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What is Affordable Housing?

Affordable housing is an important need, but some people are unclear about what the term means.

As a young adult who grew up in San Mateo County, I have always loved and been interested in the communities I live, work, and play in. I studied urban planning with an emphasis on housing and community development in both undergrad and grad school. I now work at a non-profit organization, The Housing Leadership Council of San Mateo County, that was created as a resource for San Mateo County residents to find, advocate, and learn about housing in our county.

In my work, I am most often asked what affordable housing is. According to the federal government, housing is considered “affordable” if it costs no more than 30 percent of the monthly household income for rent and utilities. 

There is a general misuse of the term affordable housing, and a misconception that affordable housing refers to subsidized developments that are dangerous, unattractive and for people who do not work.

South San Francisco has affordable housing developments that encompass what great affordable housing should be and hopefully refutes these sort of misconceptions—for example, the new development next to South San Francisco High School at 636 El Camino Real by MidPen Housing Corporation. This affordable housing development will include 109 one to three bedroom units, community gardens, a community room, a computer center and childcare on-site. 20 of the 109 units are set aside for adults with special needs. , speaking to the extensive need for affordable housing in our community.

Currently, rent for a one-bedroom apartment in San Mateo County averages at $1,522 per month. That means a single-person household needs to be making over $60,000 per year in order to afford housing in this county. Think of all the people every community needs that make less than that – teachers, people who work in our grocery stores, retail stores, restaurants, etc.

I believe that a home is one of the most basic and important needs for people across all age, income and ethnic groups and that everyone should have the opportunity to live in a safe, vibrant, healthy community that supports a good quality of life. I hope through my blog series, I can reach out to SSF residents who may not be aware of resources, information, or the connection between affordable housing and a complete community. I welcome a dialogue with readers who are interested in these topics. 

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.

Tess April 20, 2012 at 03:35 AM
Yes, it is very difficult for a lower income individual to make it anywhere in the Peninsula. After reading your article I see that you have mistakenly taken the federal meaning of "affordable" and applied it to the SF Peninsula. That is just misguided. California, as a whole, always runs higher than the "federal" rental/housing prices, so no, you have to make much more than $60,000 to be able to afford the Peninsula. Is that good or bad - don't know - it just is. Everyone wants to be here so in good old fashioned terms - availability and demand. Not being selfish when I say that I DO NOT want SSF to become the low-income housing Mecca of the Peninsula. Yes, I'm old and I have earned the peace and quiet that I have in my neighborhood and I do feel for young folks like yourself - I have three kids of my own who cannot afford the Peninsula. Still, I HATE the monstrosity that is being built next to SSF High School and object to the city council's inability to stop themselves from doing what their constituents do NOT want them to do. Reading about who you work for I can see where your view on housing might be skewed. It seems that you believe every "deserves" a great place to live -- having worked all my life really, really, hard and finally "earning" peace and quiet in the neighborhood I live in - I see things differently. BTW I work at school district and I have been saving my pennies for a long, long time to be where I am today. Is my dream any less worthy?
Serena Ip April 20, 2012 at 08:12 PM
Hi Tess – thank you for your comment! I welcome any, whether you agree or disagree. The federal government’s definition IS the definition of affordable housing, regardless of location. It is based on if a household spends 30% on rent or a mortgage, they can have enough of their income to cover other essentials like health costs, food, etc. If a household spends more than 30% of their income on rent or a mortgage (whether by choice or not), their housing is not considered affordable, regardless of income level. Again, the term is misused because people apply the term to subsidized housing, not as housing that is affordable. My blog was not meant to say SSF should be the low-income mecca of the Peninsula. It was meant to say every community needs workers that often do not make the income needed to afford housing in that community, so if communities do not have housing at different affordability levels, we are asking our workers to work here but not live here. In the past week alone, I talked to a retired nurse, a teacher, and an acupuncturist living in affordable housing developments. The retired nurse said despite her savings, she is now in her late 80’s and was struggling with increased rent against a fixed income. Her dream of staying in the community she grew up in and worked for is worthy. I think your similar dream is just as worthy, and did not intend to imply otherwise in any way.
DV April 27, 2012 at 07:27 PM
There are 4 in my family. Combined, we made about $86000 before taxes last year. Rent is 1700 not including, water, garbage, gas, food, car payment (we only have one car), gas for the car, insurance, necessities for the teen and toddler, and we barely scrape by. It's very difficult to save and we make too much to qualify for affordable housing. What do people that are caught in the middle do?
Serena Ip April 27, 2012 at 09:26 PM
Hi DV - I meet a lot of people caught in the middle and appreciate your comment. There are some, but limited, options. The income limits for San Mateo County are actually quite high due to the high cost of living here. Many people would be surprised to find out they probably do qualify for affordable housing developments. Your family is in the higher limits, but could still qualify for some affordable housing developments - they are all tiered differently for specific income levels. I don't want to get into the details of your personal situation here, but if you'd like more information, please feel free to email me at serena@heartofsmc.org.
Serena Ip April 27, 2012 at 09:33 PM
Hi Chris - thanks for your comments. I hate the prices of everything you listed too - I don't know how people with student loans, children, medical needs, etc. do it! "The poor" around here would probably be rich in other areas of the country, we just have a very high cost of living here. The organizations I work and volunteer for aim to help people who work, but can't afford to live, in our communities. A common misconception is that people who qualify for affordable housing are poor. Look for an upcoming blog where I will try to explain who actually qualifies for affordable housing.

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