Last week, Kate Vershov Downing, a lawyer who served on the planning and transportation commission for the city of Palo Alto, California, resigned from her volunteer position. She also posted her resignation letter on Medium, announcing that she and her husband, an engineer, were leaving the pricey Silicon Valley burg for Santa Cruz, some 40 miles away. She was tired, she wrote, of paying $6,200 a month to share a rented four-bedroom house with another couple:
[I]f we wanted to buy the same home and share it with children and not roommates, it would cost $2.7M and our monthly payment would be $12,177 a month in mortgage, taxes, and insurance. That’s $146,127 per year — an entire professional’s income before taxes. This is unaffordable even for an attorney and a software engineer.
Downing, who’s active in a local advocacy group called Palo Alto Forward, also expressed some frustration with the city’s unwillingness to create more affordable housing. She appears to have struck a nerve in the Bay Area, where skyrocketing real-estate prices are a local obsession, and especially in Palo Alto, the home of Stanford University, several technology firms, and a housing stock that has become increasingly more expensive. She recently spoke to CityLab about the Silicon Valley housing crisis and why her resignation made her the target of both local and national attention.
David Dudley: For those who aren’t in the Bay Area, can you explain what’s going on in Palo Alto?
Kate Downing: Let’s go back really far, because it’s important for the context of the story. There used to be all these Native American tribes that lived on this land. White settlers came, killed all the Native Americans, and planted orchards. Leland Stanford, orchards; that was his thing. At some point, the city council decided, let’s pave over the orchards and build suburbs and cul-de-sacs for Baby Boomers and their cars. That’s the history of Palo Alto; that’s how it got formed, one suburban subdivision after another.