Recently, through a local union called Unite Here, I interviewed workers at a business near the San Francisco International Airport. Unfortunately, few of these workers live in San Mateo County — most of the employees commute in from Tracy, Richmond, Antioch and other far-flung communities. One woman had wrecked her car because she fell asleep on the long drive home after getting off work at 2 a.m. Without a functioning vehicle, she had to take public transit to work. But BART doesn’t run at 2 a.m., so she slept at the BART station until she could get her car fixed. Now she skips her lunch break so she can get off work a little earlier and hopefully stay awake and alive on her journey home.
Most jobs adjacent to the airport are good ones. They pay relatively well, don’t require a college degree and offer opportunities for advancement. They’ll always be located in San Mateo County, because SFO is here. Unfortunately, the wages are nowhere near high enough for workers to live nearby.
Throughout the Bay Area, people are struggling to afford a home — but the situation is particularly acute here on the Peninsula. In the last five years, our county created 23 jobs for every home that was built. City planners recommend that one home should be built for every job. And with more office buildings starting construction, San Mateo County needs to catch up with the housing now.
Local workers unable to find housing in our communities are forced to commute long distances, increasing traffic gridlock and pollution. Local businesses have difficulty attracting and keeping qualified employees. But low-income families are hit the hardest. For families who stay in the county, rising rents force them to double up and choose between paying for food, medication or housing.
But it can only get better, right? Don’t be so sure. Sixty-seven percent of Silicon Valley’s projected job growth and its largest workforce will be in sectors paying less than $50,000 annually. This group is spending upwards of 70 percent of their paychecks on housing and transportation. And it’s not just the tech sector. In most Bay Area counties, there is a significant gap between the salaries earned by public school teachers, bank tellers, retail salespeople and the salaries required to support local housing costs.
It is obvious we need affordable housing but our communities have lost 76 percent of their state and federal housing funding since 2011 due to budget cuts.
Fortunately, we San Mateo County voters overwhelmingly approved Measure K last November. This local sales tax can generate $30 million to $50 million a year for new affordable housing construction and other innovative housing programs. Our Board of Supervisors will start discussions on how much funding will go to housing efforts Tuesday, Feb. 14.
Additionally, many of our communities are adopting impact fees on new development as an additional way to fill the funding gap for affordable housing.
A housing impact fee is a per square-foot fee levied on market-rate housing and commercial development to generate funds used to build affordable homes. The fees are based on the idea that new development creates a need for goods and services typically provided by employees paid less than the median income, such as hair dressers, coffee baristas, gardeners, health care workers and preschool teachers. The fee amount is set based on an economic study that takes into account the impact that new development has on affordable housing demand and the feasibility of the fee.
Our elected officials are leading the way on adopting these innovative policies. Redwood City adopted a new set of fees in December 2015 and Belmont, Colma, East Palo Alto, Foster City, Palo Alto, San Bruno, San Carlos, San Mateo and the county have all either adopted new ordinances or increased current fees in the year and a half since.
Unfortunately, some of the communities that could generate the most funding have still not adopted. South San Francisco, Brisbane, Menlo Park and Millbrae all have completed studies but have not moved forward with ordinances.
Collectively, it is estimated that the impact fees could generate $100 million for affordable housing. Over time, this funding will create a variety of housing opportunities that will make it easier for working people to live and work in the same county.
We care deeply about our working families, friends and neighbors being priced out of our housing market and we’ve got a comprehensive plan to meet the need. It is in our own enlightened self-interest to do so. To get involved, join the Housing Leadership Council: visit hlcsmc.org.
Evelyn Stivers is the executive director of the Housing Leadership Council of San Mateo County.