In the Bay Area, households prepare for the annual tradition. Mothers and fathers are preparing their homes for the return of their children. Sons and daughters are going and are going to return from distant places.
After the holidays, these families will gather another annual tradition: they say goodbye until they get back together at the end of next year. This is what makes it the Christmas of the housing crisis: Christmas is becoming a sweeter reunion, but overshadowed by looming long goodbyes.
How we got here is easy to explain. We live in a region that attracts people from all over the world for exceptionally high-paying jobs. We do not build housing either for visitors or for our own children. As our children grow up, they are given a choice: Do they compete with high-paying professionals for basic housing? Some of them are able to do this, and many of them remain. Others make difficult choices because they have a much lower standard of living than their parents, as rent wastes their salaries and roommates lose their minds. Some others would go looking elsewhere for opportunities, regardless of the conditions here. It would be rude to say that we made the rest of our children economic refugees, but in fact it is.
Why we continue to choose to displace our youth, generation after generation, depends on our preferences. Many would rather see lawn than architecture, or would rather see free sidewalk parking and empty than full and measurable. Many people who love the shade of a tree have an aversion to the shadows cast by buildings. Such preferences are processed by local elections for local leaders. These local leaders refine them in local politics. This policy made housing functionally illegal in many areas and economically impossible to produce on a scale anywhere else.
Every city wants to remain frozen in time like a snow globe, while others are solving the housing crisis. But it freezes our own children.
Displacement hurts not only those who are forced to leave their homes, but also those who are left behind. A few months after the approaching goodbyes, many Bay Area parents will see empty parking spaces and calm down, but not see grandchildren playing, which will make them happy for life. In isolation, too many become violent as they age.
Despite all this, Christmas is a really special time of the year due to the housing crisis. This allows us to understand what we are losing, albeit briefly. This gives us a moment when we can start making choices that will allow our children to stay in the future. Perhaps this year we can decide to lay the groundwork for future generations to enjoy Christmas without so many goodbyes.
Scott O’Neill is a volunteer at Palo Alto Forward and Peninsula For All.