The vast majority of Silicon Valley workers are not tech geeks or venture capitalists, despite what the world may think, but rather everyday people making less than $50,000.
According to a report out this week by the non-profit Housing Association of Northern California and Urban Habitat, our roadways are increasingly congested with commute traffic because those workers have to commute from areas that are more affordable to live.
The report, “Moving Silicon Valley Forward,” found that regional plans for housing and transportation do not account for the needs of this workforce, which comprises 67 percent of all jobs here.
Also at odds, according to the study, is the availability of homes, let alone affordable ones. There is only one home available for every three jobs in Santa Clara and San Mateo counties, and those that are available are generally priced too high for most workers to afford.
In 2010, the average Silicon Valley auto commuter lost a total of 37 hours sitting in their car.
“When people think of Silicon Valley they don’t think about retail clerks, restaurant workers, health care aides, security guards or other service workers,” said Dianne Spaulding, Executive Director of the Non-Profit Housing Association of Northern California (NPH). “They are equally essential to the region’s vitality yet local planning does not reflect their most important needs: housing that matches their incomes, and transit options for their commutes.”
In Santa Clara County, nearly 30 percent of workers who drive in from outside of town earn less than $40,000, according to the study. In San Mateo County, the number is 45 percent. For workers in that income bracket, and based on a rent level of $1,200, the two counties are short nearly 53,000 homes.
“Too often, these workers must choose between living in substandard conditions, commuting long distances to work, or spending the majority of their income to live near their jobs,” said Allen Fernandez Smith, President & CEO of Urban Habitat. “Lower income families and communities of color are most burdened by these choices and their effects. In some cases, we’re seeing more than 70% of household income going toward transportation and housing,” he said. “That’s not equitable, it’s unacceptable, and it must change.”
Another major factor contributing to traffic congestion, according to the report, is the lack of affordable transit options. The study found that Caltrain, which receives a high level of subsidies versus bus systems and has lower ridership, predominantly caters to higher income earners.
Bus riders are predominantly lower income workers and people of color.
“The report points to systemic inequity in how transit systems are subsidized,” according to a statement released this week announcing the report’s findings.
The two agencies behind the report suggest a number of models that they claim have proved successful elsewhere, including building more affordable homes near job centers and transit, boost investment in bus service such as Bus Rapid Transit systems, and offering rider incentives such as VTA’s Eco Passes.
Joshua Hugg, Program Manager at the Housing Leadership Council of San Mateo, said the backbone is already in place in some areas—now those models need to be expanded.
“The funding, programs and policies already in place in some communities can be expanded and replicated to build more affordable homes and create more transit options in order to make Silicon Valley work for more of our workforce, help existing residents, and improve our traffic congestion,” said Hugg.