So, who belongs?
Concerns of displacement and gentrification often accompany proposals for big development projects like Google’s Diridon campus.
According to Victor Farlie, Senior Executive Analyst at San Jose’s Office of Economic Development, displacement can happen directly through rent increases or indirectly through changes to the community or the general state of the economy.
For example, the city could improve road access in and out of the frequently congested Santana Row area near the upper school, but that change might make the area so desirable that current residents can no longer afford to live there.
Many are concerned the COVID-19 pandemic could worsen gentrification and displacement in the Bay Area.
Small businesses have been hit really hard. [Many] were telling me they’re making 30 percent of their normal profit and they had to lay off or furlough nearly all of their workers. They’re not sure if they are going to be able to pay their rent,” Bay Area News Group Housing Reporter Marisa Kendall said.
While the government has put evictions moratoria in place that will prevent some displacement for the time being, the moratoria will no longer be effective once shelter-in-place orders are lifted.
“The current protections are one step in the right direction, but policymakers need to start planning for what happens when they expire, mostly this fall,” Dr. Elias said.
Due to legacies of discriminatory housing practices, the danger for displacement is especially high in minority-majority neighborhoods that have historically faced disinvestment.
As people search for cheaper housing closer to the city core, they enter low-income communities, and landlords realize new tenants can pay more in rent than old tenants.
But the problem isn’t as simple as greedy landlords, as Jai learned in his time as an intern in Supervisor Simitian’s office.
At first I was like, why don’t we just stop landlords from charging residents too much money, but a lot of landlords aren’t wealthy as well and are doing what they can. It’s because the foundations of our housing system are flawed,” Jai said.
Upper school visual arts teachers Trish Ludovici and Joshua Martinez noticed displacement creating demographic changes in their neighborhoods.
Ludovici noted that recently, many older Black and Latino families have moved out of North Oakland and younger, white couples working in tech have moved in.
She estimated that at least once a month a house in her neighborhood goes up for sale and every two or three months a house gets completely torn down and rebuilt, then often resold for at least $1 million.
“There’s a lot more wealth in my neighborhood [than before] and you can see it in the houses as well,” Ludovici said.
Ludovici feels that the city’s culture is also suffering from the effects of gentrification. With less diversity of people and an outflow of long-time residents, Oakland is losing much of its variety of businesses and appreciation for its own history, which is deeply rooted in art, music and activism.
"What made the city so beautiful and multicultural and diverse is quickly, quickly, quickly disappearing in the face of this homogenization of economic wealth,” Ludovici said. "Everybody seems to have the same job, and they all seem to have the same interests. It’s just this very middle level, tech takeover of what was otherwise a very interesting and diverse place to live."
Martinez has also observed these community changes happening where he lives in the Mission district of San Francisco.
“We had a huge Central American, mostly Salvadoran, population in my neighborhood. And now it is predominantly upper-middle-class white Americans,” Martinez said.
Since Martinez started living at his current address in 2008, he’s seen 18 houses on his block be renovated and sold and several families evicted under the Ellis Act.
The Ellis Act is a California law that allows landlords to evict tenants if the building is being taken off the rental market. Often, this means the rental units are being converted to condominiums that can be sold at higher prices.
San Jose faces similar displacement pressures. Since 2015, San Jose has become an “advanced gentrification area,” meaning it has undergone so much demographic change that it would now be considered moderate to high-income.
A house is on sale in West San Jose, about three miles from the upper school campus. Tech companies in Silicon Valley have been developing efforts to build and provide affordable housing for their employees. (Eric Fang)
Through her work as the executive director of the community organization Somos Mayfair, Camille Llanes-Fontanilla advocates for the housing needs of the predominantly Latinx Mayfair neighborhood in East San Jose, ten miles from the upper school.
"You have pockets of San Jose that are very affluent, and then you have communities like Mayfair that have for the last hundred years been defined by every negative indicator of health and wellness," Llanes-Fontanilla said. "When you think about that it’s not the people that live here, but the policies of the system that have created the lack of opportunity for the people in this community.”
San Jose has identified neighborhoods it believes are particularly vulnerable to displacement, such as the Alum Rock area ten miles northeast of the upper school. A BART station and a number of affordable housing projects are set to be built in Alum Rock in the next five to ten years, and only six percent of the area’s businesses own their premises.
“It’s an area where people, when they first come to the city and they don’t have much money, they can find a place to live to find a job. And inevitably, what happens particularly in family structures is that the family creates a business for itself. Many of those families have remained on the east side of the city,” Farlie said. “So that’s our motivation: how do we protect them?”
Through talks with community members, the Office of Economic Development identified three answers to that question: supply information in multiple languages, provide free legal services and help businesses get bank loans approved to acquire their premises.
In addition to rent control and tenant protections, Llanes-Fontanilla believes that cities need to have local preference policies, which would guarantee that people displaced by housing projects can move back in, and build affordable housing in higher-income neighborhoods.
“We need South San Jose, Almaden Valley, Willow Glen to open up their communities to being home for extremely low-income families, which is not happening right now. People don’t want low-income people in their communities, which reinforces the question, ‘Who belongs?’” Llanes-Fontanilla said.