- The Washington Times - Monday, July 24, 2000

PALO ALTO, Calif. The cost of housing in Silicon Valley and other nearby areas is forcing cities, counties, universities and school districts into unprecedented action to find housing and help recruit personnel.
Without some sort of help, teachers, police officers, dispatchers, bus drivers and other public servants are having trouble finding a place of live and work.
"Everybody I talk to has got [personnel] vacancies to fill and non-qualified applicants to fill them," said Cmdr. Lon Waxstein of the Half Moon Bay police in San Mateo County. "We've got a real problem here in this area."
Consider these items:
With many new students finding it almost impossible to find housing they can afford, the University of California at Berkeley is offering cash to students who finish their courses early and make room for others. Students who wrap up studies by the end of August will get $500 rebates.
San Francisco breaks ground in September on a 43-unit apartment building that will be available, with the rent subsidized, only for teachers. One-bedroom apartments will rent for $700 a month, less than one-third the usual rent in a market where the median home price is $540,000.
California legislators voted for a plan granting teachers up to $20,000 in forgivable loans for homes or condominiums within high-priced school districts. The loans will vanish when teachers complete five years on the job. State Treasurer Phil Angelides also proposes a plan allowing all teachers tax credits equal to 15 percent of their annual mortgage interest payments.
City councils in such Silicon Valley towns as Santa Clara and Los Altos are now considering plans to extend similar benefits to police. Oakland plans $10,000 loans to teachers who are first-time home buyers.
Santa Cruz will place a measure allowing car camping on city streets before voters this fall.
Like teachers, police officers and other public workers in pricey areas are leaving for jobs where they can find housing for much less.
"I don't think we have more than one or two officers who live in the city," said Palo Alto Officer Paul Healy, training manager for his department and a resident of much-cheaper San Jose. The median home price in Palo Alto, the geographic heart of Silicon Valley and the home of electronic giant Hewlett-Packard and a host of smaller firms, is $760,000.
Rents for one-bedroom apartments in nearby Sunnyvale rose 25 percent from January to June, reaching an average of just over $2,100 per month. Even at those prices, a city survey this month found just four of 13,785 units in the city vacant.
By contrast, the median home price nationwide is $135,000, and one-bedroom apartment rents average less than $800 a month.
Housing prices are the reason San Mateo police Officer Troy Bergstrom, 27, left the San Francisco Peninsula for the town of Roseville, in the Sierra Nevada foothills east of Sacramento.
"The house we bought for $200,000 is a $500,000 house in the Bay Area." he said. "It's a nice house in a nice neighborhood, which is something I couldn't do there." His current monthly payments are $100 less than the rent he paid on the northern fringe of Silicon Valley.
Meanwhile, housing on college campuses in the area is tighter than ever because students can't find off-campus units they can afford.
"We need to make room for the new students," said Gary Penders, Berkeley's director of summer programs. More than 300 students have applied for the $500 rebates. "That's a pretty good chunk of change for a Berkeley student," he added.
The housing crunch this summer extended to resort areas around Lake Tahoe, on the California-Nevada state line at the crest of the Sierra Nevadas. Soaring rents made it hard for youthful seasonal workers to find apartments they could afford, so a tent city has arisen along California Highway 89 between Truckee and Tahoe City.
"It's an example of the lengths people are going to," said Fred Yeager, planning director for Placer County. "We have a chronic shortage of affordable housing. The businesses need seasonal workers, but once they find them, there's no place for them to stay."
Meanwhile, businesses seeking areas where employees can afford housing can look no longer to the eastern San Francisco Bay Area, as they long have done.
Rents in Walnut Creek, Concord and other area cities have risen as much as 110 percent this year, as landlords take advantage of refugees from the tight market in Silicon Valley.
"We're going through some extraordinary times," said Republican state Assemblyman Lynne Leach of Walnut Creek. "A couple of years ago, this was starting to happen in the Silicon Valley and now it's happening all over Northern California, and certainly here."

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