As a renter in the Silicon Valley, no one is completely safe from eviction — not even elected leaders.
Three weeks ago San Jose Councilmember Raul Peralez and his family were evicted from their rental home of nine years after their landlord decided to sell the property and retire. The family, including Peralez’s six-month-old son, were forced to move into a new home that costs $600 more per month to rent.
“My wife and I would love to have a lot more options — a place like our last place, a bigger place. But we couldn’t find any sort of location that was affordable,” Peralez said. “We were very sad to leave the home that we were in. When we got the notice, as we were looking for places, it was stressful and really depressing to see how many limited options there were for us. Nothing was showing up.”
The family of three was paying about $2,400 for a three-bedroom single family house, and now they’re paying $3,000 a month for a much smaller place — a two-bedroom townhome without a yard.
Their limited options, exacerbated by the family’s two dogs, made a difficult process into a nearly impossible situation. The councilmember and his young family have adopted a tighter budget, he said, restricting their personal spending to afford the higher rent.
“With a dog the list goes from a several dozen to three or four. That was the hardest part,” Peralez said.
The councilman is the latest example of alarming displacement in one of the country’s wealthiest regions.
“The term housing crisis has been over used for too many years, it’s gone past crisis and is now at a truly tragic level,” said Bob Staedler, a principal at Silicon Valley Synergy, who’s watched the housing crunch intensify for decades.
“People are being displaced and even our leaders are facing the consequences from past missteps,” he added. “We need to get the housing production levels up — and fast. We are past the time for rhetoric, when will the cities across Silicon Valley change their NIMBY behavior to recognize that housing is a human right?”
In the Bay Area, rents continue to skyrocket, homelessness is at an all time high and California still needs to build 3.4 million homes before it can begin to address its statewide housing crisis. The quality of life for most has declined as the cost-of-living has increased, while displacement threatens to reshape immigrant neighborhoods.
“The city’s disgraceful lack of concern for the welfare of its people has now extended to members of the City Council itself,” said Sandy Perry, president of the Affordable Housing Network. “For decades, San Jose has refused to plan for enough housing to provide for its residents. Ironically, Councilmember Peralez has been one of the better councilmembers in supporting tenant protections. Unfortunately, those protections did not go far enough to protect him and his family.”
As a renter, Peralez said the eviction helped him better understand the struggles and experiences faced by his constituents. He said most of the housing listings he found in San Jose appealed to the affluent, tech demographic.
“Almost every single advertisement that we saw said, ‘Close to the new Google campus,'” Peralez said. “I think that’s a common theme all throughout my district now, whether it’s a for-sale place or for-rent. It’s a real effect of development by Google even though the project is not built yet. It’s the Google effect of potentially driving up rents and costs.”
Like other councilmembers, Peralez, a former police officer and substitute teacher, took a significant pay cut when elected into office.
For Peralez, it’s important that local elected officials can afford to live in the most expensive rental market in the country — and that qualified candidates aren’t discouraged from running for office. Public office shouldn’t be reserved for independently wealthy people, he added.
That’s why Peralez supports the Salary-Setting Commission’s raise for councilmembers, from $97,000 to $125,000 per year.
“I’m not in the tech industry,” Peralez said. “I can’t afford one of these market-rate developments in downtown, but I would still love to live in the city that I’ve grown up in my entire life. I think I resemble a lot of individuals that have the same fears of gentrification and being priced out of their own city.”
As the housing crisis intensifies, Peralez says he’s devoted to supporting policies that encourage affordable housing proposals and strengthening rent control — even at the expense of developers.
“I care less about making it easier on a developer and more about how we preserve and build the affordable housing that we have, in addition to supporting projects like Google,” he added. “While I’m willing to support new development and the growth of the tech industry, I’m also fighting for affordable housing. In my mind, you can’t have one without the other.”
Contact Nadia Lopez at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow @n_llopez on Twitter.
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