In her recent book, “Fixer-Upper: How to Repair America’s Broken Housing Systems,” author and expert in urban economics and housing policy Jenny Schuetz outlines a complex array of challenges at the heart of the current housing crisis, including:
The overall complexity of the housing system in America;
Historical and systemic inequities built into the housing system;
The lack of sufficient housing - particularly affordable housing;
The overreliance on housing as the most significant measurement of American household wealth;
Underinvestment in community infrastructure across neighborhoods and communities;
The impact of local control on policy-making; and,
The lack of sustained coalition-building to build meaningful support for legislative change to address this crisis.
It’s a crisis more than a century in the making - and among the various issues that the author raises, the relative cost of housing versus income stands out as a significant recent contributor to the problem, particularly here in Silicon Valley
According to the Mercury News, “The San Jose metro has over the past six months seen median rent prices spike 11% — the largest increase of any large metro in the country during that period — with the monthly cost of a one-bedroom apartment hitting $2,233, the nation’s highest metro area rent.” At the same time, apartment vacancy rates have returned to around 5%, far below the double digit vacancy rates that were last seen during the pandemic. Low apartment vacancy rates puts pressure on rent, driving up market rates, a situation that disproportionately impacts low income families and communities of color.
This is the situation Ms. Leung was facing when she applied to the City of Cupertino Below Market Rate (BMR) Program in 2005. Ms. Leung had a stable career as a software engineer, but following a back injury, she was no longer able to work due to a resulting disability. Her disability payments were far below median rents in Silicon Valley, and she was struggling to keep a roof over her family’s head, while also balancing the new health challenges she was facing following her injury.
After three years on the BMR waitlist, she moved into an affordable apartment in Cupertino with her mother in 2008. In 2021, after her mother passed away, she was notified that she would be receiving a Section 8 voucher. These vouchers are in high demand, but the Section 8 program is known for having a very long wait list, and many people never receive a voucher, and those that do are often unable to find housing that will accept the voucher. Ms. Leung had been on the Section 8 waitlist for 10 years, and now that she had received a voucher, she was able to move to an affordable unit in a senior community earlier this year. Ms. Leung is grateful for her time in Cupertino, and the housing and services she was able to access as a client of WVCS.
But Ms. Leung’s story is an important reminder of the human toll of the housing crisis - the waiting and wondering, the stress and anxiety, the challenges and struggles of housing insecurity. It’s a crisis of enormous scope made up of millions of individual lives. This is a challenge that will define our era and our future - and one we must commit to solving in the months and years ahead.