Dear Madam Mayor and City Council,
I hereby submit my formal resignation from the Planning Commission effective immediately. While I have been fortunate enough to live in Santa Clara County for a majority of my life, I can sadly no longer afford to do so. My family has decided to relocate to the Greater Sacramento Area. This is indeed an unfortunate case as I am a fourth-generation resident of Santa Clara County and have loved growing up and spending most of my life here.
My grandfather, having graduated from Santa Clara High School in 1957, has lived here his entire life. Both my grandparents’ families moved here for agricultural jobs in hopes of greater opportunity. Unfortunately for them Santa Clara Valley has since evolved into a land of opportunity for technology, not blue-collar work. While many middle-class families of their era can now retire multi-millionaires through the sale of their home, my grandparents are renters. This means that my grandfather continues to work into his late 70’s as a school groundskeeper. To be clear, this is not by choice. This is so that he may make his ever-climbing rent payment on his and my grandmother’s small apartment in order for them to remain near family.
As for myself, having welcomed a child in August of this year, I have had to make some major life decisions recently. For starters is the ever so delicate topic of childcare. While daycare is a logical solution for most dual income, tech-industry spouses, my wife is a teacher. This makes the math a little more complex. When reaching out to childcare facilities, we learned that many had waiting lists that were months or sometimes years long. Furthermore, we realized that our family would only make an additional $500 per month after taxes and childcare costs were factored in if my wife continued to work. We asked ourselves, is it worth having a stranger raise our child for an extra $500 per month? Setting the teacher salary issue aside, we had to get down to brass tacks of just making ends meet.
Per Zillow.com, the average cost of rental housing in the City of Santa Clara is at $3,200 while home sale prices average $1.162 million. I can tell you it would be utterly impossible for my wife and I to come up with a $200k+ down payment while forking out nearly $3,000 per month in rent – and this assumes we are both working and have no childcare costs. The reality is that often these homes are gobbled up by cash buyers, so the 20% down isn’t going to cut it anyhow. This forces our hand down the path of renting. While you can deduct your mortgage payment on your taxes, renters are not afforded this luxury. This means that we must earn roughly $100,000 in post-tax income to afford rent prices here, assuming we use 30% of our accessible income towards rent. While we have creatively figured out how to make it until now, the cost of childcare makes it impossible for us to continue to do so.
I write these very specific examples not for sympathy, but to give you real life stories of people being priced out of your community. I see the unfortunate step backwards being taken with high-density housing on the El Camino. Considering that Santa Clara already suffers from a very poor housing-to-jobs ratio, I view this as a mistake. Development happens in cycles which ride in lockstep with the health of the economy. General Plans and Zoning are reactive, not proactive in nature so we rely on robust economies to slowly change land use. We pay our highly educated city planners a lot of money to craft us a strategic plan to improve our city as it grows. They have told us time and again that density must be put on transit corridors, so please allow them to do their job. I understand that many people have lived here for long periods of time and do not wish to see this type of growth in our city. The reality is, Silicon Valley is one of the greatest economic growth centers on the planet, and so long as technology is a part of our lives, it will continue to be just that.
I have noticed in my time on the Planning Commission that most people who have an active role in the community tend to own homes here. In fact, I am currently the only renter on the Planning Commission or City Council while over 60% of our city population is comprised of renters. Understandably homeowners have strong voices and opinions in their community, but their opinion is not the only one that counts. My hope is that going forward you will more strongly consider the people who cannot afford a 200k+ down payment because I assure you we are the majority. Supply and demand is not a difficult concept to comprehend: the less housing units we have, the more they are going to cost. This problem is starting to gain traction at the state level as they slowly start to strip away local land use powers. My suggestion would be that if you wish to retain these powers, be proactive, be progressive, and be a leader in paving the way for housing to be more affordable.
Until our paths cross again,
Good for Mr. Reinhardt to realize that it is time to move to a neighborhood he can afford. We all need to make choices and prioritize. No reasonable amount of housing development (that doesn’t overload infrastructure) is going to drive down prices to the level that he can afford with a dual income of <$100K. All the housing being built is luxury rental for tech workers; it seems like CityPlace and Genzon's 50 story tower will probably be high-end as well. And if prices are forecast to decrease significantly, developers would invest elsewhere, thus keeping prices high.