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OP-ED: We’re in this together
May 04, 2013, 05:00 AM By Joshua Hugg

Joshua Hugg

“We cannot seek achievement for ourselves and forget about progress and prosperity for our community. ... Our ambitions must be broad enough to include the aspirations and needs of others, for their sakes and for our own.” — Cesar Chavez

Famous words from one of the great civil rights leaders of our time. They ring as true today here at the northern end of Silicon Valley as they did when they were first spoken. We are all proud of the vibrant and diverse communities we created together in San Mateo County. Each of us plays our unique part in shaping the character of our community and quality of life we all enjoy. Through the boom and bust cycles that characterize life in Silicon Valley, our ability to collaborate toward a vision of prosperity, health, sustainability and well-being has served us well. As a result, we regularly attract the best and brightest from around the world to Silicon Valley. They are often considered the heart of the Silicon Valley. However, they should not be confused with the soul of our communities. In that regard, each of us has a role to play.

The unique dynamic that makes Silicon Valley so successful also puts tremendous strain on those members of the community that do not make top salaries, pre-negotiated to ensure they can obtain a home they can afford. Tens of thousands are precluded from living in the community in which they work, grew up or grew old in. Their aspirations to be local residents are squelched by apartment rental prices which hover at all-time highs — average rents for two-bedroom units at almost $2,300 per month (Department of Housing) — and vacancy rates at all-time lows. As a result, more than 60 percent of our workers in the county live outside of San Mateo County — up 10 percent from a decade ago. For those who do choose to remain and rent, almost 30 percent pay 50 percent or more of their salaries for housing (Center for Housing Policy). How long can this last?

Many of us value our lively downtowns which offer a range of restaurants, retail and other amenities. They serve as gathering places and in themselves create a sense of community. Behind the counter, many of the people who make these experiences we enjoy so much possible — grocery and retail clerks, waiters and waitresses, baristas — make salaries that rarely allow them to live in the communities they serve. This same theme extends to other facets of our community — teachers who provide quality education to our children and nonprofit workers who provide services and nurturing to our most vulnerable face long commutes.

Our long-predicted “silver tsunami” with one in four residents over the age of 65 in the next 10 to 15 years will put further strain on our already limited apartment supply as seniors, many on fixed incomes, seek to downsize to more manageable accommodations. Their aspiration of staying close to family and friends are jeopardized as too few options exist for them.

Over time, those things we value so much in our community — family, vibrancy, diversity, prosperity — will suffer as we maintain a vision of a community that does not change or grow. We are diminished when we cease to welcome everyone who contributes to our collective success and meets the needs of our people — young and old.

Ultimately, we will meet this challenge of creating more inclusive communities. As expected, there are no silver bullets. With little additional open land to build up we must pursue a path of renewal and refinement within our downtowns and corridors where transportation options exist. Solutions will require a host of partners with each of us tasked to think beyond our current situation and understand the needs of an evolving community. We are all in this together.

Each year Housing Leadership Council of San Mateo County hosts Affordable Housing Week. In its 10th year, the weeklong series of events helps to bring attention to the continuing lack of housing affordability in San Mateo County and highlight the inspirational work that stakeholders are doing here to meet this challenge. We encourage readers to review this year’s offerings at www.hlcsmc.org/ahw-2013 and join us in this “cross-generational” pursuit.

Joshua Hugg is Program Manager for the Housing Leadership Council of San Mateo County, which advocates for creation of housing at all affordability levels, especially lower-cost housing choices for working families and retirees where the need is the greatest.

 

 

Tags: housing, community, county, valley, mateo, silicon,


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