Housing is a human right.
May 22, 2018

Silicon Valley Business Journal: Does analyzing Silicon Valley’s housing crisis through a financial lens miss the human point?


Silicon Valley’s Affordable Housing Week 2018 wrapped up on May 18 with a policy luncheon featuring a discussion panel moderated by Los Angeles Times reporter Liam Dillon that focused on local and regional solutions to the Bay Area’s housing crisis.

Jody Meacham of the Silicon Valley Business Journal was on hand to hear Mountain View Councilmember Ken Rosenberg make the connection between housing and human rights.

See the original story at the Silicon Valley Business Journal.

Does analyzing Silicon Valley’s housing crisis through a financial lens miss the human point?

By Jody Meacham

What difference would it make if local governments, in addition to the environmental and financial reports they generate to analyze the impact of housing development proposals, also studied the impact the proposals would have on humans?

Mountain View City Councilmember and former mayor Ken Rosenberg says something so simple — but apparently not intuitive — could be an important piece in solving the puzzle of the Bay Area’s housing crisis.

“If you just look at numbers or finances, you’re never going to support individuals — ever,” Rosenberg said last week as part of a housing solutions forum convened by SV@Home, the housing nonprofit. “It’s always more profitable to do something else. Especially when it involves the corporate world.”

The city of Mountain View created a small ripple last December when the City Council voted 5-2 to become a “human rights city,” meaning it adopted the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights as a framework for guiding local policies. The declaration includes an article saying food, clothing, housing and medical care are part of the “the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being” of individuals and families.

The city has become one of Silicon Valley’s leaders in working to provide more housing as corporate tech giants continue to build more office space there.

Opposing Councilmember John Inks characterized the council’s resolution as “a manifesto for socialism,” the Mountain View Voice reported at the time.

The others on the housing solutions panel — Caitlyn Fox, justice and opportunity initiative director for the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative; Steve Heminger, executive director of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission; and Maya Perkins, executive director of nonprofit Bay Area Forward — had their own spins on Rosenberg’s approach, which they said is ultimately what the crisis is about.

At last week’s housing forum, Heminger agreed that narrowing the basis for housing decisions exclusively to financial data stifles housing production.

“We should not be sending fiscal incentives to the government that tells them not to” provide housing, he said, “because a lot of local governments — I think an increasing number of local governments — want to build housing. If you keep making it such a significant financial challenge to do so, you’re asking all of them to be martyrs, and the problem with martyrs is that they die. And we want to keep them around.”

Fox said: “Long term, I do think we need to do a better job about talking about housing differently. Talking about it as a human right. Talking about it as the key driver to whether or not you’re able to access economic opportunity and mobility, what school your kids go to, what jobs you have access to, how long it takes you to get to those jobs. To really frame it, not as ‘This is my house, this is my neighborhood’ and you earn housing based on how much you make. … Start to reframe it as it is a social justice issue.”

Perkins said this frame is about more than simply providing more housing. She said she has neighbors in Menlo Park’s Belle Haven neighborhood are afraid that the wealthier residents now being drawn there by its nearness to Facebook could make them strangers in the place they’ve lived their whole lives.

“There is a real concern for personal safety that the fear that wealthier residents will bring to low income residents,” she said. “You’re afraid that the police might think you don’t belong in your neighborhood, and we know that can lead to arrest or death. That’s real. How do we deal with that? I think it is listening to the residents and finding a way to incorporate their needs into whatever is planned, the same as with traffic.”