Housing advocates are pointing to newly released data about the growing gap of affordable options in San Mateo County as evidence that both state and local officials must act.
The California Housing Partnership Corporation and Housing Leadership Council released reports last week on the affordability gap for those struggling to remain in their homes.
The partnership’s Housing Needs Assessment unveiled Friday notes San Mateo County has a deficit of 25,882 affordable rental homes needed to meet the demand of its lowest income earners, many of whom are spending disproportionate amounts on housing. That’s a 14 percent increase in the housing shortfall since last year alone, according to the assessment.
Exacerbating the problem is the reduction in state and federal support, primarily from the 2012 dissolution of redevelopment agencies. Since 2008, the county has lost almost $33 million in annual funding at a time when median incomes are also not keeping pace with rising rents, according to the needs assessment.
Now, they’re hoping to use this type of data to advocate for local funding and legislation designed to address what’s become a statewide crisis, said Matt Schwartz, CEO and president of the California Housing Partnership Corporation.
“Every county in the state has a shortfall of affordable homes for low-income households, that’s 58 counties; all of them. It is worse in San Mateo than some of the other counties. It’s not surprising with the limited supply of land and homes, with water on two sides and San Francisco and Silicon Valley on the other sides, that San Mateo would have a more restricted supply,” Schwartz said. “But San Mateo is not alone by any means in facing a crisis.”
While there are reports of the real estate market cooling with asking rents in some areas remaining stable or even dipping slightly from prior years, it’s not affecting the low-income market in the same way, Schwartz said.
“Anecdotally we are seeing a cooling in the luxury end of the market, but we are not seeing any cooling off at the lower end of the market,” Schwartz said. “That’s because that spending is not discretionary. It’s not people deciding whether they’re going to downsize and buy a condo or rent a luxury apartment, it’s people that have to live near their jobs. The undersupply of housing at that lowest portion of the market is so severe that it is not being affected by the cooling trends.”
Furthermore, there’s a large contingent competing for affordable rental options that includes middle-income earners as well, he noted.
Many people are also spending a burdensome amount of their incomes on housing. On average, households making half or less of the median income are spending 69 percent of their paychecks on rent, according to the report.
To have the median $3,500 monthly asking rent be about a third of one’s income means tenants have to make 6.4 times the state’s minimum wage, or about $11,667 a month. That leaves a steep gap between what the average preschool teacher, medical assistant, bus driver, janitor or retail salesperson is earning, according to the report.
Evelyn Stivers, executive director of the Housing Leadership Council of San Mateo County, said the local nonprofit regularly sees people having to make tough decisions.
“Most of the people coming to us looking for help work in the county, they have jobs here, they’ve been here sometimes second generation. And as housing prices rise, they’re just stuck with …. having to make horrible choices between paying for housing costs, and maybe paying for medicine or adequate food for your family,” Stivers said.
Other consequences may be people relocating outside the county and having to commute from further away to keep their jobs. She noted the unaffordability of housing is affecting a broad segment of teachers, nurses, those who work at the airport, retailers and other people needed in the community.
Owning a home is even further out of reach for many. Median income earners making $115,300 a year are unable to afford the average $1.5 million single-family home or the average $884,500 price of a condominium, according to HLC.
While many may be enjoying the economic boom of the tech industry, the data highlights how the wealth is far from distributed. When considering median incomes, not average, renter income has declined 3 percent since 2000 while prices have increased 21 percent. When factoring in high housing costs, San Mateo County’s poverty rate more than doubles from 7.2 percent to 16.5 percent, according to the report.
Affordable Housing Week
The data was released Friday just as Affordable Housing Week kicked off in conjunction with the Non-Profit Housing Association of Northern California.
A prime purpose of the assessment is to advocate for a change in policies and funding. The HLC has been urging the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors to commit at least $30 million a year from the countywide half-cent sales tax Measure K. The board is considering up to $25 million a year from the measure that was extended by voters in November after a campaign that emphasized affordable housing needs.
At a statewide level, the groups are also supporting various pieces of legislation. They’re advocating for Senate Bill 2, the Building Homes and Jobs Act. It’s expected to generate up to $300 million annually for affordable housing through a new $75 fee for recording real estate documents.
Other legislation includes Assembly Bill 71, which would eliminate tax credits for second homes; Assembly Bill 1505, which seeks to enable local governments to enact inclusionary zoning ordinances; and reducing the voter threshold for local housing bonds to 55 percent, similar to education facility bonds.
A major setback has been Gov. Jerry Brown’s apparent unwillingness to adequately address the regional housing, Schwartz said. A statewide affordable housing bond is being floated but it’s not clear if Brown will approve giving voters the chance to weigh in on it, he said.
“I think most Bay Area residents and employers believe that we are a stronger society and stronger economically when we have income integrated communities,” Schwartz said. “If the state leaders continue to take the governor’s current approach, we are at risk of ending up with economic apartheid in the Bay Area.”
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