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.