In the second season of Silicon Valley, Richard, the ever-afflicted CEO of the struggling startup Pied Piper, explodes at his meddlesome neighbor for harassing him about illegally conducting business out of a private residence:
You’re always going on and on about how this is such a good neighborhood. Do you know why it’s such a good neighborhood? Do you know why your shitty house is worth 20 times what you paid for it in the 1970s? Because of people like us moving in and starting illegal businesses in our garages. All the best companies—Apple, Google, Hewlett-Packard, even Aviato—all of them were started in unzoned garages. That is why Silicon Valley is one of the hottest neighborhoods in the world—because of people like us, not because of people like you.
With a little urging, the neighbor concedes Richard’s point. But a recent Hechinger Report story in the Atlantic reveals a seldom-considered downside of this massive explosion in Silicon Value home values: Working-class professionals, including teachers, can no longer afford to live there. “Is Silicon Valley Driving Teachers Out?” offers a depressing analysis of the difficulty of getting by on a five-figure salary in an area where tech entrepreneurs ritually obsess over their “three commas” (how Silicon Valley’s Sean Parker stand-in signals he’s a billionaire).
Teachers in places like Cupertino, California, where the housing stock is limited and the median price of a single-family home is $1.8 million, often have to commute 45 to 65 minutes from more affordable areas. Renting closer is seldom an option; buying is in many cases a preposterous fantasy. The story quotes the president of the Silicon Valley Association of Realtors as saying, “The reality in Silicon Valley now — for working class or middle class working professionals — is that a single family home is just not a reality for them and it probably won’t be.”
So how to keep teachers in an area with historically strong public schools? The salaries of teachers in Santa Clara County, which range from roughly $45,000 to $105,000, will not keep pace with the tech sector, so building more affordable housing nearby is the most obvious solution being floated. The city of Santa Clara has a “Casa de Maestro” (House of the Teacher) apartment complex where public-school teachers can rent one- and two-bedroom units below the market rate, but only for a maximum of seven years. Other prospects for teachers—like living with multiple roommates or marrying into the tech industry—offer less stability for the future of public-school education in the valley.
Even in regions without Silicon Valley’s unique constraints, California already has a huge teacher shortage and no real plan for solving it, according to a recent report. Previous generations of tech billionaires have been some of the biggest funders of education reform—but will any of them pour their three commas into something so mundane and essential as housing the people who make great public education possible?