Lacking transportation options or flexibility to reach jobs, shopping and other necessities, lower-income riders often trade comfort, promptness and even safety for affordability.
The Cost of Living Here
In the drive to build a robust technology-driven local economy, San Francisco has attracted droves of high-income earners, giving it a larger share of wealthy residents than any other U.S. city. That is making living here increasingly unaffordable for everyone else. Studies suggest that more than 10 percent of residents who would be middle class anywhere else should be considered poor here.
Consumer Prices Outpace Efforts to Aid City’s Pinched Middle Class
Housing accounts for about half the growth in what consumers across the Bay Area spent over the last 15 years, and there is ample evidence showing that the housing crunch is most acute within city limits.
San Francisco leaders are tackling the affordability crisis, but existing and emerging policies just prune the edges of the problem.
The city has made costly investments, including Healthy San Francisco, perhaps the nation’s most comprehensive municipal health-care safety net. It also plans to offer low- and moderate-income residents subsidies beyond the Affordable Care Act.
San Franciscans enjoy cheaper transportation overall, since car ownership is optional. But a $2.25 one-way Muni fare is no bargain for low-income residents if slow service limits job and shopping opportunities.
The city and state offer help to reduce the price of Internet service (including a plan for free citywide Wi-Fi); low-cost child care; and nutrition assistance on top of food stamps.
But many policies, including cost-of-living adjustments for wages, welfare guarantees and low-cost housing, are based on national or regionwide inflation statistics that do not reflect the city’s economic reality.
San Franciscans not sheltered by rent control, subsidized housing or other protections are at risk of losing their homes. To increase the housing supply, in October of 2015 the city announced a plan to house 500 schoolteachers by 2020. The mayor’s ambitious $310 million bond issue that voters passed this fall promises to build 775 units.
Yet the need is often pegged in tens of thousands of affordable apartments, so these modest efforts are unlikely to affect housing prices anytime soon.
ABOUT THIS REPORTING PROJECT
Local and state governments, among other institutions, rely on economic indicators that are often outdated, and use average prices from across the Bay Area — glossing over the distinct spike in the cost of housing in the city. In our research, we found that city leaders are struggling to formulate policies to rescue longtime residents from the effects of surging costs, which are reflected in price increases across a wide array of goods and services.
REPORTING: Angela Woodall, Tatiana Dzekon, Caroline Cakebread, Sophie Murguia, Peter Snarr, Dayvon Dunaway | EDITING: Laura Impellizzeri, Michael Winter, Michael Stoll | DATA GRAPHICS: Amanda Hickman, Tom Guffey, Eric Lawson | PHOTO: Dayvon Dunaway, Tearsa Joy Hammock, Peter Snarr, Stella Sadikin | ILLUSTRATION & DESIGN: Anna Vignet | ONLINE: John Angelico, Eric Lawson, Meka Boyle | SPECIAL THANKS: Todd Johnson, Bureau of Labor Statistics
THIS PROJECT WAS MADE POSSIBLE BY DONATIONS FROM PUBLIC PRESS MEMBERS, AND BY A CHALLENGE GRANT FROM THE SAN FRANCISCO FOUNDATION.