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Do I Qualify for "Affordable Housing?"

It can be confusing to understand who qualifies for affordable housing in our community.

In my first blog, I discussed the term "affordable housing" and how it is generally misused and defined as below-market rate housing units. Affordable housing simply means a household spends no more than 30 percent of their gross income on their rent or mortgage, whether it is by choice or not and regardless of how much income that household makes. 

However, the most common question I get in my work is "Do I qualify for affordable housing?" and I know people mean "Do I qualify for below-market rate housing?"

Below-market rate (BMR) units mean that this particular home has been subsidized in some way—such as through community grants, state funds or low-interest developer loans. 

The general guide for figuring out if you qualify for BMR housing is by checking where your household income falls in the area median income (AMI) levels (see photo).

San Mateo, San Francisco, and Marin Counties all tie as the most expensive jurisdiction in the country to live in, according to the "Out of Reach" Report 2012 by the National Low Income Housing Coalition. This means our AMI levels are extremely high.

The AMI is the central income level in San Mateo County. Half of all households earn above it, and half of all households in San Mateo County earn below it.

For example, for a family of four, the area median income is $103,000. Half of all households of four in our county make more than $103,000, and half of all households of four in our county make less than $103,000.

BMR developments are structured for specific levels of the AMI. For example, MidPen's development accepted applications for households making up to 50% of the AMI, which for a family of four is $61,750. 

The differences vary from each unit to another, sometimes even within the same development. Sometimes even "affordable housing" is unaffordable. I recently talked to a resident that pays nearly $1,600 for her two-bedroom BMR unit. Her unit is in the 80% AMI level, which is affordable for her household but not for others.

Through these blogs, I've started receiving a lot of emails from readers asking if they qualify for affordable housing, and I hope this helps a little bit. It is very confusing! And even if you do qualify, there is a short supply but a huge demand for affordable housing in our county. Every BMR development I know of has a waitlist in the hundreds. 

Hopefully my blogs will help our community understand what affordable housing is and how we can help support these developments. They aren't developed very often, and when they are proposed, they need the support of the community for them to actually be built.

It helps to understand who these developments are for. It is not for people who choose not to work or contribute to our community. After all, rent still needs to be paid. Affordable housing development is still a business, just like market rate development.

Ironically, often the residents of these developments make enough money to own a home elsewhere, but our county is so expensive live in that they can't even afford the market rate rent.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Pattie Frost May 17, 2012 at 02:27 PM
I want to move back to California (SSF) where I was raised. I'm on a fixed income SSD of $1571.00 a month Is their a place for me?
Serena Ip May 18, 2012 at 08:45 PM
Hi Pattie - the short answer is no, there's not a place available right now but the long answer is there may be if you are able to get yourself on waitlists and are prepared to wait a few years. What you can do is call individual developments you may be qualified for (if you're a senior, call Chestnut Creek, Rotary Plaza, or Magnolia Plaza in SSF, or Village at the Crossing in San Bruno which is very close to the SSF border. If you're not a senior, you can try calling Greenridge or Willow Gardens in SSF.) Go to www.hlcsmc.org and click "find housing" on the right to get more information on how to look up what other income-qualified developments there are that you may be interested in. If you are qualified for a specific development and they are accepting applications for their waitlist, apply and ask how long the waitlist is. Call every few months to check on the status. It can be a long waiting game but worth it if you're able to move home to SSF. Best of luck!
wolfone May 27, 2012 at 02:11 PM
Pattie, This happen to me. I had to leave a home I lived in for 30+ yrs and there was no affordable housing for me and my dog. If you have a small savings or can get a loan, buy a mobile home in the treasure Island. There are many for sale here and the cost is 20K + . Rent is $800. That's what I did and I'm happy, no gloomy apt for me. :) I grew up here and its a SHAME that people who are born here can't afford to live here. Something wrong with that.

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