just cause eviction regulations require landlords to have a good reason—a just cause—for evicting tenants. Failure to pay rent, creating a nuisance and breach of lease are common just causes for evictions. In California another just cause is going out of the rental business, usually followed by the landlord selling the apartments as TICs—tenant in common units—or condominiums. In Aida’s case the owner’s decision to sell led to her eviction. And the tightness of the housing market in the Silicon Valley made it hard for her family to find another place.
We kept looking, kept looking looking and we were in a hotel day by day paying the hotel paying the hotel and we just couldn’t find anything. My mom and I I had a small dog at that time too.
You might recall the high rents we discussed in the previous episode of 1500 Stories. In the San Jose metropolitan area in 2020, the median monthly rent for a 1 bedroom apartment was just under 26 hundred dollars. Urban Habitat, a community organization working for sustainable development in the Bay area, has documented that in the Bay Area, over one third of the workers here earn less than $18 per hour (or less than $36,000 per year for full-time work). The cost of that 1 bedroom apartment that represents the median monthly rent in San Jose is just over $31,000 a year. Also, imagine needing to come up with a security deposit and the $2596 that makes up one month’s rent in order to move in. Urban Habitat has found that the primary reason people state for becoming homeless is not being able to afford rent. So it shouldn’t be too surprising that Aida and her mom had a hard time finding another place to rent.
And after the hotel, we ended up at the train station and we were sleeping at the train station. And then afterwards we were at risk because being a woman we had to be careful. I remember my mom had a pair of scissors under her bag I would have a pair of scissors myself.
As Aida pointed out, safety is tough to come by when you are unhoused, especially for women. The humanitarian crisis of homelessness cannot be exaggerated. Unhoused people face levels of stress and trauma that are hard to wrap your mind around. They are often isolated from the institutions of civil society. They are subjected to laws that make it illegal to be poor or have their property legally stolen. They may be treated like criminals, be verbally abused or harassed. Places to sleep, food, bathrooms, health care or other services may be conditional unless they submit to indignities of surveillance and social control. Routinely, their existence or their humanity is denied. This dehumanization leads to the political and economic marginalization of people experiencing homelessness. Aida’s story suggests how powerful it can be when other people recognize unhoused people as whole human beings, as neighbors.
And then afterwards, this happened all summer even through before Thanksgiving and there were times where we jumped on the Route 22. We did that too, we would get on the bus get off at Stanford, get on again to Eastridge and it was back and forth up until like 6 in the morning. And then one day in November that was the same day I lost my dog an employee from Caltrains the trainstation offered… a friend of his offered a room for my mom and I in this apartment for $600 a month and we took it so we were there for about 7 months. And it was the same thing, in the month of June we had to move out. And we were back on the street again.
When the Caltrain employee intervened to help Aida and her mom find a place to stay, it gave them a half year of shelter but not long term stability. But still that half year meant safety, and that Caltrain employee wasn’t the only person who, by seeing Aida as a fellow human being, made a difference in her time on the streets.
And this time my mother went to a shelter, Little Orchard, and I ended up in a tennis court in Cupertino. And this was every night and there was this elderly lady there too at the tennis court and we would be there by 9:30 at night and we would be off the tennis court by 7 in the morning by order of the manager And the manager said: “Yeah, you and the other lady can stay but you have to be out of the tennis court no later than 7” “Okay, that’s fine.” An officer from Cupertino PD would drive around every half hour and he would check up on us to see if everything was ok.
We can see the power of human beings looking out for other human beings in Aida’s story and what it means to be treated with dignity rather than contempt.
So at those final months I was at a tennis court my mother was at the shelter we would meet every morning in Downtown and meet up and see what we would have to do throughout the day. We would also go to our storage and see if we had a change of clothes and my mother would go down to the Roosevelt Center for a shower and I would go down to the gym. So there’s no excuse to not get a shower and a change of clothes and all that. And then we heard about Women’s Gathering Place and we started going there.
At first glance, it might seem strange that Aida and her mom would pay for a storage unit and a gym membership even while they were living unsheltered. But there is considerable sociological research on the stigma faced by people who are unhoused. And the unhoused people who shared their stories with me expressed the many ways in which they were treated as less than human by other people in public spaces. Sociologist Samuel Perry documented some of the many strategies unhoused folks use to preserve a sense of dignity and it makes sense to me that the chance to shower and change into clean clothes would provide both a sense of normalcy and a kind of protective armor against the onslaught of other’s prejudices. Aida, like Sandra, was lucky enough to hook up with a program for women who are unhoused. The Women’s Gathering Place and a group called On Route 22 were the key to Aida and her mom finally getting into stable housing.
And then the day that I was graduating from the workshop that I was taking called On Route 22, which I’m currently taking it was my birthday and turns out that my mother got approved for a studio apartment and which we’re currently at right now. So she called me and said she said “I got-got in” I go “where?” She goes “at Donner Lofts” Where? The one at the corner? 4th Street? “Yeah, I’m here” I was like “Oh my gosh!” “Are you gonna come live with me?” I was like “well yeah, if I need to sign a lease” “Ok!” So I showed up that same day So the same day I graduated from On Route 22 was the same day I moved in And it was my birthday, yeah and I guess it was the best day of my life.
I was talking to a community organizer friend of mine about how to define class, after he listened to the 1500 Stories mini-series about middleclassness in the U.S. And he argued that we should think about class in terms of precarity. How precarious is your situation? He argued that since I’m a renter and since the cost of living is so high in the Bay area, I’m not as privileged as I think even despite a salary that puts me in the top 20% of Americans in terms of income. My landlord could yank my housing right out from under me, and I would have a hard time finding a place in the Silicon Valley that doesn’t cost nearly half my monthly income in rent. This is true, but I responded that my situation isn’t *that* precarious because I have family members with the assets to help me out or even to allow me to move in. And even though I don’t own a home, my job has ensured a decent retirement income for me when I get old. So I maintained that I’m still pretty economically privileged relative to most Americans. But his point about precarity seems spot on. Colleen, the teacher and home owner you heard from earlier in the episode, was pretty clear eyed about the ways in which money, while it might not buy happiness, nonetheless helps to ward against precarity.
It can’t buy happiness, but it can buy security. Being secured to know that if you want to do something, you could that kind of thing. Yes so I think it’s more about not worrying about everything and peace of mind that like I don’t have to worry about exactly living paycheck to paycheck or any of that. But I think that security is a big thing where just knowing that if something goes wrong, like I can take care of that and take care of myself.
For Colleen a house equates to security that is hard to come by in a housing crisis. This is a stark contrast from the elation of a studio apartment that Aida was able to get into after a long period of being homeless. With the assistance of social services, finding a home is still a long wait. In the Bay Area, as elsewhere, the coronavirus and its economic fallout have disproportionately impacted the very same people that were on the economic margins before the pandemic, including Black, Latinx, and immigrant communities, especially undocumented workers, and low-wage workers. And they are about to face an additional threat: the risk of being evicted when they can’t pay rent because they’ve lost jobs and income because of the pandemic. Some analysts are calling the moment when pandemic related eviction moratoriums are about to expire “the eviction cliff.” And these waves of evictions would come at the end of period when Bay area counties were decimated by COVID-19 infections and unprecedented job losses.
What can be done to solve the housing crisis in the Bay area? First, we need to keep people in their homes, so that a landlord’s decision to sell, like in Aida’s case, doesn’t mean long-term homelessness for their former tenants. Increasing renter protections, including rent control and just cause eviction, can help. Second, we need to build more housing, since we know there’s a real scarcity problem that’s keeping rents high. Local governments can incentivize the development of new housing units and use commercial linkage fees to subsidize housing for the working class and working poor. Third, we need real policy interventions. Corporations buying up our housing stock, landlords finding loopholes in renter protection laws, and people trying to make a buck off their neighbors’ desperation to stay off the streets?–that’s not a system that’s working on its own.
How can WE take action? In every community, people are working on the front lines to bring about a more just economy—feeding the hungry and housing the homeless; fighting displacement in low-income neighborhoods; forming community land trusts and social housing cooperatives; defending immigrants against both local discrimination and new federal threats; standing up to rent increases; and fighting to break up the unprecedented and grotesque concentration of wealth in the hands of a very small few while the vast majority live on the precipice of disaster. Housing justice is a tangible way to love our neighbors as ourselves. Loving our neighbors is a value across many traditions and communities but as the philosopher Cornel West reminds us, JUSTICE is what love looks like in PUBLIC. Whether you deliver direct services to those on the economic margins or organize politically for policy solutions, there is room for you in the work to love our neighbors in practice.
This episode was written by Jennifer Myhre, Melinda Poley and Tori Truscheit. It was produced and edited by Lea Li, Jennifer Myhre, and Deven Sutaria. The music that opens and closes each 1500 Stories episode was composed and produced by Benjamin Henderson. Additional music was composed by Airtone, Jesus Correa, Ben Henderson and Michelle Ordonez. You’ll find references for the sociology and data discussed in this episode in the show notes. The 1500 Stories podcast was launched thanks to generous financial assistance from the Mellon Foundation and American Council of Learned Societies community college faculty fellowship program. However, any views, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed here are our own and do not necessarily represent those of Mellon or ACLS. Special thanks to all of the storygatherers who conducted interviews for the project and all of the people who shared their stories so openly. You can hear and watch more of these stories at 1500stories.org and follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram at 1500 Stories. This is our official end of Season 1 of the podcast, but look for a special upcoming bonus episode. Thank you so much for engaging with the difficult topic of economic inequality and thank you for listening. Listening deeply to another person’s story is one of the most valuable gifts you can give them. Imagine how the world might change if we really listened to each other.