When "affordable" homes in San Francisco are advertised as "From the low $1,000,000s", it's not just the working poor who are pushed out of the city: it's everyone, except VCs, people living on VC money, and people who've cashed out on VC-backed companies.
Palo Alto and San Francisco are both working on subsidized housing projects that are aimed at households squarely in the national middle-class bracket — in Palo Alto, $150-200K/year; in San Francisco, up to $145,650.
It's great (and necessary) that the cities are taking some action to protect normal families, but these measures are treating the symptom, rather than the disease.
Extreme wealth inequality puts a lie to the idea of meritocracy. If the best teachers in the city can't afford to live there, can we really say that our society allocates wealth based on merit? A city isn't an adults-only condo. Without teachers, cleaners, electricians, construction workers, ambulance drivers, nurses, retired grandparents, shoe-makers, and the rest of the cast of your old Richard Scarry books, it's not a city, it's a land-locked young singles cruise-ship.
The transformation of shelter from a human right to an asset-class is one of the most destructive forces in our lives today. Without stable shelter, it's impossible to feel secure and happy. Families with insecure accommodation can't stabilize their employment, their kids' education, their social relationships and their access to friends and family members who provide child-care, emotional support, and help in crisis.
The worst thing about the construction of housing projects for families earning a quarter-mil a year is what it says about the lives of people living below the poverty line. Palo Alto's middle class aren't the only ones struggling: 15% of the city live in poverty, and if the middle class can't survive on $250K/yr, what hope do they have?
Palo Alto and the surrounding demesnes—mostly sunny, rich, and liberal—are not often thought to reflect the plight of the great American middle. But, in the cost-of-living context, the odd class-warping going on in Palo Alto seems to find a place among broader concerns. Candidates in both major political parties gain support with promises of escape from a defunct-seeming socioeconomic order. A sense of failing systems is widespread. Perhaps ironically, no sustainable solution has yet emerged even in the nation's capital of innovation. That's ideologically awkward for the tech industry, which sees itself as a meritocratic accelerator. If someone near the top of the pay scale in his or her field—say, a teacher—can't afford to hang around, the meritocracy has been corrupted. To be a middle-class person living in subsidized housing is uncomfortable, not because you didn't earn it but because, actually, you're pretty sure you did.
Welcome to the Future: Middle-Class Housing Projects
[Nathan Heller/New Yorker]
(via Naked Capitalism)
(Image: San Francisco: Affordable housing