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California Today: Silicon Valley, Housing Villain, Tries to Make Amends

October 6, 2016

: nytimes – excerpt

Silicon Valley tech companies have often been blamed for the Bay Area’s crushing rise in rent and home prices. But over the past few months, a number of Silicon Valley executives and financiers, along with hordes of rank-and-file workers, have started to throw political support behind the growing fight over how to build more housing in California.

The moves suggest that the tech industry, which has long complained about the Bay Area’s housing shortage but hasn’t done much politically, is starting to galvanize around the issue in the form of donations to politicians and advocacy groups.

One of the higher profile efforts is Rise SF, a new nonprofit backed by tech firms including Facebook, along with labor unions and developers, to try and support housing construction in San Francisco. Y Combinator, the San Francisco-based “accelerator” that helps aspiring entrepreneurs get started and has helped to foster companies including Airbnb and Dropbox, said it has redirected its political efforts from issues like United States immigration policy to housing…

Until recently, the tech industry has mostly steered clear of Bay Area housing politics. That started to change a year ago as upstart groups like the Bay Area Renter’s Federation and GrowSF started recruiting rank-and-file tech workers, and won donations from executives like Mr. Stoppleman. While rents have recently softened, over the past few years they have soared so fast that even well-paid tech workers have found themselves struggling with rising costs.

Laura Clark, the founder of GrowSF, a nonprofit that promotes affordable housing costs in Bay Area communities, is trying to turn the hundreds of thousands of engineers and product managers into a voting bloc. Ms. Clark, who worked for a tech company before becoming a full-time housing advocate, is leading an effort to enlist tech workers to participate in phone banking and distributing pamphlets to guide tech workers on how to vote for various propositions and candidates.

Her group plans to hand out material at the various tech shuttle stops around San Francisco.

“Tech is starting to recognize that this is purely a political problem and that they have to solve this by getting involved,” she said. “I think they thought they could like hack their way out of this somehow, but you have to do the old-fashioned work of organizing and going door-to-door canvassing.”… (more)

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