Palo Alto, in the heart of Silicon Valley, is turning into a place only affordable for “Joe Millionaires” and not the average Joe, warned former planning commissioner Kate Downing.
In her resignation letter, the former Palo Alto Planning commissioner described how the city known for being an epicentre of the tech boom continues to do nothing to stop the bombastic rise in rent prices. Prices that have creeped so high that Downing warns not even a software engineer can afford them now:
“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.”
Part of that is due to the rise of the tech industry in a city that has incubated the early life of companies like Google and Facebook and is now covered in Palantir offices. In the last five years alone, the median home value of the town has doubled from $1.2 million to over $2.5 million, according to Zillow.
A once thriving city will turn into a hollowed out museum.
In her open letter, Downing in part blames the city council for not listening to the planning commissions recommendations. Small steps, including adding two floors of housing instead of one in mixed use developments, legalizing duplexes, and allowing areas like the shopping center to build housing on top of the shops and offices, could have help curb the meteoric rise. Rather, Downing says City Council “ignored the majority of residents” who listed housing as their number one concern.
As a result, professionals like Downing are being forced out of their homes when they can no longer afford it. If the city doesn’t reverse course, she cautions that those people who once made Palo Alto famous wouldn’t be able to live there today.
“I struggle to think what Palo Alto will become and what it will represent when young families have no hope of ever putting down roots here, and meanwhile the community is engulfed with middle-aged jet-setting executives and investors who are hardly the sort to be personally volunteering for neighbourhood block parties, earthquake preparedness responsibilities, or neighbourhood watch. If things keep going as they are, yes, Palo Alto’s streets will look just as they did decades ago, but its inhabitants, spirit, and sense of community will be unrecognizable. A once thriving city will turn into a hollowed out museum. We should take care to remember that Palo Alto is famous the world over for its residents’ accomplishments, but none of those people would be able to live in Palo Alto were they starting out today.”