Low-wage earners being forced out

For months, Julia Skelly-Hirst has looked for a home.

She’s scoured Craigslist, searched laundry bulletin boards and signedup on waiting lists for affordable housing in San Mateo County. Every day, she goes home to a decaying hotel in the Tenderloin where she pays $450 a month for a room.

“It’s been a nightmare,” said Skelly-Hirst, who said her life fell apart when her husband died two years ago. Skelly-Hirst said she wants to move to San Mateo County to be closer to family and friends.

More and more low-income earners in the county are finding themselves in Skelly-Hirst’s situation, county housing experts said.

The San Mateo County Association of Realtors this week reported that there were 21 percent fewer house sales last month compared with the year before and 39 percent fewer compared with February 2005.

With sales down, mostly from a nationwide housing slump, more low-income earners are looking to rent, according to Bruce Hamilton, executive director of nonprofit affordable-housing program HIP Housing.

And as the number of renters increases, affordable-housing providers said they are finding availability in their programs dwindling. Duane Bay, housing director for San Mateo County, reported that the county has received a noticeable increase in calls and interest about the county’s affordable housing programs.

Several of the Peninsula’s affordable-housing programs, have also seen waiting lists increase, while availability in their programs has decreased. Bruce Hamilton, executive director of the nonprofit HIP Housing, said his program is finding that low-wage earners are getting hit hard.

To make matters worse, developers that build affordable homes are having a hard time funding projects.

Banks that normally are major investors in affordable-housing developments have been less motivated to invest as a result of the foreclosure crisis. As more homes are foreclosed upon, more banks have been forced to purchase the buildings back, creating less cash flow.

Affordable-housing developers must then find funding elsewhere, said Carole Galante, president of affordable-home developer Bridge Housing. This could slow the rate they can build more housing for desperate renters like Skelly-Hirst.

Skelly-Hirst is trying to stay optimistic.

“I have to have faith that something’s gonna happen,” she said.

kworth@examiner.com

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