mike koozmin/the s.f. examinerVenn on Market

Middle-class housing in SF lags behind homes for rich or poor

If construction trends in San Francisco in the past year continue, much of The City's new housing will resemble 1844 Market St.

Completed in November 2013, the eight-story Venn on Market building has a pair of rental vacancies — both two-bedroom units — each going for about $4,500 a month. That's an annual rent of roughly $54,000.

For a San Francisco household making the area's median income of $74,000 annually, that would leave about $20,000 to survive on per year.

“The middle is a big problem,” Olsen Lee, director of the Mayor's Office of Housing, said about housing for the middle class.

San Francisco may be chockablock with projects right now — this year alone, 3,980 new units have gone on line, 968 of them below market rate, according to The City — but most housing in the pipeline as of the third quarter of 2014 is for the rich and well-healed, like Venn on Market.

Moderate income as delineated by the state is 80 to 120 percent of the area media income. In San Francisco, that means households earning anywhere from $59,200 to $89,000 a year.

There are 894 individual building projects currently in the pipeline, according to the Planning Department. That does not include the projects that will account for 20,000 units at Hunters Point, Treasure Island and Parkmerced, most of which will be affordable for middle- and lower-income residents. Work is underway at Hunters Point but not the other sites.

But when it comes to the total 14,448 units entitled as of the third quarter of this year, only 839 are for the middle class and 1,431 for the lower classes. The rest are for the rich.

Much the same has been true in recent years.

From 2007 to the middle of this year, 19,267 new units were built, 12,726 of them for the rich. Only 1,213 were priced for the middle class and 5,328 for the poor.

Despite the lack of new housing options for middle-class San Franciscans, Housing Director Lee contends that The City has done more to help house the poor than most municipalities.

San Francisco has met 55 percent of the need for lower-income housing compared to 30 percent for the middle class, according to state data.

“What other community has even approached these numbers?” Lee said of the new housing built for the poor since 2007.

The mayor's goal in Parkmerced, Hunters Point and Treasure Island, Lee said, is to have 10,000 units priced at 80 percent of the median income and below. Another 5,000 are projected to be priced for middle-income San Franciscans, he said.

The Mayor's Office has trumpeted its goal of building or rehabilitating 30,000 new housing units by 2020, with 50 percent of them affordable for middle-income San Franciscans and 30 percent permanently below market rate.

Lee admits that finding ways to get more housing for the middle class has been a tough nut to crack. But, he contends, The City has started trying. That has meant increased housing down-payment-assistance programs, density bonuses for developers and small-site programs to increase infill.</p>

“We're trying to expand that middle band,” said Lee, who noted that there is little to no federal or state assistance to build moderate-income housing and the market has little interest in meeting the need.

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