As we all know and have talked endlessly about for several years, getting a decent apartment in San Francisco is damn near impossible unless you make a six-figure income, preferably upwards of $150,000, which in San Francisco still qualifies you as middle class. A new piece in the Ex outlines just how true this is, noting how many above-market-rate apartments and below-market-rate (BMR) apartments have been built recently or are under construction, but just how few "middle income apartments" are among them.
Basically if you're a freelance designer, bartender, massage therapist, decently paid non-profit worker, or copy writer (the example San Franciscan they use), you probably can not qualify for most of the BMR units that come available by lottery because you make too much money. For example, if you look at the current listings from the Mayor's Office of Housing, you'll see that a block of 14 BMR units at the new Venn development just came up for lottery last week, and residents will be selected at random today for 1- and 2-bedroom units renting for $1066 to $1192 a month. In order to qualify for those you would have had to be earning less than 55% of area median income, which for S.F. means less than $39,000 for a single person, or less than $44,500 if you're a couple. (See the breakdown of percentages here, and note that income limits vary between developments and lotteries.)
There are 1,182 more of these BMR units currently under construction, but you can't qualify for them unless you're, like, supporting a spouse and child on a teacher's salary. But there are some 10,000 more units permitted or under construction that will arrive on the market for luxury or just-below-luxury prices, and good luck qualifying for any of those if your income is below $80,000 or $100,000.
By the Mayor's Office's count, only 360 "middle-income" units were entitled in the last five years, and such middle income units make up roughly a quarter of the city's housing stock. So, when people go insane and show up by the hundreds for an open house on craigslist, it's because that unit is reasonably priced and in a good neighborhood and is therefore like a comet that comes around every 70 years. Thus the Census now ranks San Francisco as having the highest rents in the country.
Supervisor Scott Wiener took to Facebook this a.m. to comment on the Examiner piece, saying:
San Francisco's crazed and unsustainable housing market is another example of the predicament middle-class people face all too often: they don't earn enough to afford things and earn too much to receive help. We need to correct our structural housing imbalance by producing much more housing over the long-term - there's no easy or quick fix. We must also address zoning standards that are so overly restrictive that they discourage production of the kind of non-luxury housing that middle class earners can afford. We can respect the character of our neighborhoods while also making it possible for people to find housing and make lives for themselves. The two are not, and cannot be, mutually exclusive.
So yes, it's true that by allowing more development to happen, the city has helped create more affordable units. Well over 3,000 of them in the last five years. But "affordable" means affordable to those with small and fixed incomes. And when many of us talk about wanting more affordable housing, we probably mean "affordable to us," which is a whole different story.