Home & Leisure

For Bay Area renters, the new normal: lower expectations and shrinking apartments

Richard Scheinin, The Mercury News on

Published in Home and Consumer News

The increase caught the family off guard; they couldn't afford to stay and they couldn't afford to leave, as rents were shooting up all over the South Bay. The solution was to split up the family: Salma and her sister were sent to live with a friend on the Westside, while her parents and younger brother moved in with a friend from church on the East Side.

More than a year later, the Vizcayas were reunited, this time renting a single room in a stranger's apartment. More moves followed, each one a challenge, including the family's current two-bedroom flat on the Westside of San Jose. With both sisters chipping in portions of their paychecks from part-time jobs, the family swings the $2,500 rent.

"So many people live in cramped spaces," Vizcaya observed, "and I feel they are invisible to people who own their own homes. And I do feel resentment. I see flyers advertising apartments: 'It's near Google! It's near Apple!' They're advertising to people at the tech companies who can pay the high rent. They're not advertising to ordinary people like me."

Ashante Parker can relate.

Just over a year ago, he worked 16-hour days for a Livermore produce company, driving trucks, carting heavy loads up and down ramps at his delivery stops. He earned decent money -- and wrecked his shoulder, leaning into the loads. Out of work, he and his wife Jennifer couldn't come up with a $950 payment for monthly rent and utilities on their apartment in Modesto. The landlord said, see you later.

That's how long it took to fall out of the middle class.

The Parkers and their three children -- Aria, 1, Amarion, 2 and Tristen, 4 -- moved to a friend's house, then into their Impala, filling it with blankets, toys, stuffed animals, boxed cereal, infant seats and a tent. "This used to be my commute car," Ashante joked. "It turned out to be my mobile home."

The family spent nights in pop-up shelters, safe-park programs and armories in San Jose, Gilroy, Sunnyvale, Cupertino and Morgan Hill. Churches opened their doors for dinners and nightly showers for the children, providing a semblance of normalcy. Breakfast at Walmart. Trips to the park.


"We've been in this vicious cycle where Ashante can't work because he needs surgery, and he can't get surgery because we don't have the money," Jennifer said, "and because we don't have the money, we don't have a place."

But now the family has caught a break. This month, after chilly weeks in the Impala, the Parkers were given a two-bedroom apartment at the Arturo Ochoa Migrant Center in Gilroy, where homeless families receive subsidized housing during the winter months.

"They gave us brand new sheets, pillows, dishes, cooking stuff," Jennifer said. "We have a kitchen. The kids, they've got their own room. It's actually pretty great -- and what a relief; we have it until March 31."

Then, the search for a home begins again.

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