Need vs. Greed: Greed Wins

I’ve been interviewing people and carrying out research lately on housing affordability in San Jose, and what I’ve found has been both heartbreaking and enraging. In a city and area where housing is jaw-droppingly expensive, some of the wealthy exploit the poor, or worse, take for themselves public goods intended for the needy.

Beginning my search for an apartment, I was unable to find any housing less than $775 a month for 210 square feet — think about it!

I found one shared room for $382/month with a four-month lease. Any bets on whether the rent goes up when the lease ends?

But it gets worse. In some of the most elite areas of the city, home or apartment owners made shocking offers to the desperate (these are from craigslist):

If you are living in your RV: “$600/month OVERNIGHT RV / TRAILER PARKING (FOR YOUR TRAILER OR RV) GREAT FOR COMMUTER, STUDENT ONE PERSON ONLY, NO DRAMA Private, REST OR SLEEP Overnight, Residential Parking Space (( up to 22ft RV)) Nice,clean Willow Glen area, near 280, Bird, Coe $600 Month to Month Rent. CALL 408-469-0423″

Think that rent is reported to the IRS?

Or maybe you don’t have an RV: “$750 / 1br – Airstream Trailer In Paradise (los gatos)” “Come live in our clothing optional paradise in an Airstream trailer for only $750/00 per month plus utilities. Visit Lupin Lodge on the web at, then call Faye in the office at 408-353-9200 20600 Aldercroft Heights Rd, Los Gatos, CA.”

Or maybe you prefer a yurt? After all, “A yurt is a magical space. A round, tent like structure with a beautiful skylight. Equipped with electricity, only steps away from bathrooms, outdoor showers, and a community kitchen.”  Same place as above, and once again, clothing optional.

The next cheapest place in the fancier areas was $925/month for 350 square feet.

 Why isn’t subsidized housing available to the poor? Partly because the wealthy take it.

A woman who runs a facility for seniors talked about a phenomenon that left me sick with anger and disgust. Wealthy immigrants who sequestered their wealth by putting it in the names of their children had moved into nearby free senior housing while those in true need waited years on a list. The woman pointed to the towers: “From October through December, most of these units are empty because the occupants are out of the country.”

If you have the funds to travel for months at a time to a faraway country, do you really need your fellow citizens to be paying your rent? But, of course, many comfortable Americans sequester their wealth in order to take advantage of public programs.

It’s partly because of greed that a twenty-six-year-old married student and worker has to say this: “Personally, I have experienced the tremendous effect of high housing cost since I moved to the Bay Area. Every month, we have to pay about 45% of our incomes (mine and my wife) to rent a ROOM not an apartment in the East Side San Jose. It left me not so many amount of money to spend on food or transportation. Actually, 8 out of 10 times I cannot save any money for emergency fund or helping charity organizations. It also forces me to create debts on credit cards.”

It seems that any government program that isn’t universal is subject to competition between the middle class and the poor, a contest the poor generally lose.

Recently, an organization called Silicon Valley DeBug interviewed the members of a 100-person tent city that had sprung up in a public park after neighborhood clean-ups had forced homeless people out of their former spots. It was a 2013 Hooverville.

It’s true that among them might be some people addicted to drugs and alcohol, just as every wealthy neighborhood contains addicts and alcoholics too. The difference is that no random group of citizens can “clean up” a wealthy person’s house and throw away their goods. One woman living in the camp, who had a college degree, pointed out that the police and the public are allowed to steal from the homeless what little they possess and destroy it. Not just police but any self-appointed resident can have at the meager possessions of people living on the street, and no one calls it a crime. Here is the video:

The saddest thing I found when soliciting housing stories was that working people felt embarrassed to go on record with the truth about their housing. I understand that so well, and yet in a country where some maintain, apparently sincerely, that all the needs of the poor are met, the truth is our best weapon.

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