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“Give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it, and I shall move the world.“

Leverage in practice and as a concept is nothing new. Archimedes, a Greek mathematician, engineer and inventor (287 BC – 212 BC), expounded on the use of levers with this extreme example of its power. The key to effective use of levers is placement of a support and pivot point, called a “fulcrum.”

Examples of levers using fulcrums are all around us: playground see-saws, car jacks, claw hammers, crowbars, scissors and shears, pliers, and many more. Variations include such common tools as bottle openers, staplers, car door handles and hinged doors. The same principle can be applied to golf clubs, tennis rackets, baseball bats, brooms and the mechanics of your arm.

Besides physical and mechanical attributes, leverage can also relate to the use of resources to maximum advantage and influence. Just as the value and advantage of mechanical leverage allows force to be multiplied depending on the length of a lever and placement of the fulcrum, so can the strength and influence of an argument/proposal or investment depend on how much and where pressure is applied.

Currently, our cities are under pressure by state and regional authorities to produce “affordable” housing for middle- and low-income wage earners. Since the median income in both Alameda, Santa Clara and surrounding counties is over $100,000, many families are affected by exorbitant housing prices and other costs associated with them.

The term, Median (or middle value), can be used to signify the middle of a set of numbers, not the value of those numbers. For example, if the set of numbers is: 10, 11, 12, 55, 100, 200 and 500, the median would be at 55 since half of the series is above that number and half below. This, however, does not reflect the disparity of values above and below the line. In my example, the values below the median equal 33 while those above the median equal 800! The same can be said for earnings when using median measurements and the effect of housing prices catering to high income individuals and families.

In order to counter an obvious inequity of income and cost of living in our area, government agencies have stepped in to try to provide relief for those at or below median incomes. Profitable development is, of course, aimed at high income individuals or those with value stored in existing homes. There is little or no incentive (or profit) to build low-income housing without subsidies. In order to provide such support, governmental agencies charge fees and give tax credits to encourage construction of affordable rental or for-sale housing. One goal of housing moderate and low-income tenants or owners is to integrate people of all income levels and avoid isolating this population into “projects.” Integration requires balance so developers are assured a positive result. The lever of profit and affordable housing at either end depends on placement of a fulcrum of fees, incentives and zoning. It is that balance that our cities are grappling with at this time. In a recent meeting of the Fremont City Council, placement of a fee structure (fulcrum) was discussed with the goal of enticing builders to include affordable housing in their plans rather than simply paying in-lieu fees to subsidize an alternate development.

Since each time a housing complex is built, less land becomes available for other construction, the pool of available space is shrinking even as the coffers grow though in-lieu contributions. Housing costs are rising as well, so the question becomes moot at some point when a housing fund is faced with shrinking opportunities and rising costs; it foreshadows a losing game.

Housing focused only on the wealthy has been lucrative, but has spread its effects to every facet of life in our communities. The question our elected leaders are facing is… How far can the fulcrum of fees and restraints be moved to tip the balance in favor of moderate- and low-income residents?

In the 1971 economic crisis in Seattle, Washington, a billboard sponsored by real-estate agents Bob McDonald and Jim Youngren, asked its inhabitants… “Will the last person leaving SEATTLE — Turn out the lights.” If housing and attendant cost-of-living continue to escalate in our area, who will be left to finally turn out the lights?