Brainstorming the Bay Area housing crisis

What do we talk about when we talk about housing?

Well, we talk about inhumane rent spikes and the tight housing supply and the wildly competitive bidding and that nondescript house in Sunnyvale that sold for $782,000 above the asking price and…

Hang on.

It’s time to get off the script, time to open up the conversation.

On Nov. 15, the Silicon Valley Community Foundation is sponsoring a grassroots, community-wide conversation about housing.

It’s called “On the Table.”

So far about 700 individuals and organizations have signed up to host brainstorming sessions over cups of coffee or kickback meals where individuals will sit around tables and talk about the region’s housing and transportation problems.

“Ultimately, it’s about inviting people to share their stories,” Mauricio Palma, the Community Foundation’s director of initiatives and special projects, told about 35 hosts-to-be this afternoon during an orientation session at the nonprofit’s Mountain View headquarters.

He sees “On the Table” happening at a couple of levels. One, it can create new, engaged citizens, drawing in people who typically defer to “activists” and “experts.” And two, there is the hope that this kind of community-wide bull session –- in the best sense — will generate out-of-the-box thinking and “solutions that we haven’t been able to talk about, for whatever reason,” Palma said.

And yes, there will be a report – two reports, actually, both to be diffused through the community, including among policymakers.

Funded by the Knight Foundation, the event has tentacles that keep growing. Most of the sessions – each for between six and ten individuals — will take place in homes and offices in Santa Clara and San Mateo counties. But there’s already plenty of spillover; hosts are cropping up in Oakland, San Francisco and beyond. (Most of the conversations will take place on Nov. 15, though the Community Foundation is giving hosts some leeway in scheduling the sessions, which can happen as late as the day before Thanksgiving.)

The Community Foundation predicts this is not going to be aimless talk. During a yearlong buildup to the event, Palma has talked with farmworkers in Pescadero and math teachers in Hayward. He expects the conversations to bridge political and cultural divides, and he hopes “On the Table” will bring some traction to what heretofore has seemed intractable.

To learn about “On the Table,” go here. At that same url, you can also sign up to be a host or to take part in one of the conversations.

Photo: Mauricio Palma, director of initiatives and special projects for the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, talks to about 35 people who have signed up to be hosts for “On the Table.” (Courtesy of Silicon Valley Community Federation)


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