Working for tech giants like Google and Mozilla doesn't mean employees can actually afford housing in Silicon Valley.
Silicon Valley’s tech innovators are rolling in money. The people who work for them — not so much.
There is a glaring and unprecedented disparity between the rich and everyone else in the West Coast, fueled by the very thing that marks the region’s success. The booming economy, thanks to the tech sector, has led to soaring housing costs and, coupled with decades of under-development, resulted in homelessness the likes of which has never been seen before in California.
What’s ironic about the entire situation is that unemployment in the region is just 3 percent but there are thousands of homeless people who are working — many of them with tech giants — who can’t afford housing. There are retail clerks, janitors, plumbers, carpenters, and even teachers, who go to work and come back to sleep wherever they find a place. Many of them take shelter in homeless tent encampments, comprised of RVs and campers.
Tes Saldana lives a few blocks from Google’s headquarters in a crowded camper that she parks on city land. There are more than a dozen such campers and RVs parked alongside hers.
However, these encampments are illegal. Last week, Mountain View in Santa Clara County banned vehicles more than 6 feet high on some part of the street where Saldana was living, saying, as the RVs were well over that height, they created a traffic hazard.
A similar crackdown in Palo Alto banned RVs and other vehicles that exceeded the 72-hour limit on a busy road of El Camino Real.
However, these homeless people now have nowhere to turn to since a two-bedroom unit in places like Mountain View, Santa Clara County, starts at $3,840. That’s more than many people earn in a month. Also much of the available housing is available at distant places.
San Jose has similar housing issues. The average rent is $3,500, however, the median wage is $12 an hour in the food sector and $19 an hour in health care support. This type of pay doesn’t even cover housing cost. According to personal finance website GoBankingRates, the minimum salary needed to live in San Jose is $87,000.
Ellen Tara James-Penney, a lecturer at San Jose State University, earns only $28,000 a year and has to resort to sleeping in her beat-up old Volvo and eating at a local church. The 54-year old English teacher used to work at a tech industry but was laid off during the tech meltdown in the early 2000s. Unable to find work, James-Penney went to college, got two degrees and accumulated $143,000 in student debt.
“I've basically been homeless since 2007, and I'm really tired,” she said. “Really tired.”
In response to the ever-increasing wealth disparities, civil rights group Silicon Valley Rising formed three years ago to demand better pay and benefits for low-income earners in the region.
The unprecedented rise in homelessness has also prompted at least 10 local governments along the West Coast to declare states of emergency and major cities like San Diego and Seattle are struggling to find immediate and long-term solutions for the crisis.
Banner/Thumbnail: REUTERS, Beck Diefenbach