March 3, 2020
California is the wealthiest state in the United States, with a GDP larger than those of many nations. Yet at the same time, it has the highest level of homelessness, at almost 130,000 people, or a quarter of the nation’s homelessness. Santa Clara County holds almost 10,000 of these people, with a homeless population of over 600 in Mountain View alone.
At the heart of Silicon Valley, Mountain View is a prime location for many high-income earners. The root of the issue in Mountain View lies mainly in the lack of affordable housing as luxury housing continues to increase.
“People are getting evicted for new houses because high-tech workers can afford them,” local housing activist Irene Yoshida said. “They want to be close to their employer, and they can always outbid on any luxury apartment because they are high-wage earners.”
That leaves people with little choices in what to do.
“It’s essentially these choices for folks: You either fall deeper into debt, you fall into homelessness or you get the hell out,” executive director of the Community Services Agency Tom Myers said.
Furthermore, requirements to build affordable housing alongside these luxury units have not been very effective, as developers can find loopholes to build housing that still remains outside of low-income residents’ means.
“They can say that it’s below-market-rate housing, and that’s great, but they don’t talk about for whom because there are different levels of poverty,” Myers said. “What we need is not just affordable housing; we need housing for people who have extremely low incomes.”
Because of this, low- and mid-income workers are being outpaced by gentrification, which makes it difficult for them to continue to work in the area.
“The wage you give them is not enough, and they’re having to live way far away in San Jose or Morgan Hill,” Yoshida said. “They want to stay, but they can’t. Sometimes I wonder if these high-wage earners realize that they need to have restaurant workers, service workers and librarians. We need to have all of us.”
People in the area have resorted to short-term rentals, mobile homes and even homelessness as a result.
“These kinds of living situations just aren’t sustainable,” Myers said. “It’s really, really difficult for a person to advance in life and be able to save money on their own and make their lives more stable if they are putting out huge amounts of money for rent in these more unorthodox ways.”
With all these types of unorthodox housing, there also seems to be a separation from the rest of the community.
“They’re residents of Mountain View, but once they get an RV, they’re not considered members of the community,” Yoshida said. “When I was a renter, too, I never felt like I was part of the community. People in RVs are still citizens—they’re residents.”