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Silicon Valley To Ease House Crunch

December 29, 1998

SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) _ Silicon Valley employers, whose phenomenal success has contributed to Northern California’s housing crunch, have established a new trust fund to help low income and homeless people find places to live.

``This fund is a good example of the spirit of Silicon Valley. We don’t just whine about the problem. We work together to solve it,″ said Silicon Valley Manufacturing Group president Carl Guardino, who represents employers of about 250,000 high tech workers.

Working with the nonprofit Community Foundation and local and state governments, the companies plan to raise $20 million in two years for their new Housing Trust Fund.

Those funds will be leveraged to bring in another $80 million in government grants and loans, said Leslee Coleman, executive director of the American Electronics Association’s Bay Area Council.

The money will be loaned to first-time home buyers and used to build affordable rental housing and homeless shelters in a region where only one new housing unit has been built for every five new workers hired.

The Silicon Valley’s housing problem has increased along with the high-tech boom. It’s an area where the top 100 executives earned an average of $6.9 million in 1996 and a median priced home sells for $320,000, a price unaffordable to average wage-earners.

Rents have jumped 30 percent in the past two years, and middle and low-income families simply can’t keep up. Only about one third of the area’s families can afford a house, and about 1,200 poor people sleep outside each night because shelters are filled.

``Other cities and states are looking to the Silicon Valley to see how we collectively keep our very poor people off the streets and help them matriculate back into society,″ said Barry Del Buono, executive director of the Emergency Housing Consortium.

The new Housing Trust Fund is off to a good start. Santa Clara County has contributed $2 million and the Packard Foundation recently donated $180,000. On Tuesday, organizers announced they had just received $150,000 from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

Community Foundation development director Susan Luenberger said their challenge now is to get the highly paid executives in the region to share their wealth.

``Many of the richer people here are making their millions overnight,″ she said. ``The money is like funny money to them, and they often are quite young and don’t have much experience with philanthropy.″

Fortunately, said Luenberger, those same top executives are well aware of the housing crunch because it’s a problem faced by their own employees.

``Now it’s just a matter of convincing them that focusing their giving here is going to make a difference,″ she said. ``And it will.″

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