Silicon Valley Has a Firefighter Problem

March 28, 2016, 4:06 PM UTC

Stanford Graduate School of Business

With its blessed location in the heart of Silicon Valley, Stanford remains a hot destination for all kinds of would-be entrepreneurs. Indeed, the school sees what it calls "a generational shift toward entrepreneurship." An all-time high of 16% of the class of 2011 chose to start their own companies at graduation. The school said the percentage of MBA students who shunned traditional MBA jobs in favor of the start-up world reflects a three-fold increase from only 5% in the early 1990s and is a third higher than the 12% peak during the dot-com bubble.
Photo: Tony Avelar/Bloomberg/Getty

It isn’t cheap to live in Silicon Valley, the unofficial tech mecca where giant companies such as Google, Apple, and Facebook—among many others—have their headquarters.

But one local fire chief in Menlo Park says the trend of skyrocketing, multi-million dollar home prices has gotten so bad lately that he’s started giving out monthly stipends ranging from $100 to $2,000 hoping to lure his staff to move closer to work, as the Wall Street Journal first reported.

Menlo Park is the same town where Facebook plunked down its glitzy new headquarters more than a year ago. In the year since Facebook moved in, home values there have jumped 15.4%, according to housing market website Zillow.

“In the old days, if I saw someone sleeping in a chair, I would have thought they were getting divorced. Now it’s because they have to travel further to get to work,” Menlo Park Fire Chief Harold Schapelhouman told the Journal. Today, 15 of his firefighters live 100 miles or more from the station.

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The “Facebook effect” on home prices in the Valley is nothing new, stretching back to the years before the social network went public in 2012. But the new subsidy offer conducted by Chief Schapelhouman represents one more way in which locals are starting to re-think how to combat the rising costs of living in the area.

In neighboring Palo Alto, city officials are considering a new kind of middle class housing subsidy for people making under $250,000 a year as locals complain rising home prices in the city are pushing out longtime residents, firefighters, teachers, doctors, and government employees.

What it’s like to be a non-tech company in Silicon Valley. Watch:

In nearby San Francisco, the city with some of the highest rental rates in the country, some residents are getting craftier about the ways they slice up and slide into their apartments, too.

One San Francisco dweller just built himself a wooden pod so he can camp out in someone else’s living room for $400 a month, Business Insider reports. Then there’s the $600 per month apartment in a truck (without plumbing) that’s been available for rent on Craigslist. Both are a bargain compared to $3,500 you could expect to pay for a typical one bedroom apartment in the City by the Bay, according to real estate site Zumper.

Suddenly, sleeping in a chair at the fire station doesn’t sound all that bad.

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