We recognize that East Palo Alto has gone through many changes of demographics since its settlement, always a working class safe haven, unique in embracing minorities. From the Ohlone people in the prehistory, to new waves of immigrant workers coming to East Palo Alto, working with their neighbors to fight for a better life, and hanging on through predatory lending and other challenges leading up to COVID in the present day.
We agree that it’s tough to afford to live as a tenant or a homeowner in the SF Bay Area and that even though East Palo Alto is seen as one of the last affordable cities in its region, it’s still very difficult for tenants on a regular wage in many employment fields to imagine being able to buy a property that costs a million dollars.
But also as part of the dynamics of the city, working class people of all backgrounds invested in East Palo Alto. Everybody knows the potential of the land, of the bay, of the wildlife and of the people who live here, and of what we can build together. Lots of people have moved in to make their homes here, as tenants and also as owners, and the homeowners have invested in making their homes the place to enjoy their families. They’ve done that because of their confidence it was the right thing to do - and that it would return to them a yield on their hard work and dollars - that they would have use from the property for now, and an ability to let the home find its highest next purpose on the open market when it was time for it to move into the next steward’s hands. That’s a part of what drove them to come here, to hang on and to work on building the community we now appreciate today in East Palo Alto. Some of these people came from far away, outside the US, some moved from elsewhere in the country or the state, and others grew up in East Palo Alto and saw the prospect for homeownership to enable them to build wealth to sustain their families through the end of their life.
That’s the confidence that is shaken today - with TOPA/COPA the city is reneging on the promise that the people of EPA would have the same right as everyone else in USA to realize the financial part of the return on the investment they made, to have the freedom to sell their property on when the time was right for them, to the buyer that made most sense to them.
There may indeed be innovative ways to help lift up the people of East Palo Alto who today do not own homes to help them become first-time buyers, or to continue to live for a longer time in the city we all love. Clearly by having organizations channel funds into helping these people their prospects might indeed be brighter. But we don’t believe that putting the burden of attempting to fix this problem on individual homeowners of East Palo Alto today is fair or just to them. We don’t believe the methods described in TOPA/COPA will actually work to make East Palo Alto tenants into homeowners. The money just isn’t there - and if it was, how much better and more direct ways can we all think of getting into their hands! But these measures will directly harm their neighbors who bought property and put it to work instead of saving their cash in the bank, who have hosted a friend’s family living in their garage, or who invested in building an ADU.