Gentrification: acknowledging accountability and protecting vulnerable residents

Nick Abraham, Opinion Editor

This is an extension of a story on teacher housing, which can be found here.

While Facebook and other corporations’ willingness to help fix the housing crisis is necessary and beneficial, this needs to come with an acknowledgment of personal responsibility. Even if inadvertent, the increased presence of the tech industry in Redwood City and the entire Bay Area has devalued the jobs of other professions, namely teachers, in the eyes of our local economies.

A recent report from the University of California, Santa Cruz found that 90 percent of workers in Silicon Valley make less today than they did in 1997, accounting for inflation. While the Bay Area prides itself on economic growth, it’s clear that it is a small proportion of people in our communities benefiting from this. The companies that tout this growth are participating in this growing wealth inequality by outsourcing what’s known as low-skill work to contractors who pay employees less and give them fewer benefits.

A recent report from Joint Venture Silicon Valley says that “Silicon Valley counties were among those with California’s largest outflow.” Two of the biggest areas Silicon Valley residents are leaving for are the greater Sacramento area and San Joaquin County in California’s Central Valley, which are substantially cheaper than the Bay Area. The inability to accommodate all of these new tech workers and existing residents in the communities they’re coming to creates a dilemma and a competition. What we’ve ended up with is long-time residents being effectively replaced by software engineers and coders who will make more money than them in an industry that has more demand in the international economy.

With all of these problems, the question of whether there will ever be a solution begs itself. There are possible solutions, but they take prioritization and the ability to think beyond incrementally. The Downtown Precise Plan of 2016 only reserved 15 percent of new housing in Redwood City to being affordable; this has since gone up to 20 percent. We need to be prioritizing housing for current residents of Redwood City, rather than building more and more luxury apartments that are essentially reserved for transplanted tech workers.

Additionally, a measure towards curbing housing insecurity that was not mentioned at the Town Hall was rent control. While the historic effectiveness of rent control is debatable and can at times exacerbate problems with housing, it has worked in several cases and is worth considering, especially for long-time residents who do not want to be forced out of Redwood City or San Mateo County as many already have due to outrageous rent increases.

In the end, Redwood City and Silicon Valley has to consider its priorities: are we putting our community first, or are we trying to protect the advantage that affluent tech workers already have in our area? We are blinding ourselves from the blatant disparities that the gentrification is creating, despite its positives in economic growth. Acknowledging the root of these problems is the only way we will be able to fix them.