City policy, prices forcing middle class to flee 

San Francisco’s real-estate stakeholders gathered Wednesday to address The City’s lack of housing for middle-class families fleeing to the suburbs — a day after Supervisor Chris Daly introduced a $28 million ordinance for affordable housing,

A combination of The City’s strict qualifications for below-market-rate housing and the soaring cost of market-rate homes is leaving moderate-income families in a not-so-sweet spot when it comes to buying a place of their own.

In 2006, individuals had to earn less than the median income of $63,850 to qualify for The City’s below-market-rate housing programs, according to the Mayor’s Office of Housing. Households of two had to earn less than $72,950, and for households of four, less than $91,200.

Individuals in San Francisco’s middle class typically earn up to 150 percent of the median income. It not only disqualifies them for below-market-rate assistance but also is not enough to purchase market-rate housing, one housing official said. To buy market-rate housing, an individual would typically have to earn 180 percent to 220 percent of the median household income in 2006.

During his State of The City address in October, Mayor Gavin Newsom announced the Home 15/5 plan that calls for 15,000 new housing units to be built in the next five years, with 5,400 of them for low- and moderate-income residents.

In the last four years, The City has built about 2,175 affordable below-market-rate units, said Matt Franklin, head of the Mayor’s Office of Housing. There are another 3,200 units in the pipeline, he said.

While The City is making headway on affordable units, "it’s as if the [middle-class] part of our housing stock has gotten lost," a member of the San Francisco Housing Action Coalition said.

At Wednesday’s forum, former U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Henry Cisneros said The City’s competitive advantage has been diminished by the high cost of living. The quality of life, he said, is suffering because too many families can barely afford their rent and end up stretching to pay for food, health care and transportation.

"There is a national imperative nearing crisis dimensions if we are not able to address the needs of working families for whom the American dream is owning a home," he said.

Other cities, Cisneros said, have been successful at creating middle-class housing by securing tax-delinquent properties and making public land available for homes, as well as revising building codes for renovating older structures.

He also strongly encouraged cities to preserve existing stocks of affordable housing.

Arthur Evans, chairman of the Oakland-based A.F. Evans Company Inc., blamed The City’s pace of approving projects for the high cost of housing.

"The City structure and the dysfunctional nature of trying to get projects approved has added $100,000 to $200,000 to every condominium being sold," he said.

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