Nearly 300 Share Stories on High Cost of Living in Silicon Valley

Shawneequa Badger, a real estate agent, used to feel proud of closing deals on high-priced homes. These days, she can’t help but feel a pang of guilt.

“There’s a lot of potential for … homebuyers,” she said. “But guess what? That’s not affordable and it’s not scalable for families in Santa Clara County.”

Badger said she worries whether her 4-year-old daughter will be able to afford living in the community where she grew up, given that living expenses vastly outpace wage growth in the region. Property values jumped 11.5 percent from a year ago, pushing the median to $725,000 for a single-family home. Rent in the South Bay soared to an average of $2,500 a month for a one-bedroom—making it one of the most priciest metro areas in the nation.

Badger shared her concerns at one of a series of hearings hosted by the county’s Office of Human Relations, which collected testimony about the cost of living in Silicon Valley. Some 295 people opened up about their struggles to balance rent, childcare, transportation costs and groceries. Their stories have been compiled in a report, titled “A Tale of Two Valleys: The Price We Pay for Living in Santa Clara County,” being presented next week to the county Board of Supervisors.

Even with a doctorate to his name, a stable job and, what in most other regions, would be an enviable salary, William Armaline can barely stay afloat.

“My wife and I are both working professionals,” said Armaline, an assistant professor at San Jose State University. “We will never afford a house here—never going to happen.”

His employer struggles to recruit new teachers, he added, because of the cost of living in Silicon Valley.

“It’s also an institutional problem, because we as a university can’t actually recruit professors,” he told county staff. “I be you know the answer why. No one is going to come to a place where, even as a full-time professor, they can’t afford to buy a house. It’s not going to happen. We didn’t go to school for 12 years to be insulted, right?”

Between 2000 and 2011, living costs rose far faster than wages in the region, the county noted in its report. Between 2005 and 2012, median rents increased 10 percent while median income increased by just 1 percent. Today, the working poor make up 16.2 percent of the labor force. Food stamp use increased 114 percent between 2008 and 2011. Nearly 60 percent of poor families pay more than half their household income for rent. The county has the fifth-largest shortfall of affordable housing in California.

Robert Aguirre, 60, told the county panel that he and his disabled wife earn too much to qualify for welfare, yet can’t afford rent on their own.

“”We became homeless due to her failing health, and we are being trapped by a system where we earn too much money for assistance and too little for traditional housing,” Aguirre said.

So they live in The Jungle, a sprawling homeless camp across the street from Happy Hollow Zoo. But not for much longer.

“We’re being forced to leave the encampment and have nowhere to go,” said Aguirre, who has spoken to San Jose Inside before about his living situation.

Teens, predominantly from immigrant families, talked about having to balance work and school from a very young age to help their parents.

“I missed school events, and every Friday I went to sleep at 8pm and woke up at 4am to go to the flea market to sell,” said Lynn, a Yerba Buena High School graduate. “As a product of divorced parents, I watched my sisters and I grow up on bad noodles and fast food. As my mother worked two jobs, my father suffered financially as well. With lack of English skills and education, my parents couldn't—and they had no time to go to school to improve their English skills, so they couldn't afford to miss a day of sick leave. Because of this, my major focus as a sophomore a few years ago was to survive. So I put school aside to [look] for a job and tried to get my dad out of a sofa that he slept in in the back of a business.”

She said she continues to juggle two jobs and school.

Dozens of parents who offered testimony for the report said it pained them that work left them so little time to spend with their families.

“I don’t enjoy the little things and times with my daughters because I’m stressing about what I can cover each month and what’s not going to get covered,” said Delia Ramirez, a single mom. “Not getting to spend time with my kids because I’m trying to work overtime if it’s offered. I’m missing my daughter grow up and losing the bond with them because I’m so stressed and hating the way I’m having to survive my life instead of living it.”

Read the report in its entirety here. Supervisors will consider what actions to take to address community concerns, ranging from bolstering rent controls to creating a more robust living wage ordinance.

More from the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors agenda for October 21, 2014:

  • Because the county—especially the Valley Medical Center—processes and digitizes more personal information than ever before, the county executive's office wants to come up with better privacy protections. The recommendation is for an allocation of $681,000 for a study to find security gaps and $1.9 million a year to fund an ongoing privacy protection program staffed by four information security engineers and a chief information security officer. “[T]his is a substantial ongoing commitment for the county to undertake at this time,” the memo says. “As the same time, this is an example of a need that is growing with the focus on personal privacy and the need for us to focus on the security of the data that we collect and manager.” Meanwhile, the memo continues, the penalties for non-compliance are increasing, as are the public’s expectations that public agencies manager their personal information.
  • The county will consider adopting an ordinance that requires companies doing business with the county to pay their workers a “living wage” that allows them to keep up with the cost of living in the region.
  • County lawyers may provide pro bono legal representation for child migrants stranded at the nation’s southern border.

WHAT: Board of Supervisors meets
WHEN: 9am Tuesday
WHERE: County Government Center, 70 W. Hedding St., San Jose
INFO: Clerk of the Board, 408.299.5001

Correction: A previous version of this story attributed a memo on Valley Medical Center to Supervisor Joe Simitian. San Jose Inside regrets the error.

Jennifer Wadsworth is the former news editor for San Jose Inside and Metro Silicon Valley. Follow her on Twitter at @jennwadsworth.


  1. So, what’s the point?

    If all the available homes are occupied, is someone who can afford the house supposed to move out so someone who can’t afford the house can move in, not pay the rent, and then cause the landlord to default on the mortgage?

    It doesn’t make any sense.

  2. I read somewhere that it takes a household income of at least $71,000/yr to be able to live “just okay” while renting an apartment in this area. It doesn’t take much to understand that in order to purchase homes, people have to move four families into it in order to pay the mortgage.

    • > It doesn’t take much to understand that in order to purchase homes, people have to move four families into it in order to pay the mortgage.

      If I wanted to live in Beverly Hills, I would have to have three other families move in with me in order to pay the mortgage.

      Does anyone know any rich Hollywood liberals who will pay for my housing so I can bring some diversity to their community?

  3. It’s a CHOICE to live in Silicon Valley, accept the high cost of living or move to a cheaper locale. Living in squalor and/or having children while struggling financially is really just poor decision making… No one deserves handouts or special consideration as a reward for bad choices.

    • Perhaps you don’t realize that it takes 2.5 low to moderate income earners to support just one high earner. Jate Naeger, look around you, don’t you see many service employees that make 20% of what high earners make? These people have to be able to live in the area where they work. It would create a bigger problem if they would have to move to a more affordable community and have to commute just to be able to work here in Silicon Valley. You say it is a choice to live here, but if all those support people had to move away who would cook your food, sell you groceries, teach your children, make your coffee and do all those things you take for granted.

      • “These people have to be able to live in the area where they work.” Completely incorrect. I commute an hour each way, it’s life.

        “You say it is a choice to live here, but if all those support people had to move away who would cook your food, sell you groceries, teach your children, make your coffee and do all those things.” Completely incorrect. It’s a choice to live here. They are not forced to live here because someone else needs their help. They are individuals.

  4. Jen,

    about 750,000 in San Jose alone could complain about the cost about living in the so called silicon Valley. Open your property tax bill and see all the crazy add on taxes for city, county, state. What a joke, and you question why our president comes every couple of months to milk the super rich in the bay area?

  5. > Nearly 300 Share Stories on High Cost of Living in Silicon Valley

    I feel their pain.

    The living costs in Sea Cliff, Tiburon, Newport Beach, and Monaco are so high that I can’t afford to live there.

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