Nishat Kurwa on Thursday, Nov. 7th
Today’s Twitter IPO dominated national headlines, but for San Franciscans, it’s personal.
Besides broader concerns about the city’s shifting cultural landscape, many of the criticisms center on gentrification that the tech industry, this week most visibly represented by Twitter, is believed to be fueling.
At an event held at the Twitter building recently, homeless kids sifted through piles of donated costumes and prepared to Trick or Treat at Runway, a tech accelerator. The event was a collaboration between several tech firms and San Francisco’s Compass Family Services, which has been a beneficiary of tech employee volunteerism. Executive Director Erica Kisch said as the organization kicks off its centennial, they hoped that continued partnerships with tech firms in the area led to new donors akin to blue-blood families like the Crockers and the Hearsts who founded Compass a century ago. “Today tech companies are the face of San Francisco,” she said.
On the other hand, when I asked Kisch what they’re recommending to their clients as the availability of high-end housing far outpaces subsidized housing in the city, her answer was bleak: “We’ve been encouraging our families to consider living in the East Bay. We used to encourage our families to go as far afield as Modesto or Fresno.” She said families must consider all their options.
The families that Compass works with are waiting up to nine months to get into a shelter, and a shelter stay is limited to six months. In the meantime, Kisch said, they couch surf, or sleep on the mat on the floor of a church basement. “It’s not acceptable for families,” Kisch told me. But she didn’t link explicitly link the housing crunch to the influx of tech firms, saying San Francisco housing prices have never really stopped climbing.
“I don’t think that these tech entrepreneurs and tech workers doing what they’re good at is anything to feel guilty about,” said Runway founder Allan Young. He’s a rare “Silicon Valley” founder who grew up in San Francisco — on Chinatown’s Jackson Street. “It’s reasonable to call out successful entrepreneurs to be more engaged with society, with the community. I do think it’s very difficult to measure the indirect, external benefits that each new technology job creates. But clearly, there is an external benefit…some economic activity beyond just that tech job itself.”
Young thinks one solution is to try and expose entrepreneurs to these issues early, so that if and when they see their own IPO, they’re already invested in the issues affecting the 99 percent.
Before I left, I talked to one employee who came to San Francisco from Minneapolis in February. His take on these issues crystalized frustrations on both sides. “We see some of the blight outside, and we’re like, why can’t San Francisco just figure it out? Why has the city always had this huge problem? We don’t see it in almost any other major city. There’s so many startups here, and startups solve problems so quickly.
“Why hasn’t someone done it yet?”