San Mateo County’s displaced families struggling for housing, opportunity and health, according to new SVCF-funded study

Vu-Bang Nguyen
Vu-Bang Nguyen
Program Officer, Building Strong Communities

Many low-income families who rent in San Mateo County have been displaced from their homes and are forced to make difficult and precarious tradeoffs in their search for new housing. Families report enduring longer and more costly commutes, tolerating substandard housing conditions, and moving away from community ties and resources, according to a new study by University of California Berkeley, funded by a grant from SVCF. 

Aside from being formally evicted, study participants say they were harassed out by landlords, priced out by market forces, and pushed out by poor housing conditions. In the current housing market, illegal landlord practices are flourishing, such as discrimination and retaliation for maintenance requests.

Displacement BriefThe new research brief, "Displacement in San Mateo County: Consequences for Housing, Neighborhoods, Quality of Life, and Health," paints a bleak picture of housing instability and unaffordability based on surveys with 100 low-income households who live in and/or were displaced from San Mateo County communities.

Written by Justine Marcus and Miriam Zuk of the Urban Displacement Project at UC Berkeley’s Center for Community Innovation, the study was completed in collaboration with Community Legal Services in East Palo Alto.

Key findings highlighted in the brief include:

  • Approximately one in three displaced households reported some period of homelessness or marginal housing, living in a motel, renting a garage or doubling up with family or friends in the two years following their displacement.
  • Thirty-three percent of displaced households left San Mateo County, moving to the Central Valley or eastern communities in the East Bay. These new communities had fewer job opportunities on average, leading to longer, more costly commutes for households. The new neighborhoods also had more environmental and safety concerns as well as fewer healthcare resources.
  • More than two-thirds of children in displaced households had to change schools, with one in five children doing so mid-year.
  • Displaced households faced a dangerous combination of limited opportunity and urgency in their search for housing. Many households tolerate poor-quality housing conditions and overcrowding, which put tenants’ health at risk.

“While this is only a small study of one county, we believe the results point to general trends, especially because many of the findings support the existing literature and narratives coming from communities across the region,” Zuk said in the press release issued by UC Berkeley, adding that she and Marcus hope to expand research to other Bay Area counties.

The report has already received media attention, including reports on NPR and in SFGATE.

“The San Mateo County Board of Supervisors recently voted to allocate $43.75 million of the Measure K bond funds to support subsidized, affordable housing,” Marcus said. “This is an important success. But, the future of housing stability and affordability in San Mateo County is dependent on political will to enact holistic policies and investments both locally and statewide. We need policies that address the crisis of affordability and safeguard families against displacement, discrimination, and predatory practices.”

Read the full report.