"Philanthropy should be just as exciting as the lures of the world," says Hall. "Having a second, a third, a fourth home, a faster jet, more cars—that narrative doesn't need to be fed. Can we feed a narrative of how much good you can do?"
Across the freeway
It's one thing to talk about the effects of wealth across the globe. It is another to see the effects play out down the street. In Silicon Valley, that's how far you have to travel—just across the strategically placed U.S. Route 101—to see, as Wilhelms puts it, "what's downstream from wealth."
East Palo Alto is a city defined by its proximity: almost the end of the first cross-continental railroad, almost the headquarters of Facebook. It became the drug supplier to the Bay area and, in the early 1990s, was deemed the murder capital of the United States. Today, it is a densely populated city with a majority Hispanic population (65 percent). Six percent are white and 16 percent are black. Its income per capita is 30.5 percent lower than the national average and 40.9 percent below the California average. Most residents work in the service industry or what few blue-collar jobs are available on the other side of the freeway. It's an uneasy relationship—one made all the more uneasy as East Palo Alto has become expensive dirt.
"A couple years ago, a lot of people began losing their houses," says Blanca Medina, a housing counselor at local nonprofit Able Works. "In East Palo Alto, we had about 2,000 properties go through foreclosure. A lot of these people, when they purchased their home, signed for a loan they could never sustain."
It's a story, of course, playing out in many other cities. But it's particularly insidious in East Palo Alto, because it's within the Silicon Valley region. East Palo Alto has the most affordable housing in San Mateo County. As property values increase around it, investors have begun to look toward developing East Palo Alto. Distressed and foreclosed properties are magnets for investors, who snatch them up with cash. Gentrification seems inevitable as East Palo Alto is swallowed up by the Silicon Valley boom.
"These people have lived in their homes for more than 20 years," Medina says. "But because their payment went up, they can no longer afford to stay." In the past six months, through an Able Works program called LiveAble, Medina and other housing counselors have rescued more than 40 homes from foreclosure. LiveAble counsels and advocates for homeowners who are more than 30 days delinquent on their mortgage note. The program is free, and Medina works with lenders and banks to negotiate a lower interest rate for a longer term. She aims to get the payment down to about 30 percent of the homeowner's income.
"These homes carry a lot of memory," she says. But Medina, a 26-year-old mother of two, is driven by more than sentiment: Owning a home is essential to halting the cycle of poverty. She notes that children of homeowners are 20 percent more likely to finish high school and 116 percent more likely to go to college. And daughters of homeowners are 20 percent less likely to become teenage mothers—as Medina was.