With housing costs rising in San Mateo County, those in the lowest income groups aren’t the only ones struggling to pay rent or buy a home.
Some residents fall in a gap in which they aren’t low-income enough to qualify for special housing programs but are also not earning quite enough to live comfortably in the Bay Area. As a result, some find themselves facing tough housing decisions.
Beth LeBlanc, a fiscal office specialist with the San Mateo County Parks Department, moved from San Jose to Redwood City two and a half years ago. She and her husband make a combined income of $72,000 and are currently renting.
“We downsized from a three-bedroom to two-bedroom and we’re a family of five,” LeBlanc said. “We have good jobs, but we’re scared to even attempt to move because rent has gone up so much. We’ve considered moving out of the area, but we’re trying to factor in the commute. It’s better for us to just live where we work, even though it’s crammed and uncomfortable. At least we’re spending time with our kids and have secure, safe jobs.”
San Francisco and San Mateo counties are tied for the least affordable in the state, with only 17 percent of people able to buy a home in those jurisdictions, according to a study by the California Association of Realtors.
Statewide, people looking to buy a house needed to earn a minimum of $79,910 a year to qualify for a home at the statewide median price of $415,770. The county’s median price is about $550,000, while the median household income is $85,684, according to county statistics for this past year. In 2012, household income needed to be $117,400 or higher to afford housing costs for a home, according to the San Mateo County Association of Realtors.
Home prices in San Mateo County are up 22 percent since June 2012, while housing inventory has dropped by 27 percent in that same time frame, according to the real estate data service MLS Listings.
Steve Blanton, chief executive officer at San Mateo County Association of Realtors, said prices are definitely rising due to lack of inventory. He has seen this trend in the last year to a year and a half.
“There are other options,” Blanton said. “It may not be the exact community you want, as prices do vary from community to community. There are townhomes, condos, with moderate to low-income options. I recommend working closely with a Realtor to find out buying power, likes, wants and needs.”
But in the Bay Area those who might afford a home elsewhere are finding themselves challenged to even cover rent which is itself increasing.
Lanelle Duran, another fiscal office specialist with the San Mateo County Parks Department, lives in the Kings Mountain community right outside of Woodside. She said in the grand scheme of things she would definitely be considered middle class, but considers herself lower class in the Bay Area.
“I was born and raised here and I don’t want to leave,” Duran said. “A couple years ago, I had to find a place to live for me and my son and housing prices are criminal quite honestly. I don’t think $2,000 for one-bedroom is realistic. I’m not quite sure what is driving the prices so high because they don’t match the incomes.”
Recently, Duran received some troubling news from her landlord. Her rent will more than double when her lease is up Oct. 31.
“She [the landlord] said she was online and realized she was undercharging me and saw what the market was and therefore made the decision to raise my rent by slightly more than 100 percent,” Duran said. “I’m a single mom, my income is compared to what the rents are, is really low. The new rent hike she is asking for is my entire take home paycheck. I now get to find out what its like to try and find affordable housing for me and my boy.”
Dan Heller was born in San Mateo in 1937 and works at the Peninsula Jewish Community Center. He has been on the lookout for new housing, but he is not interested in shared housing programs offered by nonprofits in the area.
“Rents are pretty high,” Heller said. “It’s hard to live alone. If I had a roommate it would be easier, but I value my privacy and have lived alone for so long.”
For the moment, Heller has decided to stay on his own and wait until an affordable place of his own comes along.
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