In the struggle for acquiring the limited number of below-market-rate units in San Francisco, families trying to escape single-room occupancy hotels may have the odds against them.
Barely making ends meet in a 10-by-10-foot room near the corner of Stockton and Broadway streets, Shao Yuan Jiang, 40, said he's tried multiple times to move his family of four into a studio or small one-bedroom, but to no avail.
The family, who immigrated to Chinatown from Peru almost three years ago, said they arrived at the right place at the right time to secure their SRO, currently $600 per month. Jiang makes $1,800 a month cooking at a Mexican restaurant in the Fillmore to support his wife and their 8-month-old and 6-year-old daughters. He has looked for places to relocate his family into a below-market-rate unit but they required a minimum of $30,000 in annual income, he said, and they fall several thousand dollars short.
"If two people worked, it is possible," Jiang said in Cantonese. "But my wife cannot get a job. She has to take care of the kids."
Moving into larger, more livable units is the main concern for families that seek housing counseling with the Chinatown Community Development Center, said community organizing manager Angela Chu. Very seldom is the organization able to help.
"It's a more difficult time now for families to increase their income, to get a job that they can save money from and move out," Chu said.
Many one-bedroom apartments in The City, which range from $800 to $1,200 per month, are being rented out to a single person or couple, she added.
Even affording SROs is becoming harder, especially for new renters. While the development center rents its SRO units from about $200 to $500 a month, privately run SROs like the one Jiang lives at can have new listings for $800 to $900 a month.
Due to credit financing, units sought in a typical below-market-rate application process are priced for households at 55 percent of the area median income, but most families staying in SRO's are only at 30 percent of the area median income, said Malcolm Yeung, deputy director at the development center.
Irrespective of the recession or current economic boom, the occupancy rate at SROs has remained at approximately 95 percent, Chu said.
According to a report released in May, Asian and Pacific Islander Health and Wellbeing: A San Francisco Neighborhood Analysis, 24 percent of rooms in Chinatown were considered overcrowded, the highest of any neighborhood in San Francisco, which overall has 5.1 percent overcrowded housing.
Jiang said that although he seeks a larger home, the condition of his SRO is better than other units he has seen, and they are always in demand among families still looking for housing.
"Sometimes they ring the doorbell to ask," he said. "And when I go to take my kids to school, they tell us, 'If something becomes available, please let us know.'"