Bramson: Some basic, universal truths about income 
A news conference featuring Sen. Dave Cortese focused on Santa Clara County's basic income program, which will provide monthly payments to young adults transitioning out of the foster care system. File photo.

In February, Arizona Republicans supported a measure to ban guaranteed income programs throughout the state. Far from actually considering the terrifying economic currents in the United States that are making it impossible for half of all Americans to pay their rent, these legislators thought it best to take a page from the book of a Florida-based lobbying group that still thinks good old-fashioned bootstrapping is the only way for the millions of Americans that just can’t make ends meet.

Let’s see how that logic holds up here in Silicon Valley.

Locally, you need to be making $100,000 a year to rent a one-bedroom apartment that you can afford. And by afford, I mean not spending more than 30% of your paycheck on the rent. For the hundreds of thousands of people earning minimum wage in Santa Clara County, they would need to work 125 hours a week to make this happen. Basically, 18 hour days with no time off every month.

And, since that’s impossible unless you’re on a crabbing boat in Alaska, our lowest wage earners end up severely rent burdened. And the trade off for paying their rent and avoiding eviction is skipping meals, not having necessary medications, and really living daily life just one unexpected turn away from losing their homes and ending up on the streets.

Fortunately, there is something we can do about this. And it’s not rocket science, either. We just have to figure out how to get more money to the people who need it so they can do their jobs, pay their bills, and live their lives. Direct financial assistance is a proven intervention with too many benefits to list, and the good news is we’re already doing this work locally.

The homelessness prevention system, launched in 2017, has kept nearly 17,000 people housed by providing some immediate cash to cover the rent, fix a car, or pay for the costs of some other emergency. A new randomized control trial study by the University of Notre Dame — the first of its kind in the country — looked at this system over a six-year period and found statistically significant evidence that it works.  Among other things, researchers saw that people offered emergency financial assistance were 81 percent less likely to become homeless within six months of enrollment. And those numbers held up over time, too.

But the truth is for a variety of reasons some people might need more sustained support to make it here. And that’s not an individual failing. It’s a direct result of the lack of affordable housing and the stagnant wages for our lowest earners that have plagued our region for decades.

Thankfully, Santa Clara County along with several nonprofit and philanthropic organizations have leaned into the idea that we need to get more money into the hands of our poorest residents in recent years. There are at least six guaranteed income projects currently underway or in development countywide. Researchers will be studying the benefits of providing additional income to groups like working families and youth exiting foster care. And while much work is yet to be completed, early results show decreased rent burden, increased school enrollment, and a significant drop in the incidences of homelessness.

We’re lucky to have this local leadership on the issue. And if we can prove the effectiveness of direct financial assistance in one of the highest cost-of-living markets in the country, we may soon have a proven intervention for so many people that can work anywhere.

In a time where there’s a vocal and vicious push to place blame while not solving anything, we really need to find ways to invest more in our people so we can all reap the benefits.

San José Spotlight columnist Ray Bramson is the Chief Operating Officer at Destination: Home, a nonprofit that works to end homelessness in Silicon Valley. His columns appear every second Monday of the month. Contact Ray at [email protected] or follow @rbramson on X, formerly known as Twitter. 

Comment Policy (updated 5/10/2023): Readers are required to log in through a social media or email platform to confirm authenticity. We reserve the right to delete comments or ban users who engage in personal attacks, hate speech, excess profanity or make verifiably false statements. Comments are moderated and approved by admin.

Leave a Reply