More than 1.5 million residents fled the Bay Area between 2010 and 2016 due in part to the rising cost-of-living, including San Joseans who are increasingly forced out.
A coalition of local housing advocates, nonprofits and lawmakers recently released a report that they hope will shine a light on how displacement is a driving factor in the housing crisis and what can be done to help.
San Jose since 2018 joined forces with PolicyLink, a prominent research institute that focuses on racial and economic equity. San Jose was one of ten cities nationwide selected to take part in the initiative, which launched in March 2018, and included cities such as Austin, Boston, Nashville and Denver.
The city’s Housing and Planning departments, Councilmember Magdalena Carrasco, Working Partnerships USA, the Law Foundation of Silicon Valley and SOMOS Mayfair compiled responses from hundreds of surveys and one-on-one conversations with residents for 14 months to paint the disturbing picture of displacement in San Jose, in addition to working with UC Berkeley’s Urban Displacement Project.
The report focused on families of four earning less than $104,000 annually, or 80 percent of the area median income, and found 54 percent of respondents said they fear being displaced, while 72 percent said they personally knew someone who has already been forced out.
According to the report, renters in San Jose must earn $52 an hour – totaling almost $109,000 a year – to afford monthly rent for a two-bedroom apartment, while affording a median priced single-family home demands around $108 an hour, or $224,000 annually. The city’s minimum wage currently sits at $15.25 an hour.
In addition to high housing costs, 41 percent of households in the area are considered extremely-low, very-low, or low income. These disparities affect Black and Latinx residents more prevalently, the report found, as 64 percent of these households are considered low-income.
Not only have these concerns been growing for years since the tech boom, but redlining and discrimination controlled communities between 1930 and 1976. The report said 87 percent of current displacement areas align with historically redlined neighborhoods that were rated “hazardous” or “definitely declining,” while neighborhoods such as Willow Glen, Rose Garden and Naglee Park utilized racially restrictive contracts.
“This has been happening over the last decade,” Carrasco said. “But what we are seeing is that it’s being exacerbated, so now we’re really feeling the effect and the pressure and people are just being choked out of their homes. Now we see the transformation of communities.”
A displacement map included in the report shows nearly all of Carrasco’s district is affected, which is home to significantly large Latino and Vietnamese populations.
“I represent one of the most challenged districts. It’s a working class and working poor district, so we’re just where displacement and gentrification take place,” she said. “Unfortunately, what we’re seeing on the East Side is we’re losing a lot of the culture, we’re losing a lot of the character.”
While the City Council has increased protections through policies like the Ellis Act and rent increase caps, the lawmaker said there’s more to do.
Jeffrey Buchanan, policy director at Working Partnerships USA, said that while many conversations between community leaders and lawmakers focus on building more market-rate and affordable housing, he hopes the report highlights unique solutions from the people who are directly affected.
“What we’re trying to do with this report was say that, yes, we need more production, but we also got to really beef up our policy when it comes to preserving the affordable housing we have, and protecting tenants to ensure that families can continue to stay here,” Buchanan said, noting that 10,000 San Jose tenants get eviction notices annually.
“If we’re not doing those things, we could be losing more than we’re building when it comes to really ensuring that those families that live here, that love the city, that want to stay here can remain,” he added.
City leaders in recent years have started crafting policies to increase tenant protections, preservation of income restricted housing and new affordable housing production. Officials said providing legal assistance to tenants, supporting policies like commercial linkage fees and tenant purchase opportunities, in addition to landlord incentives, may also help chip away at the problem.
Officials are gathering more input about displacement solutions at future community meetings.
San Jose Housing Director Jacky Morales-Ferrand said compiling stakeholder feedback is vital to the success of any plans to tackle displacement.
“As the director of housing, it’s really important for me to listen to these voices before I make recommendations,” she said, adding that she’s “proud” the report is resident-centered.
Displacement is a difficult topic to understand, she added, especially in comparison to other housing challenges such as increasing production.
“This report was really critical in giving us foundational information about all the different tools and strategies that cities across the country are using to address the issue of displacement,” Morales-Ferrand said. “But it also just reminded me of how challenging it is to address this whole issue of displacement.”
Editor’s Note: The executive director of Working Partnerships USA, Derecka Mehrens, sits on San José Spotlight’s Board of Directors.