The Google billion does not address the housing crisis in the Bay Area as it adds to the expensive rents and displacement of those who are not employed by the high paying tech industry.
At first glance, the announcement that Google is investing one billion dollars towards housing might sound like a great idea. Wow! This corporation really cares about its impact towards displacing thousands of long time residents in the Bay. WRONG! When you look closer at what is really happening behind the “Billion Dollar Investment,” you’ll see that nothing is really happening and that Google is vying to position itself as a solution for the problem they’re causing.
Here are the top 3 deceptions in the Billion Dollar investment and why we can’t trust Google with fixing housing insecurity:
Deception #1: The Money is already predetermined - this is not new investment in housing
To start off, a big chunk of the money that Google announced towards housing comes from their own properties. Google will use at least $750 million of the commercial land it already owns to build at least 15,000 homes. This comes from their evaluation of their land that they’re negotiating for rezoning in San Jose, Sunnyvale, Alviso and Mt. View. It misleads the public in thinking that there would be new investments towards housing when in reality all they will be doing is becoming a Corporate Landlord of their own buildings and employees. Google would lease their land, and the new housing would be walking distance to their potential new campuses or current campuses in some of these cities.
The majority of the housing will be market rate housing, something even Google employees would struggle to pay in 10 years time. According to the Palo Alto Online 5,700 of the 20,000 homes Google will build are already slated for the City of Mt. View near their current headquarters. The Mercury news reports that in San José alone Google could bring 22-27,000 tech jobs with 3,600 near the airport, and 3,500 near Alviso. Twenty thousand homes falls short to cover even the projected employees in one city, much less the thousands of new jobs Google is creating across the Bay.
These homes are subsidized Google employee housing. Remember, this is a 10 year housing plan, not an immediate fix at all. When we put it in perspective that’s ¾ of the billion dollars right there - there won’t be an impactful number of homes built.
And what happens to the last fourth of the “billion-dollar investment” you might have asked -- well $250 million will be used to start an investment fund to “incentivize” developers to build at least 5,000 affordable housing units across the Bay Area. Now we have to ask, how does Google define affordable housing and will it be the same affordable housing we have now? Our current affordable housing is affordable for very few and for a limited time. In this for profit housing system, “affordable housing” ends its life cycle by eventually becoming market rate.
Allowing tech giants and developers to determine what housing is built for who, where housing is built and when, intensifies inequality and exclusion in the Bay Area.
Deception #2: The money doesn’t help nor include those facing housing insecurity now
Waiting ten years to bring a minimal amount of housing units to a multi county Bay Area, and making most of those out of reach, market rate housing that even tech workers would struggle to pay is not worth the descriptor of bold. Only someone not in housing distress could agree that waiting ten years is something to applaud.
In recent years, we have seen an unprecedented number of Bay Area cities consider rent control and tenant protections. Every effort is met by the money and the weight of the real estate industry, one of the largest lobbyists in the state. Every win is also met with unending challenges from this industry. Worthy of the description bold are those folks most impacted defending their right to remain home. Bold are the unhoused and their allies moving cities to dedicate safe spaces to them and permanent housing. Bold would be our public officials standing up for the public good, curbing real estate interests and prioritizing the community to implementing new housing models that come from the community itself.
Google can’t just throw money at the problem that they're helping to create and expect it to solve itself. That doesn’t change a systemically unjust system. People who are directly impacted by the housing disaster need to be at the forefront of finding solutions. How many unhoused people and renters were in the conversations when Google was coming up with its billion dollar plan?
Deception #3 The Billion dollars IS NOT a solution, it is a publicity stunt
A complete shift is required in the way we look at housing, in the way that we value the home – how we talk about it, how we build it, and we must share an understanding that all are deserving of a dignified home – that housing is a human right.
The following could actually address housing insecurtiy:
To be committed to ending the housing disaster, housing should guarantee stability instead of profits. We must shift into permanently affordable housing. One model is the Community Land Trust, already underway in San José through the recently incorporated South Bay Community Land Trust.
We must put an end to housing speculation – buying a home to make a profit should be prohibited.
Community members should lead and determine development, especially in areas undergoing and at risk of displacement. Investment in the communities already here.
We must enact policies that allow tenants to transition into ownership and stewardship of their homes like a Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act (TOPA) in place in DC for nearly 30 years, and a policy that Bay Area housing justice advocates have begun to organize for as well.
Freeze rents! The very limited data from the San José housing department already shows that inability to pay rent is the top reason tenants receive eviction notices.
Each community is different and should imagine and determine what will work best for them.
In San José, we should remind the Mayor that he could have and can still help residents struggling with high rents. When the opportunity to protect renters was before the council:
- He could have lowered the annual rent increases allowed for rent controlled apartments to the cost of living, lower than the 5% it is now.
- He could have included duplexes under rent control and capped rents for those families living in the nearly 11,000 duplexes throughout the city of San José.
- He could have voted in favor of just cause eviction protections.
- He could have upheld that public land should be used for public good.
Instead, he’s looking to Google and says he looks forward to working with Google so that the announcement will “benefit thousands of San José residents struggling under the burden of high rents.” He's had repeated opportunities to ease those burdens significantly in recent years and has failed tenants. His voting record shows us he takes the lead of the money, not the people.
The people are the caretakers not only of this land, but of each other and profiteers deserve no part in the fundamental building block that is home.
Housing Justice principles as outlined in the Right to the City’s recent report, Communities over Commodities talk about not only affordability, but inclusive, permanently affordable land and housing, that is healthy and sustainable and under democratic control.
The report Rooted in Home – Community-Based Alternatives to the Bay Area Housing Crisis, by Urban Habitat and the East Bay Community Law Center calls for housing alternatives from the for-profit market system that created this housing crisis. It calls for a moral economy that meets the needs of all people, not just for those who can pay.