The SCoPE 2035 Rally for Affordable Housing: There is No Sustainable Stanford without Affordable Housing and Sustainable Transportation Efforts
By Spencer Robinson
Let’s get to the point directly – what does affordable housing have to do with sustainability? Indeed, when Stanford Coalition for Planning an Equitable (SCoPE) 2035 spearheaded their rally of 100+ of us Stanford students in front of City Hall to demand Stanford be held accountable to build the maximal amount of affordable housing – sustainability was not part of the rhetoric of the speakers (Stanford Daily) . Though the Conditions of Approval for the General Use Permit also included specifications for protections of the foothills, traffic mitigations and environmentally sustainable transportation options, singling out those as the sustainability issues instead of focusing on housing issues would reinforce the harmful binary that divides those who advocate for environmental issues and social justice issues. I’m writing to articulate my view that housing justice, particularly in the Bay Area, should be a focus of those also committed to environmental justice.
In the world of the UN, non-profits and international development, the definition of sustainability has repeatedly been cited from the Brundtland Report: “"Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without –“ wait a second (Our Common Future). Let’s stop there. Often it appears that mainstream environmentalists focus solely on future impacts of climate change, air pollution, ecosystem destruction without consideration of equity now. Let’s do a realty check now and focus on current inequities – needs of the present – that will only worsen with climate change and further urbanization.
Anyone will tell you that the Bay Area is the most expensive housing market in the country. With 5.4 new jobs added for every new unit of housing from 2011 to 2017 its easy to see how the dreamy economic growth of the Silicon Valley tech has translated into nightmarish problems of an affordable housing shortage. And with Stanford as a jobs producing research institution as well as a major place of recruiting for these tech companies we are right in the thick of this.
Though Stanford’s efforts to go 100% solar by 2021 and zero waste by 2030, show commitment to environmental sustainability, these metrics-oriented efforts which rely on huge investment in infrastructure and behavior change don’t absolve the university of responsibility for other aspects of its impact. If we consider the environment as where we “live, work, play and eat” (https://www.liebertpub.com/doi/10.1089/env.2009.0001# ) we need to consider how Stanford has chosen to think about its impact in terms of working, transportation and housing options for workers.
SCoPE 2035 has worked extensively with SEIU 2007 (the labor union for workers campus), who have many members that have to commute several hours from where they can afford to live to where they work at Stanford. They have done several teach-ins to engage the student population with current issues with Stanford’s unwillingness to mitigate its impact on the ways in which it is exacerbating the housing crisis. With affordability at such a crisis, Stanford’s plans of expansion, bringing in more scholars, graduate students, and workers of all pay grades, we will continue to drive up demand for housing in the area fueling gentrification sometimes even by graduate students who can’t afford to live anywhere but lower priced housing nearby. This means that graduate students by lack of choice and lack of on-campus housing end up renting lower cost housing and competing with workers on campus. Stanford has challenged affordable housing ordinances (https://www.stanforddaily.com/2018/12/20/stanford-sues-santa-clara-county-for-targeted-housing-ordinance/) and most recently withdrew from the general use permit which would’ve required Stanford to build more affordable housing with its plan to add 2.275 million more square feet of buildings.
Though some may separate housing justice and labor rights from environmental issues these issues are all inextricably linked. Thinking simply in terms of carbon emissions from employee travel. Long commutes for workers not only takes away from time they’re able to spend with their families but also contributes to the greenhouse gases Stanford is responsible for. Additionally, workers that are hired as contract laborers without full benefits on’t get access to Caltrain passes that subsidize lower carbon transportation. Additionally, if we think about Stanford and the Dish and surrounding areas as areas with great access to natural outdoor spaces, keeping Stanford housing expensive and exclusive to students, faculty and higher paid staff contributes to the inequities around access to outdoor space.
On a broader scale, from my personal perspective we have to think about weighing our priorities. How can we think about fighting the global problem of climate change for the “future of mankind” if we don’t even care about “present struggles of people in our own community”? How can we envision a sustainable world without envisioning a sustainable community in our own locality? Knowing that communities of color, low-income communities, women, the developing world, the elderly and people with disabilities will be most effected by climatic change, how can we pretend to decouple environmental sustainability from pervasive issues of income-inequality, racism, classism, etc.
All I’m trying to say, is that if the guiding principles in the Stanford vision are to “ promote public welfare by exercising influence on behalf of humanity” we need to think about our own backyard first.
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