From the looks of it, a massive new Google campus is coming to San Jose, bringing 20,000 jobs to the area around Diridon Station. But the city of a million-plus people is already in the midst of an extreme housing crisis, and even the suggestion of a new Googleplex has sent home values skyrocketing.
The city may get a shiny new company to brag about, but low-income residents are leaving the city in droves and it’s beyond time for our elected officials to protect them.
Zillow released a study last week that showed San Jose home values increased by more than $200,000 last year. It’s the equivalent of your home earning you $99.51 an hour, all because you were privileged enough to buy it a decade or more ago.
That’s far more than the national average of $7.09 per working hour, and the highest value increase in the country—far beyond San Francisco. In the meantime, huge numbers of San Jose renters, who are disproportionately people of color, are spending their entire paychecks on rent. Or, they’re being pushed out to the Central Valley, even after a lifetime here. That’s not what a high-functioning city looks like.
At a rally outside the Google headquarters in Mountain View this past week, Rosa V, a community activist and local parent, described how she’s seen other families at her public school leave the city altogether because it’s unaffordable.
“The rent is already too high, and with Google coming, it will only get worse,” she said. “I already got pushed out when I lived in Los Angeles, and now it will happen again. This is all happening right now, just with the potential of Google coming.”
In the midst of all this, you’d think our City Council would be scrambling to protect its most vulnerable low income renters. But this housing crisis has been around for a while now, and council members like Dev Davis, Johnny Khamis, Lan Diep and Chappie Jones have voted against strong renter protections time after time, as has Mayor Sam Liccardo. San Jose leaders love to claim the diversity of our city But when it comes to defending and protecting the very same communities, they fall short.
It’s enough to make you think that the people in power don’t mind, or that they’d prefer a San Jose made up only of the rich. But the council can do something to help renters as soon as April 24, when they revisit the Tenant Protection Ordinance and the Apartment Rent Ordinance for what may be the last time in a long time.
Instead, Liccardo seems poised to push for more policies that will hurt all renters and have especially pernicious consequences for low-income renters of color. A memo he released on the subject is unnecessarily complicated even though the issues up for debate on April 24 are pretty straightforward.
Basically, the issue is this: will council members give landlords more power to deny people the basic human need of housing, or will they stand up for tenants?
For decades the city has allowed landlords to violate the law and pass unmetered utility charges on to tenants. This creates instability for renters who have to estimate what their next monthly utility bill will be. One month it can be $50 and the next $200. It’s the sort of thing that could displace you from your rent-controlled home, which would be very convenient for your landlord who could then charge the next tenant market rate rent.
Our immigrant neighbors are under attack and some landlords use threat of deportation to jack up rent and refuse to complete even basic repairs. It’s illegal in California for landlords to threaten to call immigration agents on tenants. We should make sure people know that right by requiring landlords to inform tenants by putting up notices on their property in English, Spanish and Vietnamese.
It’s also time to end discrimination based on source of income. Spend five minutes in the housing section of Craigslist or other online rental listings and you’ll see “No Section 8,” meaning landlords won’t accept subsidized housing vouchers that tenants have waited years to obtain. The vouchers run out within 120 days if a tenant can’t find a place to stay, leaving many renters effectively homeless if landlords turn down their legitimate (and guaranteed) method of payment.
The council has the power to make such discrimination illegal, and now is the time.
Renters who have called San Jose their home even before the tech-boom are feeling the impacts of policies and practices that prioritize profits over people. Instead of caving to landlords, who already earn more on their buildings than anyone else in the country, the council has a chance to step up and put people first.
Diana Salazar is a community organizer at Sacred Heart Community Service. The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of San Jose Inside. Interested in writing an op-ed? Email pitches to [email protected].