SAN JOSE — Foreign-born residents of Silicon Valley earn less on average than U.S.-born residents, but pay more for housing, a new government survey concludes.
The region is a hub for both issues – a booming high-tech economy is attracting overseas labor, but also pushing housing costs to dizzying heights.
Those market forces have created a gap between U.S.-born residents who settled down before the housing crunch and immigrants, who must contend both with generally higher housing costs and landlords who may see them as easy targets for inflated rents.
Immigrants are susceptible to rent gouging for several reasons, experts say. Poor skills in English may prompt them to sign an unfavorable lease; a large family may make them desperate to find a place to live, and a landlord born in their home country may see a chance for a scam, or a landlord may be covering what they see as an increased risk that immigrant tenants will leave without paying rent.
“Immigrants, especially recent arrivals, have less of a knowledge of housing law,” said Rand Quinn, executive director of SIREN, a non-profit immigrant services agency.
“They’re more susceptible to discrimination.”
Mexican-born Rocio Ortiz, 33, moved into her mother’s house in 1998 from a $1,000-a-month apartment in San Jose. She now shares a pullout couch with her two daughters.
“We are hard working, but we don’t have enough money to keep our own place,” said Ortiz, an elementary school teacher’s aide. Renting again seems impossible now, she said, given that a security deposit and down payment make signing a lease a $3,000-plus proposition.
If, that is, a landlord will consider the application. With vacancy rates near zero in Silicon Valley, it’s a seller’s market.
“From the application, the landlord can tell. Can you write in English? They don’t even have to see you,” Ortiz said. ”’Too many children,’ they say. ’Oh, Hispanic. They don’t pay.”’
In fact, immigrants pay disproportionate amounts of their income for housing, according to a Santa Clara County report released Wednesday in conjunction with its Summit on Immigrant Needs and Contributions.
The report surveyed more than 800 immigrants from the five largest immigrant groups – Mexicans, Vietnamese, Filipinos, Chinese and Indians – over 16 months.
Santa Clara County is Northern California’s most diverse. Whites are far from a majority here, and one in three residents is foreign born.
The housing stock isn’t nearly as diverse – it’s all expensive. One-bedroom apartments in some complexes start at $1,800 in San Jose, the center of the 1.8 million-resident county. And rents can jump by 40 percent in six months.
Technology has built the local economy, and the workers have come.
Many enjoy six-figure jobs as computer programmers – but many others are janitors and dishwashers.
Indeed, as a whole, immigrants earn less than U.S.-born workers, the report said.
The average U.S.-born county resident took home $33,800 last year – but the total for immigrants was $28,600 per month, according to the report.
The exceptions are Indians, who earn more than U.S.-born residents in part because many are recruited to fill high-wage technology jobs.
But while immigrants generally earn less, across the board they pay more for housing.
The average U.S.-born resident pays just over $1,100 per month in rent or mortgage. Members of the five largest immigrant groups all pay more.
Indians, for example, pay $1,750 per month – perhaps understandable given their higher incomes and their arrival in a tight housing market. But Mexicans and Vietnamese, many of whom arrived in the U.S. two decades ago if not before, still pay more than U.S.-born residents.
Whatever the reason, the impact is acute, says Alicia Carvajal, a housing counselor at San Jose’s Legal Aid Society.
“When we have expensive housing, we have to work two jobs and our children are on the street,” Carvajal said. “I know of one family that had to move four times in a year. Their children had to change schools. It was very disruptive.”