How the Internet Archive Provides Below-Market Housing to Employees

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Roxana Alfaro and her daughter, Eileen, share a studio apartment in the Richmond District. ((Anya Schultz/KQED))

Roxana Alfaro used to get up at 5 a.m. to take four Muni buses from a studio apartment in the Bayview to drop her daughter at school and get to her job at the Internet Archive in the Richmond district. It added up to a four-hour round-trip daily commute.

"I always had a lot of stress because I was running around to get my daughter to school in time," says Alfaro, who is a janitor at the nonprofit preservation group, and who says she saw a lot of drug dealing that she thought was dangerous in the neighborhood where she was living.

Now, thanks to a new program that is the brainchild of the Internet Archive's founder, Brewster Kahle, Alfaro lives in a cozy studio just six blocks from the Internet Archive and three blocks from her daughter Eileen's school.

"It’s a very safe neighborhood and I can walk around at 8 or 9 o'clock and I don't feel worried," she says. "Before, in the Bayview district, I would just go straight to my studio and don't go out for no reason."

Kahle says his employees, like many who work at small nonprofits in the city, are feeling the pinch of pricy housing costs in San Francisco. Some are commuting up to an hour to get to work.

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"They’re losing their houses, and sometimes they have to leave the Internet Archive just because they can’t afford housing here in San Francisco," Kahle says. A survey of his workers found that many spend 30 to 60 percent of their incomes on housing.

"It was just astounding to me, and so we tried to figure out why," says Kahle. He found out that many were essentially paying off a building owner's mortgage or debt.

"So we thought if we could get debt-free housing for our workers, then we’d be able to have one-third market rate rent, which would be excellent, and the others would be more stable, so it doesn’t go up, down in the boom-bust cycle of San Francisco," he explains.

The Foundation House
Clement Street apartment building bought by the Internet Archive. (Anya Schultz)

Kahle created a new foundation called the Kahle/Austin Foundation and through an endowment purchased an 11-unit building on Clement Street. That's where Alfaro and two other employees currently live.  None of the current residents of that building are being kicked out, but Internet Archive employees will fill the building as people leave "through a normal cycle."

"We thought if we could transition a bunch of housing to nonprofit housing, we would have a way that people could dedicate themselves to public service and not be scared that they’re going to have to leave the city and leave their job," Kahle says.

Kahle explains the funding in a blog post. The idea behind a housing benefit, he says, is similar to how some universities, hospitals, monasteries and large nonprofit organizations provide dormitory-style housing for their workers.

Alfaro was paying $1,200 for her studio in the Bayview but now pays $800. "I told my boss, 'God bless you,' because it's a big difference for me," says Alfaro.  She and her daughter now enjoy getting more rest in the morning.