Keeping a roof overhead isn’t a given for many

On a good day, Iris Alvarez’s hands ache from scrubbing as many as 40 cars.

At $3 a vehicle and no hourly wage, Alvarez doesn’t leave the San Francisco car wash where she works to come home to her three children in Daly City until she’s earned as much as time and her body will allow.

Forty cars each day and she feels confident she will be able to make rent. At $1,250 a month, it’s her biggest expense. She shares her two-bedroom apartment with her sons, 15 and 13, and her 11-year-old daughter.

Alvarez, who immigrated to San Mateo County almost nine years ago, says she knows many working people for whom homelessness is just a broken transmission or a brief hospital stay away. It’s a different way of life, she says, than in her native Honduras.

“In Honduras, one way or another, you have a roof over your head because you can lean on family,” she said.

Amid the Bay Area’s sky-high real estate costs, however, spending nearly half of one’s paycheck on housing has become commonplace.

Forty-two percent of San Mateo County homeowners and 35 percent of renters spend more than 35 percent of total income on mortgage or rent. According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2006 American Community Survey, housing that costs no more than 30 percent of a person’s income is considered affordable.

“San Mateo County is behind on producing affordable housing for the people who live, work and grow up here,” said Chris Mohr, executive director of the nonprofit Housing Leadership Council of San Mateo County. “I think there’s a recognition that we need to adapt so we don’t continue to lose the local employees who make our economy go.”

In San Francisco and San Mateo counties, only 5.7 percent of homes on the market are affordable to households with an income of $86,500 — the determined median family income for the region, according to a survey done by the National Association of Homebuilders.

In San Mateo County, the median price of a single-family home is $970,000, well out of reach for teachers, nurses and emergency workers. Many end up buying homes in the far East Bay or Central Valley.

“Local fire and police departments spend thousands of dollars training young cadets, only to have them leave after a year or two because they find a job closer to home in Tracy,” said Diana Reddy, co-chair of Peninsula Interfaith Action, a nonprofit dedicated to improving local housing, health care and education.

With the median price of a one-bedroom apartment in San Mateo County at $1,487 and no rent control, minimum-wage workers and their families often crowd into tiny accommodations to be able to stay in the area.

“We often see more than one family living together,” said Mary Boughton, executive director of Peninsula Habitat for Humanity. “The most common thing we see is a very small one-bedroom apartment with a family of five. The parents sleep in the family room. That’s actually quite common.”

Cities team up to put dent in housing crunch

Eighteen local cities and San Mateo County have banded together in an effort to try and ease the housing crunch, as they are faced with a growing population of people born and raised on the Peninsula but unable to afford housing.

The Housing Endowment and Regional Trust raises funds from public and private sources to meet the urgent housing needs of the area.

To date, the public/private partnership has invested $4 million in three new developments, producing 400 below-market apartments, said Chris Mohr, executive director of HEART.

The cities are working to unite on a plan to produce the 15,738 units for very-low income, low-income, moderate-income and above-moderate income residents, as determined by the Association of Bay Governments, required to be constructed by 2014.

Some Peninsula cities, such as Daly City, San Mateo, South San Francisco, San Carlos, East Palo Alto and Half Moon Bay, are also looking to produce mixed-income housing through inclusionary housing policies that require a certain number of homes be set aside at below-market rates, Mohr said.

Median family income in San Mateo County

$95,000 4 people

$85,500 3 people

$76,000 2 people

$66,500 1 person

Thousands of affordable units planned in county

State-mandated affordable housing to be built by 2014 as determined by the Association of Bay Area Governments:

15,738 units – San Mateo County

3,558 Very-low income

2,581 Low

3,038 Moderate

6,531 Above-moderate

Good jobs still not enough

Professions unable to afford rent based on average annual salary in San Francisco metropolitan area, including the Peninsula:

Unable to afford a one-bedroom:

» Waiter $18,590

» Janitor

» Nursing aide $29,072

» Receptionist $32,123

» Child-care worker $33,056

» Dental assistant $39,689

» Construction worker $40,446

» News reporter $41,030

» Administrative assistant $42,027

» Long-haul trucker $42,489

» Customer service $42,699

Unable to afford a two-bedroom:

» Family social worker $49,280

» Graphic designer $49,972

» Police officer $54,524

» School teacher $56,101

» Accountant $56,696

» Librarian $57,131

Working to survive

Thousands of Bay Area residents live in poverty despite working full time. The Examiner looks at the choices they make to pay for necessities.

Monday: Introduction

Tuesday: Health care

Today: Housing

Thursday: Transportation

Friday: Child care

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