While Big Tech Prospers, an Eviction Crisis Looms Next Door

Six months into a pandemic economy, rifts in American inequality are deeper than ever. The picture is especially dystopian in Silicon Valley, where hundreds of thousands have filed unemployment claims while their Big Tech neighbors are minting millions of dollars a day. “Here in San Jose, you have a company like Zoom, which has seen its market cap grow exponentially, and just down the street you have families who not only don’t have broadband internet but are very likely to have lost a job,” says Jeffrey Buchanan, public policy director at Working Partnerships USA, a local community-labor organization. “The haves and have-nots have always been here in the Valley, but it’s only gotten that much worse.”

Last month, Buchanan and his team issued a report on one of the impacts of this economic disparity. While tech companies have seen skyrocketing profits—and many of their employees have skipped off to Monterrey or Park City to enjoy the perks of remote work—other families in Silicon Valley are bracing for an eviction crisis. With a statewide moratorium set to expire at the end of the month, Working Partnerships USA estimates there will be 43,000 families at high risk for eviction in Silicon Valley. “And that’s the conservative estimate,” says Buchanan.

With additional federal aid packages stalled in Congress and state legislators scrambling to find a longer-term solution, some Californians have suggested it’s time for the private sector to step in. Daniel Bornstein, a landlord attorney in San Francisco, told Curbed that rather than making his clients pay the price, he would “like to have seen 75 billionaires in the Bay Area put together a billion dollars for some communitywide bailout.” Certain billionaires have proven worthy candidates: Just last year, Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff spent $30 million on a research initiative to study homelessness. Elsewhere, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos gave $98.5 million to organizations that help homeless families. Companies like Google and Microsoft have also pledged hundreds of millions of dollars to ease housing instability in the areas surrounding their offices.

In terms of actually improving the stock of affordable housing, though, tech hubs continue to struggle. That’s because, simply put, they still aren’t building enough. “The affordability and displacement crisis is caused primarily by an underproduction of housing,” says Todd David, the executive director of the San Francisco Housing Action Coalition. Housing has been an enduring problem in the area: Since 2000, the Bay Area added 380,000 new housing units, while it needed to produce over 1 million to meet demands, according to a report by the San Francisco Bay Area Planning and Urban Research Association. In an economic crisis, like the one induced by the pandemic, those shortages become even more apparent.

At the same time, the pandemic has freed up tons of new space—it’s just located in office buildings. Since the spring, 3.6 million square feet of office space has been listed for sublease in San Francisco, according to a report in Biz Journals—more than has been available in the city in the past 20 years. Startups are letting their leases lapse, while the city’s bigger tech companies, like Twitter and Box, are anticipating that some of their employees will work from home indefinitely. At Slack, which has extended its remote work mandate until at least June 2021, employees have been left wondering about what, exactly, would happen to the company’s 30,000-square-foot headquarters in San Francisco. Earlier this summer, one employee pointed out in an internal channel that while the company had diminishing needs for office space, the city was in the midst of a major housing crisis. If nobody would be working in the office for another year, wasn’t there something they could do with it?


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