Why is California living so expensive
The little room costs 2000 euros, in which no more than a mattress and a small table fit. "We only rent it to one person. Usually," says the manager. There is probably room for negotiation. About nine techies live in the little house with a dirty pool in Mountain View, 60 kilometers south of San Francisco, the exact number of roommates remains unclear. On a further inspection, the room turns out to be a garage, which sounds promising at first, as everything big in Silicon Valley was created in garages, such as the Apple company. But again the number of roommates is unclear - and this time it's about rats.
The everyday search for a place to stay in the Bay Area, where the housing market is more expensive than anywhere else in the United States. It has long since overtaken Downtown Manhattan in New York City, even though Wall Street, the world's financial center, is located there. According to the fintech company Smart Asset, a household needs an annual income of at least 185,000 euros to be able to afford a three-room apartment in San Francisco. In New York, 136,000 euros are enough.
Google, Facebook, Uber and others attract thousands of new employees every year who jostle their way into the narrow stretch of land between San Francisco and San José, which, however, cannot expand its natural borders with the San Francisco Bay and the North Pacific. It has become so expensive here that the technology companies now want to counteract this. In doing so, they act so short-sightedly that they could make the problem even worse. YIMBY is the name of the latest initiative, "Yes in My Backyard", and Microsoft man Nat Friedman is driving it forward. He and a few tech colleagues from Yelp, Stripe and Pantheon have already raised over half a million euros for his lobbying organization, with which he wants to convince California lawmakers that more houses need to be built, especially in areas where only single-family homes are allowed are.
In addition to the influx of tech workers, the causes of the housing crisis in the Bay Area are primarily due to restrictive building regulations. San Francisco, for example, was only allowed to build 16,500 apartments between 2007 and 2014 - instead of the 32,000 required.
YIMBY also wants to use its name to challenge the so-called Nimbys ("not in my backyard") who are fighting against new houses in their neighborhood. In Palo Alto, where Hewlett Packard and Google once originated, long-time residents are fighting against the fact that single apartment complexes and apartment buildings could suddenly destroy their idyllic suburban atmosphere.
"That would destroy the charm of the city, which feels so nice like small town," said its mayor Patrick Burt recently. "If the people of Palo Alto wanted to live in a big city, they would move to San Francisco." Burt has lived here for 37 years and thinks everything should stay the way it is. This is how many of his neighbors think and prevent the construction of apartments. Nothing remains in Palo Alto as it is. The data company Palantir and the retail group Amazon alone take up hundreds of square meters here. Both are growing rapidly and need more employees. The City Council of Palo Altos has just voted and made it clear that these companies are an integral part of the pretty small town, they pay good taxes. But nobody wants to help people find a place to live.
If there is ever construction going on in the Valley, then only for the rich
That's how it works in most of the dozen small towns that make up Silicon Valley. And even if the entire Bay Area has a problem, the responsible mayors do not discuss how they could solve it together.
Because even the typical Valley Tech couples with two six-figure salaries are now having trouble finding something that suits them. Like Kate Downing, a product attorney, married to a programmer and a former housing officer for Palo Alto: she moved out of town because she couldn't afford to have a family there.
YIMBY wants to ensure that twice as many houses will be built in the future as before. Houses for people like Downing. The initiative is therefore moving in a similar direction to Facebook's Willow campus: the group is building its own village for its employees at its Menlo Park headquarters. In the best case scenario, YIMBY and Facebook make life and commuting easier for rich programmers. That's not bad.
But it misses the real problem. Facebook will only sell 15 percent of its Willow apartments below market price. That is far too little. Because if there is ever construction going on in the Valley, then only for the rich. What is most urgently missing is affordable housing. Ordinary people, such as teachers, can no longer afford the rents and move to cities east of the Bay. Because of the constant traffic jams, they then need two hours to commute to work - one way. Low-wage earners like those who prepare food for Googlers or clean their offices often drive even further.
Those who stay run the risk of ending up on the street. Nowhere else in the United States is homelessness as high as here. And it also hits the middle class. People live on the street or in tent cities, containers, mobile homes; these shape the cityscape of San Francisco.
Better not leave it to technology companies to solve social problems. They only focus on their own advantage and further widen the gap between rich and poor.
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