You Can Earn $100,000 a Year in These Bay Area Counties and Still Be ‘Low-Income’

In two core Bay Area counties, a resident making up to $104,400 a year is considered to have a low-income

In the exorbitantly expensive Bay Area, you can earn a six-figure salary and still be considered low-income.

According to the latest state eligibility requirements for affordable housing, a resident of San Francisco or San Mateo County making up to $104,400 a year has a low income. In Santa Clara County, the cut-off is $96,000. And in Alameda and Contra Costa counties, it’s $78,550.

The eye-popping figures underscore the deepening housing crisis across the region, where software engineers and service workers alike feel the squeeze of sky-high housing costs.

Last month, the state raised the eligibility limits to reflect growing incomes across California. For many affordable housing programs, the limits help determine who can apply and how much they’re expected to pay — generally around 30% of their total earnings. Experts warn that the raised caps could spell rent hikes for some low-income housing tenants already struggling to make ends meet.

“In theory, those higher rents should be affordable,” said Matt Schwartz, chief executive of the nonprofit California Housing Partnership. “But in practice, often the reason the income limits go up is not because the incomes of all the working, lower-income households are going up but because some of those lower-income households have left the region, and higher-income households are coming in.”

The limits — which increased by around 3% to 8% in the Bay Area — are set by California’s Department of Housing and Community Development and based mostly on the typical earnings for different-sized households in each of the state’s 58 counties. The more people in a home, the higher the limit.

In Santa Clara County, for example, the median income for a family of four is around $181,300, and a family that size earning up to about 80% of the median, or $137,100 a year, would qualify as low-income. Households making as much as 120% of the median can qualify for some affordable-housing openings.

Nationwide, the median income for households of all sizes was $70,784, according to the U.S. census.

In the Bay Area, some 207,800 renter households are in need of an affordable home, according to the housing partnership. Almost a quarter of all local renters spend more than half their income on rent, and many thousands remain stuck on years-long, affordable-housing waiting lists.

“One of the challenges when you have a chronic housing shortage, which we do in the Bay Area, is that those who are higher income can outbid everyone else for scarce housing resources,” said Sarah Karlinsky, a housing expert with regional think tank SPUR. “We need to build substantially more housing in our region overall to help address the housing crisis.”

In recent years, state and local officials have taken steps to spur more construction by streamlining the complicated city permitting process and rolling back some restrictions on where developers can build larger housing projects. State regulators are also pushing hard on the region to add more than 180,000 affordable units over the next decade for residents making up to either 50% or 80% of the median income.

In Santa Clara County, for instance, a single person could qualify for affordable housing if they earn less than $96,000. That’s higher than the typical income of kindergarten teachers, power plant operators, chiropractors and local lawmakers in the area, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Despite efforts to boost the housing supply, there remains only a limited pool of public funding available to finance and support affordable housing. To raise more money, officials and housing advocates are backing a Bay Area-wide bond measure worth up to $20 billion that could come before local residents in 2024. Voters may also decide on a $10 billion statewide housing bond next spring.

Confused about what the terms low-income, affordable and below-market-rate housing actually mean? The words are often used interchangeably, but there can be differences.

Affordable housing, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, means housing for which the occupant pays no more than 30% of their gross income. This includes rent or mortgage payments and the cost of utilities.

Low-income housing refers to units for families earning only a certain percentage of the area median income (AMI), which varies by household size and county. The commonly used income categories are:

Click here to read the full article in the Mercury News

The Housing Crisis Is Pushing Both Bay Area Landlords And Tenants To The Financial Brink

In a quiet corner of Oakland, Pat McHenry Sullivan agonizes over taking out a life insurance loan to pay off rent debt for her and her husband, who lives with dementia.

A few miles north in Berkeley, Susan Marchionna is in the reverse predicament: She’s debating selling her house of four decades after a drawn-out dispute with a tenant who she says in state filings has not paid rent since the fall.

As a renter and a landlord, McHenry Sullivan and Marchionna are on opposite ends of California’s two-year effort to prevent a pandemic eviction crisis. But both are still waiting for answers to months-old applications for $5.2 billion in statewide rent relief — two of thousands of Bay Area residents unsure where to turn as local eviction battles intensify and a March 31 deadline looms for a final layer of emergency state rental programs.

“I’ve been sitting here since early December with everything in limbo,” said McHenry Sullivan, 79. “It’s heartbreaking, and it’s exhausting.”

The tension playing out in living rooms, city halls and county eviction courts follows an unprecedented expansion of America’s housing safety net. First there were broad local, state and federal eviction bans, most of which expired in California last fall. Then came the multibillion-dollar statewide rent relief effort, designed to accept applications and shield those still waiting for approval from eviction through March 2022.

With that deadline fast approaching and politicians so far unresponsive to tenant advocates’ calls for another extension, renters and small landlords report widespread confusion and fear about falling through the cracks. Only a fraction of relief funds has been paid out, fueling concerns that indebted renters will be pushed out of the region or end up homeless.

The situation is even more complicated in McHenry Sullivan and Marchionna’s home county of Alameda, where stronger local eviction bans haven’t prevented messy eviction disputes.

Now, as landlord and tenant groups battle over the future of renter protections, both sides warn that housing could get harder to find as property owners — fed up with California’s piecemeal approach to rent relief and evictions — take rentals off the market or raise income requirements in a bid to insulate themselves from future tenant disputes.

One thing’s increasingly clear: Even in a swath of the East Bay with some of the nation’s strongest protections for renters, there’s no escaping the turmoil redrawing the map of where people can afford to live.

A renter’s exit plan

Until the fall, McHenry Sullivan thought she would be able to keep paying $1,426 a month for the Glenview two-bedroom that she and her husband, John, 82, have rented since 2006. But then the author and speaker’s extended unemployment benefits ended, and the pandemic didn’t. Medical equipment, taxi fare to doctor’s appointments and the countless hours McHenry Sullivan spends caring for her husband and their home, limiting her ability to pursue outside work, all added financial pressure.

September 2021 was the last month the couple paid rent on time. To cover the rent for October, the final payment they’ve made, McHenry Sullivan said she was forced to dip into a life insurance policy, leaving less money for her or her husband if widowed.

McHenry Sullivan has a master’s degree and is comfortable enough with computers to have run her own business for years, but she was stymied by Oakland’s rent relief website, which she said repeatedly malfunctioned when she tried to apply in the fall. She called politicians and ventured to San Francisco for help from one of the few housing clinics offering in-person assistance, then was told to apply for a state program instead. In December, after months of fruitless calls to check her application status, she was told to reapply to the city program.

She’s still waiting for answers.

“Nobody ever responded,” McHenry Sullivan said. “Nobody.”

Tenant advocates say the odyssey through California’s maze of state and local rent relief programs isn’t uncommon for Bay Area renters looking for help. Cities and counties including Oakland, Marin and Sonoma opted to run their own rent relief programs instead of routing all residents to the bigger state program Housing Is Key. Several local programs have already stopped accepting new applications or run out of money, though more federal funding may become available in the coming months.

Click here to read the full article at the SF Chronicle