Everyone knows that Silicon Valley is an expensive place to live. The swelling ranks of software engineers at Google, Facebook, Apple, and dozens of other technology companies have pushed up housing costs and made it harder and harder for teachers, nurses, and construction workers to make ends meet.
But things have now gotten so bad in Palo Alto, headquarters of HP, that even lawyers are having trouble paying the rent. On Wednesday, attorney Kate Downing announced her resignation as a member of the Palo Alto Planning and Transportation Commission because she couldn’t personally afford the cost of living there:
After many years of trying to make it work in Palo Alto, my husband and I cannot see a way to stay in Palo Alto and raise a family here. We rent our current home with another couple for $6200 a month; if we wanted to buy the same home and share it with children and not roommates, it would cost $2.7M and our monthly payment would be $12,177 a month in mortgage, taxes, and insurance. That’s $146,127 per year — an entire professional’s income before taxes. This is unaffordable even for an attorney and a software engineer.
Downing is not being alarmist here. According to Zillow, the median price for a home in Palo Alto is $2.5 million — a figure that has doubled in the last five years. So Downing’s $2.7 million house is just slightly more expensive than average. And she has to share it with another family to pay the rent. A typical home in Palo Alto costs 13 times as much as the nationwide median home price of $187,000.
Downing blames the Palo Alto city council for refusing to allow the construction of new housing. She argues that modest changes like “allowing 2 floors of housing,” “legalizing duplexes,” “easing restrictions on granny units,” and “allowing single-use areas like the Stanford shopping center to add housing on top of shops (or offices)” would “go a long way in adding desperately needed housing units.”
Without those changes, she warns, Silicon Valley will be increasingly transformed into a playground for the super-rich, with less affluent people increasingly forced to move to other parts of the Bay Area — or leave the region altogether.