The Degrading Experience of Trying to Rent in Silicon Valley

With the entire Bay Area facing a housing crisis, more and more people like writer Cynthia Cruz are struggling to find a place to call home. Cruz is a mother, just received her masters degree and has a full time job. The only thing she has found in her search for a home in the very place where she grew up is a degrading and dehumanizing experience.


My name is Cynthia, I recently graduated with my masters and have secured a full time job in East Palo Alto with a non-profit working with young people. I have steady income, good references, 759 credit score and good renter history; I am responsible and act with ethic. I try to live as healthy as possible, so I spend a lot of time outside, I don't own a TV and like to write. I am looking for a long term space for my daughter and I, she is six years old. We are looking for a calm space that we can call home; at the moment we are homeless, it is hard to find someone that is willing to offer us a space. We have a regular sleep early, rise early type of schedule. We are very clean individuals and find that organization makes our life easier. We try to be as positive as possible and believe in communication first, as long as people are willing, if not, we keep to ourselves. My daughter will be gone most weekends with her father, she is always by my side otherwise, she is well behaved. We have family in Redwood City, so we spend most of our time there.

Thank you for your time, 

This is the introduction that I have been sending out robotically, on a daily basis, in the desperate hopes of finding a place to live. I never expected it to be so difficult to find housing in the California Bay Area Peninsula, my place of birth and where I grew up. Throughout the years, I have witnessed the drastic changes that my home town, Redwood City has gone through and I don’t know if any of those changes have benefitted the individuals in my community, including myself. Since I was 12 years old, I have been actively engaged within my community by participating in programs and organizations that are rooted in social justice. I have volunteered and served as a model for young people who are struggling with the same circumstances that I experienced, while growing up as a first generation, low-income, fatherless, little brown girl.

Last May, I walked across the stage to receive what will be my third college degree, after navigating the unpaved road of higher education. As the American dream dictates, I have worked incessantly, bootstraps have permanently scarred my hands; I pull and sustain. My community has failed me when I have worked to be a productive member of society, but I cannot find a safe space for my daughter and I to live. During my search for housing I have felt completely degraded as a human being; looking for housing in the Peninsula has turned into a human rights violation.

During my search, I have experienced circumstances that are fundamentally degrading and have made me sacrifice my personal ethics. I dedicate an average of two hours a day sending out e-mails, making calls and driving to see spaces. Recently, after taking the time to drive to a potential home, investigating the space and filling out a three page application, I was told, not to bother applying by a white man who did not even make eye contact. He stated that there had already been more than ten applicants for a $1,500 per month studio without parking or washer and dryer amenities. Clouded by desperation, I accepted that I cannot hold on to standards, I began to apply right away, without even visiting the space before commencing the application process. At open houses, standing with my daughter in hand, I quickly understood that I cannot compete with all of the high tech, single “professionals,” they are always the preferred candidate. With my daughter next to me I am asked personal questions about my romantic life, my child custody agreement, details about my daily routine; questions that I must answer even with extreme discomfort if I wish to be considered.

My discomfort escalated and morphed into something aberrant the occasion that I was recorded without my consent. At the end of a conversation during a meeting with a landlord, she simply tapped her phone, which had been on the table and said “I hope we were loud enough, it is so I won’t forget anything when I talk to my husband.” I concluded that our entire conversation had been recorded. I was never told that our conversation would be recorded, nor was I asked for consent. I swallowed all of the immediate alarms going off in my head, and the dark feeling creeping out of my chest, I simply smiled and said I would wait for her decision about the mini-studio. Two days later the landlord contacted me to let me know she was willing to rent to me, but was asking for $1,650 instead of $1,500 –  the original listing price. I cannot afford to pay $1,650 per month for a mini studio, it is not sustainable for myself and my daughter. My conscious awakens with all of the wrath brought to an ocean by a hurricane, but is abruptly stunted by the desire to be able to tell my daughter that we have a home. 

These two incidents reflect my entire experience of trying to search for a home in the Peninsula for my daughter and I. As an individual working with the public in communities that are violently being displaced, I battle with the monster that is gentrification. Its claws have uprooted open spaces, filled them with concrete and one way mirrors. Its teeth have chewed away at all of the affordable housing, leaving it smeared with the shiny saliva of luxury condominiums. It is an uphill battle, when what nourishes this monster is capitalistic greed. We are also consumed, when the mainstream arguments against gentrification revolve around the very same ideas that keeps this monster alive. “If all of the low-income people move away who will work in the service jobs?” “Who will keep the Peninsula functioning if there are no blue collar workers?” This discourse is located within the framework that creates a situation where people are literally pushed out of their home and community. Gentrification is more than the appropriation of environment – it is about stripping an entire community of a way of life, tradition, history and sustainability.

Gentrification is a symptom of social inequality, which makes social justice the only argument against displacement. The people living in low-income communities of color that are being gentrified deserve to live in the space that we call home, not because we are a needed component of a hierarchy system, but because we are human. There is a problem when attempting to secure basic survival, comes with loss of self-respect and scrapes down my throat as I swallow in order to provide for my daughter. I do not strive for luxury served on a silver spoon, I would simply like the basic needs that society assured I would be able to secure if I walked down the directed path. I realize the American dream will never manifest for me when I open my eyes, it must be consciously that instead I imagine my own. A type of dream that is not dehumanizing when I attempt to make it a reality, but one that is inclusive of individuals like myself and my daughter. 

Related Media: 

Santa Clara County Public Defender Voices Strong Opposition to the "Crime Free Multi-Housing Initiative"

Renters Rally at First Advisory Committee Meeting to Revise San José’s Rent Ordinance

"Viva La Vida" Maiz's Annual Frida Kahlo Fundraiser Bringing People Home

This article is part of the categories: Community  / Economy  / Education  / Environment 
This article is part of the tags: Bay Area Housing Crisis  / Derecho a Un Techo  / Gentrification  / Homelessness  / Housing  / Housing for All  / Peninsula  / Redwood City  / Renters  / Renters Rights 


You really tell the truth, and with more feeling and eloquence than any story I see in the New York Times. Not only should you get a place to live, but someone should give you a job as a writer.

Post a comment

Valid XHTML 1.0 Valid CSS