The New York Times reports that in three counties in California’s Bay Area, a family of four with a household income of $117,400 is now classified as low-income. This is the threshold in San Francisco, San Mateo and Marin counties used to calculate entry into local and federal housing assistance programs.
“To generate the number, officials at the Department of Housing and Urban Development factor in the median income and average housing costs in an area. The second-highest threshold is in Honolulu, according to the agency — but the third is also in the Bay Area, in Santa Clara County, the heart of Silicon Valley. The New York City area, where a family of four earning up to $83,450 is classified as low-income, came in at No. 9.”
Locals in the three California counties see the tech industry as bringing highly paid employees into the region. Housing, transportation and food have also increased in price. “It’s arguably the most expensive city in the country, so what that translates to is really not that much money,” said Ed Cabrera, a Housing and Urban Development spokesman who is based in San Francisco. “Especially with children in an area where properties are considered affordable if they’re going for half a million dollars.”
For a two bedroom apartment in San Francisco, “fair market” rent is determined to be $3,121. The median house price is now over one million dollars in San Francisco. Many residents travel far inland to afford housing, adding to very long commutes. As Ken Cole the Housing Director of the county observes, “What it means on the ground is that teachers, first responders, people who grew up here of average income are being forced out by the high prices.”
Building high density accommodation close to commuter rail lines and increasing rent control are two methods he believes can provide more affordability. His words also ring true for Vancouver, where affordability for middle-income earners is very challenging. “The very success of the place undermines the viability of life for at least the lower half, if not the lower two-thirds,” Mr. Walker said. “And those are the people who get forgotten in the narrative of the glamour of tech changing the world.”
If low and middle-income people cannot remain in San Francisco, the Bay Area’s reputation as a diverse and innovative economy will diminish. As Kate Hartley, director of the San Francisco Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development, said: “the harder it is to house our artists, teachers, restaurant workers, health care providers, the more we put that great spirit and strong economy at risk.”
Photos: Hotpads.com & Zillow