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Making the Rent 

A study says San Francisco is the most expensive city in the United States for apartment dwellers. Are you paying too much for that one-bedroom?

Wednesday, Dec 21 2005
Earlier this month, the National Low Income Housing Coalition released its annual report, "Out of Reach," which analyzes state and federal data on rents and wages to measure what a family must earn to afford a simple two-bedroom apartment. Out of 3,000 U.S. counties, the survey, which assumes that no more than 30 percent of a household's income should be directed toward housing, concluded that San Francisco is the nation's most expensive city for renters. The study says a family of four would have to bring home $61,440 per year -- or $29.54 per hour -- to rent an apartment that costs $1,536. However, the NLIHC found that the median income for renter households in the city is actually $53,239, and that most renters are stretched beyond their financial means. After years of stagnation, it appears that San Francisco's rental costs are following in the wake of home-purchase prices, which have been rising to near-record-setting levels, at a time when fewer low-income workers are able to find minimum-wage jobs. Some, however, argue that more low-income rentals are being built in the Bay Area than ever before, thanks to bond measures and housing ordinances that require developers to build a certain number of affordable units. Are you an apologist for San Francisco's skyrocketing rental prices? Take our quiz and find out!

1) Does it surprise you that the National Low Income Housing Coalition's report found San Francisco to be the most expensive city for renters in the United States?

A) Does it surprise you that the sun rises in the east?

B) Hell no. Show me a two-bedroom apartment for $1,536 in San Francisco, and I'll show you a Section 8 voucher.

C) Seriously, show me the apartment. I have my credit report and every paycheck I've earned since 1982. I know it's past midnight, but please show me the apartment.

2) Thanks to rising house and rental prices, several neighborhoods in San Francisco are transforming from historically blue-collar enclaves into trendier, more expensive locales. Do you think gentrification threatens to rob San Francisco of its welcoming reputation toward the working class?

A) Yeah, but there's always Treasure Island.

B) That depends ... do the working class enjoy a good Mojito?

C) Are you kidding? San Francisco is still Stop No. 1 on the Street Punk Express. (Bonus point for adding: "Next stop: Eugene, Ore.")

3) In a front-page San Francisco Chronicle story about city dwellers flocking to the Sunnyside neighborhood, which lies between City College and Interstate 280, a real estate agent was quoted as follows: "When people realize they can't afford Noe Valley, they go to Bernal Heights. When they realize they can't afford Bernal Heights, they go to Glen Park. When they realize they can't afford Glen Park, they're going to come to Sunnyside." What do you make of this observation?

A) Who talks like that? I mean, besides real estate agents.

B) Actually, when people realize they can't afford Glen Park, they kill themselves.

C) Makes sense to me. But here's my question: Why do people move to the Sunset?

4) As a San Francisco renter, do you think you're paying too much money to live in your apartment?

A) Money? I don't pay money. I just have to do my landlord a "favor" or two every now and again.

B) Considering I don't have a closet or a window, yes. (Bonus point for adding: "But I am in the Mission.")

C) Nah, $1,700 for a studio in the Tendernob is a steal. And I should know, because I stole it from the guy who lived here last year.

5) San Francisco's affordable-housing crunch is part of a growing national dilemma. For the first time in the NLIHC's 31-year history, the organization's data show that a full-time worker at minimum wage cannot afford a one-bedroom apartment anywhere in the country. "Now tens of thousands of displaced people from the Gulf Coast have joined them in this competition for scarce housing that they can afford," says the group's president, Sheila Crowley. "And FEMA wonders why evacuees are still in hotels." What's your response?

A) Yeah, but FEMA also wonders what "FEMA" stands for.

B) Hotels, eh? Do they have a view?

C) Oh, great. Just what San Francisco needs. Displaced Gulf Coast residents flooding the rental market. Now I'll have to check Craigslist in my sleep.

6) Many housing analysts say the Bay Area is in the midst of a "housing market diaspora," meaning families are migrating in steady numbers to nearby western metropolitan areas. Among the most popular destinations are Reno, Portland, Boise, and Phoenix, where folks who have moved from the Bay Area are driving up housing prices that they view as a bargain compared to San Francisco's. What do you make of this trend?

A) "OK, honey, the trunk is packed, and the kids are in the back seat. What is it, five hours to Reno?"

B) Let them leave. More overpriced basement units for the rest of us.

C) Boise the new San Francisco? If only Herb Caen were still alive to be horrified ....

7) And finally, to what extent do you think San Francisco's lack of affordable housing contributes to perhaps the city's most intractable civic dilemma, homelessness?

A) A ton. But I thought the city's most intractable problem was irradiated meat in the school cafeterias. I must've missed something.

B) It's getting to the point where I'd almost rather live out of my car than pay these ridiculous rental prices. That is, if parking wasn't so expensive ....

C) You mean the two could be linked? Jesus! Get the mayor on the phone!

How to score:

Score zero points for every "A" answer, one point for every "B," and two points for every "C."

0-6 points: Too rich for your blood, eh? Well, I hear Phoenix is, um, affordable this time of year.

7-10 points: We know, we know. Phoenix doesn't have Michael Tilson Thomas.

11-14 points: Congratulations! You're a true apologist for San Francisco's rental market. And, yes, I did hear about a place opening up in the cool part of the Mission, only here's the thing ....

About The Author

Matt Palmquist


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