September 17, 2014

By Sam Tepperman-Gelfant

Skyrocketing rents fueled by a seemingly unquenchable demand for housing from highly-paid workers and real estate “investors” are threatening low-income families in every corner of the Bay Area. Anti-eviction rallies, tech bus protests, and research reports have drawn much-needed attention to the plight of gentrification and displacement in low-income neighborhoods in San Francisco and Oakland. But it is still too easy to overlook the pressure facing the low-income families who have managed to make homes for themselves in “high-opportunity” suburbs.

A recent article in the San Jose Mercury News spent time with leaders from two of Public Advocates’ close partners, San Francisco Organizing Project/Peninsula Interfaith Action (SFOP/PIA) and the Housing Leadership Council (HLC), exploring the challenges facing low-income families in San Mateo County, one of the wealthiest counties in the country, and highlighting the need to fight for anti-displacement protections in suburbs as well as cities. The story of one of these leaders illustrates the real-life impact of rising housing costs and displacement.

“Araselis Marte and her two daughters have lived in their small two-bedroom apartment on Grant Street for nine years. But now they face a stark choice: pay for a 77 percent rent increase or find somewhere else to live. . . .

“The four-unit building where Marte, 47, lives is charmless and poorly maintained. . . . Still, it was one of the few cheap apartments left in San Mateo. Marte’s rent is just $1,300, well below the market average. But with the owner planning to renovate the building and possibly sell it, Marte’s rent will jump $1,000 on Sept. 1, and maybe more in coming months.

“Marte, who works for the county’s Fair Oaks Health Center in Redwood City, fears she will have to move to the East Bay by the end of the year, perhaps Richmond, which would turn her commute into a costly slog. Her younger daughter, Kayla, just started the ninth grade at Aragon High School, one of the top public schools in the county. Her education hangs in the balance.”

More than a dozen residents of the City of San Mateo showed up to a City Council meeting in July to share stories that were painfully similar. Thousands of other families are also scraping by in high-cost, high-opportunity cities around the Bay so that they can live close to their jobs and secure quality public education opportunities for their children.

Public Advocates is working to prevent displacement and increase new affordable housing opportunities in all communities in the Bay Area – both in suburbs with great schools and other amenities and in urban neighborhoods that need more investment without displacement. We are supporting SFOP/PIA and HLC as they work to pass anti-displacement policies in San Mateo County, just as we continue more than a decade of partnership with community groups in Oakland to pass neighborhood stabilization and affordable housing policies there as well. And we are advocating for the use of both regional and state infrastructure funding to incentivize all local jurisdictions to adopt such policies.

Anti-displacement policies can prevent evictions without just cause, ensure rent stabilization for existing tenants, limit the conversion of rental units to condos, and protect tenants from landlord harassment. Not only do such policies benefit low-income tenants, but they also reduce traffic, air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions by allowing low-wage workers the opportunity to live closer to work. In addition, they save the government a substantial amount of money, since constructing new affordable housing costs hundreds of thousands of dollars per unit – a cost that is often borne by public financing. Most importantly, they allow people to maintain connections to family and friends, schools, jobs, places of worship, healthcare providers, and all of the other ties that make a neighborhood home.

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