Monday marked the start of our project with Jason Tarricone of Community Legal Services in East Palo Alto (CLSEPA). The extent of what we knew before that day was a 2-page blurb written about the services that CLSEPA provides to clients facing eviction in areas within and around East Palo Alto.
During the meeting, Jason gave us an in-depth history of the Bay Area’s housing problem. He clearly relayed the expectations and desired outcome for this project, demographics for which to tailor our deliverables, and valuable suggestions for our future interactions with his clients. His enthusiasm and investment in this project and these people are infectious, causing our team to immediately want to hit the ground running.After the initial meeting, our team went to work on setting up the logistical infrastructure for our project to be successful. This entailed creating an email correspondence chain between ourselves and Jason, over which we are finalizing interview questions, creating the Google Voice account with which we will contact the former clients, and scheduling future meetings. Our group understands that the bulk of our project relies on the participation of the former clients, some of whom may be difficult to reach or communicate with, and thus, data collection should begin as soon as possible.
What We Observed/Learned
East Palo Alto—nestled between Facebook HQ, Google, several venture capitalist firms, and Stanford University—is considered the last 2.5-mile stretch of affordable housing in Silicon Valley. CLSEPA is trying to keep it that way and promote the idea that affordable housing needs to become more widespread in surrounding cities.
Currently, CLSEPA holds a clinic every Thursday from 9am to 12pm where they represent clients that are at risk of being evicted from their homes. CLSEPA negotiates and litigates against landlords on serious housing problems that affect the health and safety of community members. Lawyers attempt to settle these cases brought on by clients’ landlords in order to grant clients more time in their place of residence. More time affords these clients the ability to save up money and/or find a new place to live to avoid homelessness.
As part of the project, we’ve been asked to contact former clients via phone to ask them survey questions. We plan to focus on collecting quantitative data, which will emphasize the need for new legislation that will encourage a racially and socio-economically integrated community within Silicon Valley. Some of the questions we will ask the former clients are:
- After your eviction case, was there any point at which you were homeless?
- Did you keep the same job when you moved after your eviction case?
- How long did/does it take you to get to work now? Before your eviction case?
These and numerous other questions will help us identify if litigation against landlords is helping these clients; what patterns are emerging from clients’ movement out of their old homes and into new ones; and future steps that can be taken to protect future community members from losing their homes and furthering gentrification.
The current situation in East Palo Alto and other Bay Area cities tells the story of the unexpected consequences that comes with an industrial boom. The existing infrastructure for housing in EPA was not intended to support this movement of people to the valley. Critics of preserving affordable housing units state that it discourages new construction while encouraging alternative living situations, as in garages.
The “Not in My Backyard” movement also perpetuates this stigma of rent controlled apartments as somehow degrading the status of a community. If this school of thought continues to spread, there won’t be any place left for these displaced people to go. In most parts of the country, housing prices are at or at least near the cost of construction. Here, in the Bay Area, we know that is definitely not the case.
Providing enough housing for everyone is an entirely different problem, however, what CLSEPA aims to do is provide just outcomes for the people viewed as displaceable. Our contribution to their work is to provide concrete evidence of the problem to promote visibility and essentially a call to action.