PALO ALTO (KPIX 5) — A Silicon Valley restaurant owner is now a landlord for her employees. She bought a home to help the workers avoid grueling commutes and soaring rent prices.
Bay Area businesses, big and small, are struggling to keep skilled workers who can’t afford to live near their headquarters, stores, restaurants and offices.
Zareen Khan is the owner of popular restaurants in Palo Alto and Mountain View which are never short on customers. However, they are short on good, reliable workers.
“We in the service industry are losing our staff to construction, Uber, Door Dash. So it’s been very hard to retain our employees,” said Khan.
The workers she does have live far outside the area.
“A lot of my employees are either in Hayward or San Jose. For them, it’s like a 45 minute commute–if they have a car. If not, they have to take a bus, it’s a two-hour journey. No one wants to do that,” said Khan.
But she came up with a work-around for the situation.
Khan bought a three-bedroom house in nearby Menlo Park, and she rents it out to her employees for below market rates. Two cooks and a part-time cashier each pay $500 a month for a shared room.
“It includes cable, internet, garbage, everything. Furniture, too,” said one of the employees.
Khan rents out the master bedroom to a non-restaurant tech worker and charges $1,500 a month to help pay for the mortgage.
She is actually losing money on the deal, but she considers it a long-term investment, both for the house and for her employees.
“The most important thing is having employees be happy. So they are happy and they come on time, which is very important to me,” said Khan.
Alex Kamara, one of the cashiers at Khan’s restaurant, hopes to get in the house within the next six months so that he can better support his two children.
“The money I save on the rent will be going to the kids. I will be able to take them out, maybe travel a little. It will be a big help,” said Kamara.
The rent that Kamara would pay to live in Khan’s house is half of what he currently pays. He said that other small — and even big — businesses should take note of Khan’s practice.
“Corporations should be able to provide housing for workers. And who knows? Maybe this can be a model for us all,” said Kamara.
Khan said that her helping out her employees helps to build a good team, but she also said that communities in Silicon Valley need to find long-term solutions.
“For sure, affordable housing should be the number one priority for California right now, because a lot of people are leaving California because they cannot afford rent,” said Khan.
Khan has about 25 employees overall and demand for rooms inside the house is very high among them. The house is only about seven miles from one of the restaurants in Palo Alto and is also close to the other location in Mountain View.
The workers often carpool to work together to catch a break on their commute.