On the skyline of San Francisco, away from the alleys in slopes and colorful houses, now dominates the tower of a group “tech”, a symbol. In the era of Facebook, Google and Twitter, the rise of the technology sector in recent years has profoundly changed the city, which has become one of the most expensive in the world.
The figures give dizzy: the median rent for a two-bedroom is around about $ 3,700, the highest in the United States. Less 117.400 dollars of annual revenue, a four-person household in San Francisco is considered “low-income” according to federal statistics.
Want to go visit the headquarters of Facebook, 45 km? Allow two hours in traffic during peak hours. Evening and morning, are crossed by dozens of huge buses that transport “techies” to the seats of the giants in Menlo Park (Facebook), Mountain View (Google) or Cupertino (Apple).
The rise in real estate prices affects the entire region: in the south, where is located the Silicon Valley and the headquarters of the technology groups, but also to the east and beyond.
Wealth disparities are especially striking. Thousands of homeless dépenaillés wander along the wide main shopping street of San Francisco, Market Street, criss-crossed by Tesla and Maserati, not far from the seats of Uber or Twitter.
Others live in their car, as Elizabeth V., 59 years old, who work up to 16 hours per day as a security officer within the premises of the tech giants. With 2,800 dollars per month, impossible for her and her handicapped brother to rent a dwelling.
“When people think of Silicon Valley (…) they don’t think about us. They think of the small minority of engineers who earn a lot of money”, she summarizes, by waking up like every morning in her car, filled to the brim with clothing and food in a box, in a parking lot in San Jose, south of San Francisco.
“Today, we see a category of homeless that we could not see before, people who work. This is new,” says Cary McClelland, author of the book “Silicon City” (2018) will be devoted to the metamorphosis of the city.
– Overheating –
We consult with elected officials, experts and local residents, the conclusion is unanimous: even if the problem of housing has always existed in this city, cramped, situated on a peninsula, it has increased significantly with the economic recovery and the boom of the “tech” from 2012 onwards, to the point of becoming the number one problem of the municipality.
According to the real estate network Paragon, the median price of a house in San Francisco that amounted to 670.000 dollars in early 2012, had soared to $ 1.6 million in early 2018.
With the arrival of tens of thousands of engineers “tech”, whose salaries can briskly start at $ 100,000 per year, “very quickly, the cost of living and housing has increased a lot”, leading to “the explosion of evictions, ( … ), the closing of many small businesses”, associations, cultural institutions, ” says Mr. McClelland.
“After the great recession (2008-2011), the investors were left with very few sectors in which they could invest, so a lot of these capital are raised here, and have put the city in overheating,” he continued.
Servane Valentin, a French real estate agent, recalls. From 2012/2013, “it has been seen to happen as clients of youth +geeks+ between 20 and 30 years, with much higher salaries, who had no concept of money (….) and willing to pay $ 2,000 for a studio,” she says, referring to price “out of proportion”.
– Reaction –
In addition to the issue of the homeless (there are officially about 7,500 alone in San Francisco, to 900.000 inhabitants), the increase of the real estate rejects the middle class further and further, sometimes two or three hours from the city, coming in even bigger traffic jams.
Result, “we have a quasi-permanent vacancies for the positions of the lowest paid, such as medical assistants”, who cannot live in the city, regrets to Peggy Sugar, 55 years old. She works in the health and lives since more than 30 years The “City by the Bay”, the nickname of San Francisco.
The same holds for the teachers, the firefighters, the social workers, let alone the servers, delivery drivers…
So far, nuance Cary McClelland, “this is not the fault of the sector +tech+” in and of itself, that has “benefited from an economic environment” and has “not yet found a way” to make to inhabitants.
Moreover, aware of these criticisms, more and more vivid, the technology groups react.
In January launched the “Partnership for the future of the Bay”, which brings together public and private actors (including Facebook, or Genentech, as well as several foundations) to address the problems of housing or transport, with $ 500 million in committed investment.