The real truth about housing insecurity in the Bay Area and how we help families self-determine their futures.
Faced with the reality of skyrocketing housing prices, slow reaction times on creative housing solutions, and an exclusive job market that continues to expand across the Silicon Valley, many of our community members are asking the question, ‘Do I need to leave the Bay Area?’ The Able Works’ team is asked on a weekly basis about whether or not we recommend our families relocate out of the Bay Area. Sometimes we even ask ourselves this question. On the surface relocation seems to answer the immediate need for stable housing, however, it can be a much more costly and complex issue. Yes, housing is expensive and it is cheaper elsewhere, but holistically it may actually cost our community more in the short term and the wider Bay Area in the long term.
Prolonged housing insecurity, like food insecurity, can create crises in young families. When your children are not safe, warm and protected, it is difficult to wait for the right and best solution. Often the first opportunity feels like the only opportunity. This is the carrot often dangled in front of low-income families in the Bay Area. The carrot of the immediate. The first job option, a fast meal, or a seemingly stable back house can all seem like good options when resources are scarce. But, true safety comes from sustainability, a word that doesn’t get brought up often enough. Immediacy is what is needed when in crisis, but sustainability over the long term is what lifts people out of poverty. As an organization focused on breaking cycles of poverty, we often call ‘time-out’ on the discussion about relocation just long enough to help our participants weigh the true costs of their decision.
Say, for instance, you are a single parent. You grew up in the Bay Area your entire life, and your extended family watches your children while you are at work. Unfortunately, your rent was recently raised and you are scared about how you are going to pay all your bills. After the increase, you will spend 60% of your income on housing. A friend told you recently that your rent would drop 30% if you moved to the Central Valley. You may jump at the opportunity for cheaper housing, but without considering all the costs you could miss the increase your childcare costs that would push you back above the 60% threshold. Not to mention, you will likely have to work more hours to make the same amount of money, meaning seeing your children less.
On the other side, say you are a single mom and you have tried for two years to move out of your parent’s house with no success. You realize deep down that you need a fresh start. Your child is about to start school, relieving you of childcare costs. You have used the time living close to your family to complete your education, build your resume, and save enough to put a down payment on an apartment. You start looking around, but there is nothing you can afford. You also think about your friends and realize they are not helping you as much as you thought. In fact, they are likely adding to the stress in your life. You start searching outside of the Bay Area and find a job that pays what you currently make and allows you to live in a good school district. You long for stability and for your child to attend the same school year after year. Is your best option to take the job and relocate?
Yes. No. Maybe-So.
Sometimes the answer is yes. For others, it is no. For many, the answer is not yet. This is what we tell our participants and our donors who are concerned about housing costs. Yes, it may be wise to move, but it may not be the right time. We encourage our community to count the costs, make a plan, use the time they have to get an education, prepare, save, build good habits, increase their skills and take advantage of the myriad of resources available to them in the Bay Area. This is why we developed our LiveAble program. The truth is, life has seasons. Parenting has seasons. If one pays attention to what is working and what isn’t in each new season, you can plan instead of react.
As an organization, we try to stay away from blanket answers that do not take individual stories into account. If we did this, it would send the wrong message. Regardless of the housing fluctuation, we stand by our belief that people can, and should, self-determine their futures. It is important to partner with them in this discussion, not provide immediate answers. Instead, our hope is to encourage people toward the best options that take into account their individual values, goals, and stories. We believe everyone should make choices for their lives from a place of strength and freedom, not from fear of displacement or in the immediacy fueled by crises.