Supervisors consider how to retain families 

click to enlarge The percentage of children in The City has been steadily declining. - SF EXAMINER FILE PHOTO
  • SF Examiner file photo
  • The percentage of children in The City has been steadily declining.

Single mother Veronica Garcia attends City College full-time and works a part-time job that pays $12 an hour. On those wages, she can’t afford rent in San Francisco, so she and her two daughters share a bedroom in her parents’ house.

“It’s pretty crowded,” she said. “As much as I love San Francisco, I’m now forced to look at other cities to live in.”

Garcia offered herself as an example to city supervisors Thursday as they explored the issue of family flight in a hearing of the Government Audit and Oversight Committee.

City officials were alarmed last year when they learned that The City had lost a net 5,000 children between 2000 and 2010. While San Francisco had always had fewer children than other major cities, the proportion of people under 18 had fallen to just 13.4 percent.

“As a father of two young children, I’ve seen friends of my kids move away,” said Supervisor Mark Farrell, who sponsored the hearing. “The reasons vary, but the facts are the facts. The city has struggled to attract and retain young families.”

Farrell argued that The City needed to reverse the trend in order to remain diverse and healthy.

“Having children in our parks and in our schools and strollers on our sidewalks is important for the vibrancy of this city,” he said.

Supervisors heard Thursday from an array of government officials and non-profit representatives, most of whom agreed that economics is the major cause of family flight. San Francisco is pricing out middle-class and poor families as income inequality grows.

“It costs a lot to live here in San Francisco,” said Adrienne Pon, director of the Office if Civic Engagement.

Pon noted that census data showed a slight uptick in the proportion of children under five since 2000, but an increasing decline in school-aged children.
While it might appear that families are leaving because they’re unhappy with The City’s public schools, San Francisco Unified School District government relations director Chris Armentrout, said the district has seen an increase in kindergarten applications.

According to the Mayor’s Office of Housing, the proportion of children in the highest and lowest income brackets grew, while middle-income families moved away. Many of the families that stay are either those that can afford The City’s high cost of living or those that can’t afford to leave.

Andrew Russo, director of the nonprofit San Francisco Family Support Network, urged supervisors to enact policies that would make San Francisco more attractive to parents.

“The goal is not to create a cage around the city and keep families here like zebras in a zoo,” he said. “The key is to make San Francisco a world class city for families … a place that will support and be a thriving environment for their young ones.”

Fewer kids over time

In recent decades the percent of the population under age 18 has decreased.

1990 2000 2010
Under 5 4.9% 4.1% 4.4%
5-17 11.3% 10.4% 9%

Source: SF Office of Civic Engagement

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Amy Crawford

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