San Francisco

The affordable housing crisis has never been more pronounced in San Francisco, where even the city’s most modest home costs a fortune.

Seattle Times real estate reporter Mike Rosenbergcombed housing site Zillow for available homes in San Francisco, California, to gauge how much they would cost. The only house for sale that costs less than $1 million is a spartan 596 square-foot box with wood paneling and dingy carpet flooring. The price tag? $649,000.

San Francisco
Entrance and living room of 459 Ralston Street in San Francisco (Photo: Zillow)

As Rosenberg noted, the $649,000 price tag for 459 Ralston Street makes it the cheapest single-family home in the city, with 164 other homes selling for at least $1 million or more. But what’s even more mind-boggling is that San Francisco is actually one of the cheapest cities in the Silicon Valley region. According to Rosenberg’s research, there are *zero* homes for sale under $850,000 in the area between San Mateo and Santa Clara, just south of San Francisco. In Palo Alto, where Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg lives, the cheapest home is $1.5 million.

While median income in the San Francisco Bay Area is one of the highest in the nation ($96,677 in the San Francisco Metro Area using 2016 data), a standard 20 percent down payment on a house even as austere as the Ralston Street home would require roughly $130,000. Zillow estimates monthly payments on a 30-year mortgage for that particular home would be $2,623 per month assuming a 4.47 percent interest rate.

But when using Zillow’s “how much can I afford” calculator, even the Ralston Street box is far out of reach for someone making the area’s median income. When using the $96,677 median annual income figure for the SF Metro Area — even with $100,000 saved up for a down payment — the maximum home price is just $355,635, when using a conservative $1,200 monthly debt figure (student loans, credit cards, car note, etc).

San Francisco
How much house a median income earner in San Francisco can afford with a $100,000 down payment and $1,200 in monthly debts (Photo: Zillow)

The sky-high price of single family homes in San Francisco is made worse by the fact that single-family homes make up the largest chunk of the city’s housing inventory, according to 2015 data. Out of 379,597 available homes in the city limits, roughly one-third are single-family homes:

San Francisco
From San Francisco’s 2015 housing inventory report (Photo: San Francisco Planning)

If a person relocating to San Francisco for a job wants to rent, the options aren’t much better. Real estate site RentCafe found that, using May 2018 data, the average monthly rent for an average 808 sq. ft apartment was $3,426, with a studio costing an average of $2,500 per month and a two-bedroom unit going for an average of $4,351 per month.

This means for someone making the median income of $96,677 ($8056.41 monthly before taxes), an average two-bedroom apartment would eat up approximately half of a renter’s income. To put that in context, the Department of Housing and Urban Development categorizes renters paying more than 30 percent of their monthly income on housing as cost-burdened.

No matter how you slice it, the housing crisis may be the biggest crisis working people in America face today, with few solutions being offered by public officials.


Michael Boone is a freelance journalist and columnist writing about politics, government, race, and media. He graduated from Texas Southern University’s School of Communication, and lives in Houston’s Third Ward.

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