History professor Leon Sultan grew up in a
San Francisco that working-class families remember as their home. That place, for the most part, has disappeared.
The city is now the center of the thriving tech industry in the United States and
It records one of the highest housing costs in the entire country. Owning a home is increasingly difficult:
to the lack of houses joins the increase of the newly fortified fortunes.
Sultan currently lives in a one-bedroom apartment under a stabilized income scheme. He shares it with his wife, who also works in education, and his four-year-old son. When in a few weeks they move to a larger place, the cost of their rent will almost double.
"I was born here in 1978. Then, a family with two salaries could buy a house," he says. "Right now the only way to buy one, if you are a normal person, is to have some kind of help." "I feel fortunate not to have been expelled yet," he says.
Sultan, and many others, attribute this housing crisis to
rise of technology companies from the area of the Baha of San Francisco, which has created great inequalities in society.
The growing discomfort of the community is reflected in the requests for new taxes directed at technology companies. But also in small things, such as the position against the groups that transport workers to
Silicon Valley, where many of these companies have their headquarters.
For years, tech giants have responded without accepting their responsibility to those who criticize them, but they begin to see signs of change.
One of them is that in June, Google said it will allocate US $ 1 billion to
housing problem, the same amount that Facebook promised. Apple for its part raised the commitment by committing to dedicate US $ 2,500 million.
"We know that what is happening is unsustainable," said Tim Cook, Apple's CEO, in revealing his company's plans.
Those decisions followed a wave of small donations and company activities such as Cisco and Microsoft, which said they would invest $ 500 million in homes in their home state of Washington.
These commitments represent a "type of recognition by the technology industry that they are in part responsible for the housing affordability crisis," says Jeffrey Buchanan of Silicon Valley Rising.
Buchanan has pressured tech giants on the subject for years. "I hope that there will be a change of mentality in the industry. The old way of doing things does not work."
As the technology industry has grown, housing and rental prices in the area of the Baha have doubled in the last decade, becoming in many respects the highest in the United States.
Last month, the San Francisco Real Estate Agents Association said that the average price of a home in the city had reached $ 1.4 million. He
Average rent exceeds US $ 3200 per month, according to Moody's Analytics-Reis analysis firm.
Salaries in the area have also increased, but not as fast as housing costs. A family needs to earn US $ 126,800 a year to be able to rent a normal two-bedroom property in San Francisco without spending more than 30% of their income, the percentage they considered as a breakeven point.
In 2017, about 40% of the tenants of the Baha area dedicated a higher percentage than that.
For Leon Sultan, buying a home is out of the question, but says his family is lucky. There is a woman in her street who lives in her car. "I don't feel sorry for myself," he says. "There are many people in this city who have things much more difficult than us."
High costs are forcing companies to pay more and spend more time finding staff. This effort to attract workers is one of the reasons why technology companies have decided to get involved in the problem. For the most part, their promises are not philanthropic.
Apple is lending the state of California $ 1 billion to help finance affordable housing projects and providing another $ 1 billion to a support fund for those who buy housing for the first time in California. Google and Facebook also plan to invest hundreds of millions in new homes.
The land owned by the technology companies that will be available for housing construction represents another important part of the commitments: a total value of US $ 750 million in the case of the search engine.
These types of promises are unprecedented, but the lack of details makes it difficult to assess their importance, says Carol Galante, director of the Terner Center for Housing Innovation at the University of California, Berkeley. "They do it on their own interest, but it is obvious that the community will also benefit."
"A drop in the ocean"
Facebook and Google have said that their plans should see around 20,000 new homes, some of which will be offered at an amount less than the market price.
And although Apple has not provided an estimate of its final commitment, the company expects to build some 3600 new units at affordable prices on its land.
However, California State Sen. Scott Wiener, whose district includes San Francisco, says the plans represent "a drop in the ocean" compared to the money and political changes that are necessary.
"I'm glad that Apple, Facebook, Google are taking these measures, but I think we also have to be clear that this will not solve the problem."
Between 2012 and 2017, San Francisco built less than 21,000 new homes, while the population grew by more than 58,000 people and the number of jobs increased by 130,000.
Senator Wiener blames policies that hinder construction, such as the rules that limit the height of buildings, of the widening gap between supply and demand. "The problem is not the growth of the number of employees," he says. "The problem is that we don't plan it."
But Peter Cohen, of the Council of Community Housing Organizations, says it is "simplistic" to rely on a greater offer to solve the crisis. "Housing under construction is often intended for workers in the upper part of the technology industry," he says.
And that despite the fact that many of the new jobs are lower wages, like cooks and drivers, he adds.
Cohen recalls that the ads of these companies seem in part as a "brand" effort to avoid new policies, such as higher taxes. "We have to have stable and significant sources of financing," he says. "Otherwise, we are just solving the superficial part of the problem."
Sultan says he appreciates plans to build more homes, especially if it's near the company's campuses. The expansion in other regions such as Texas, where Apple has announced a new base, excites him even more.
"The big problem for me is why the technology industry has to be located in San Francisco," he says.
"Why can't they scatter throughout the country?" He asks.
But the general trend observed in his hometown is a mixture of rising housing costs, slow construction of new houses and declining property, especially among younger families, which is also observed in the rest. of the United States, especially in the areas where technology companies are expanding.
And as people and businesses leave the area of the Baha, tensions reproduce in the suburbs and other cities, driving the poorest away from the jobs they need.
Carol Galante warns that those who have less are those who are "losing."