San Francisco housing trends make it difficult for modest earners to find a place to live 

click to enlarge affordable housing
  • Evan DuCharme/Special to The S.F. Examiner
  • The City requires developers to help fund affordable-housing units, which middle-income earners often aren’t eligible for.
By most accounts, Andrew Hajjar is middle class.

The 26-year-old copy writer’s salary at DDB, a downtown ad agency, tops the nation’s median income and is even above San Francisco’s per capita income of $44,373.

But he considers himself lucky when it comes to his apartment. The $1,200-a-month studio near Bush and Grant streets would be a nearly impossible find in today’s market.

“I don’t know where I’d be able to live on my own” at that price, he said.

Like many San Franciscans with middle incomes, Hajjar makes too much money to be eligible for The City’s limited affordable housing and too little to pay for market-rate apartments. While a hard number to pin down, roughly a quarter of The City’s households could be called middle income in terms used by San Francisco housing authorities.

“They are really stuck in the middle and I think have the fewest real options,” said David Sobel, the nonprofit San Francisco Housing Development Corp.’s CEO. That means San Franciscans making roughly $42,000 to $56,000 a year, he said. But, added Sobel, anyone making $85,000 or less in San Francisco “has a huge problem finding and retaining affordable housing.”

The City’s economic boom — in part driven by the influx of high-paid tech workers — has pushed up rents and made it hard for people with middle incomes to find housing. Still, while the building boom is mainly creating expensive apartments and condos, it’s also delivering new low-income housing.

That’s a point Mayor Ed Lee has stressed when questioned about the impacts of the building boom — any large residential construction, even luxury condos, will create more affordable housing because of requirements imposed on developers by The City.

Development in The City is mostly creating above-market-rate units — 7,457 were entitled from 2007 to 2012, according to the Planning Department. But it has also included a sizable chunk of affordable units, 3,313 in that period.

What’s more, according to the Mayor’s Office, there are 6,168 units of housing under construction in San Francisco and about 20 percent — 1,182 — are affordable. There are another 3,902 units with approved permits.

But that means little to people like Hajjar. From 2007 to 2012, only 360 middle-income units were entitled.

Most middle-income residents looking for affordable housing are directed to first-time homeowner programs, Sobel said. But many are turned away since they can’t get credit or raise enough money for a down payment.

The mayor has made housing one of his priorities, the Housing Trust Fund being an example of that, said Lee’s spokeswoman Christine Falvey. And the best way to help middle-income San Franciscans, she added, is to increase the housing stock and stabilize prices.

“The most impact we can make is to get these housing units online,” she said.

So far the first $20 million allotment of the $1.5 billion, 30-year Housing Trust Fund and the $37.6 million collected from development impact fees from the past two years have started the ball rolling, but maybe not fast enough.

Most of the first projects funded from the recently passed Trust Fund and development fees won’t start breaking ground until 2014 or 2015, said Falvey. But, she added, there are 8,050 affordable units in the pipeline that will be ready in the next five to 10 years.

By 2014, The City needs to build more than 30,000 units to meet overall housing demand, according to the Planning Department. “The needs of The City are much greater than anybody has been able to provide,” Sobel said of ongoing efforts to alleviate the demand for affordable housing.

But whenever that housing is built, it won’t be open to the likes of Hajjar.

The Austin, Texas, native said most of his friends back home are buying homes and settling down. But for him, “here, it’s a perpetual college life.”

Developing homes in The City

Code requirements on projects with more than 10 units:

Pay affordable housing fee — amount varies

Make 12 percent of on-site units affordable

Build equivalent of 20 percent of units as affordable off-site

Funds collected in past two years from developers: $37 million

Number of affordable units those fees could finance: 3,955

Voter-approved Housing Trust Fund: $1.5 billion over 30 years, starting 2012

What Trust Fund money will do: Provide 9,000 affordable units and help provide 30,000 units overall

The first allotment: $20 million, to be used for multifamily development, funds first-time buyers, eviction prevention, housing stabilization and more

Source: Mayor’s Office

About The Author

Jonah Owen Lamb

Jonah Owen Lamb

Bio:
Born and raised on a houseboat in Sausalito, Lamb has written for newspapers in New York City, Utah and the San Joaquin Valley. He was most recently an editor at the San Luis Obispo Tribune for nearly three years. He has written for The S.F. Examiner since 2013 and covers criminal justice and planning.
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