The hundreds of thousands of people who work in San Francisco deserve a chance at affordable housing close to their jobs. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

We work here, but can we live here?

By Maya Chupkov and Tracey Brieger

Each day, over 800,000 people work in San Francisco to propel our unique metropolis into the future. It takes all of us to keep this engine running: those of us who build the city, who protect it, who teach our children, who code our devices, who serve our lunches, who clean our streets and heal our grandparents.

Yet increasingly, only some workers can afford to live in the city; only a small fraction of new housing is affordable to any but those with the highest remuneration. The rest of us must choose between extreme rents that consume most of our wages, or extreme commutes that consume most of our precious time. That is not the way it has to be. It’s time to reimagine how we house our city’s workers. We can start this Thursday at the City Planning Commission: the public has an important opportunity to weigh in on the increasing discrepancy between jobs, wages, housing and rents impacting so many in San Francisco’s workforce.

San Francisco’s Workers

Thinking of workers in San Francisco, we’re tempted to envision glamorous, high wage jobs—whether it was finance in the 80s, biotech in the 90s, or software tech today. Yet alongside these cutting edge growth sectors glorified in the media, there are many more clerical workers, janitors, security guards, baristas and drivers who make this growth possible. In fact, the City Economist reminds us that about five additional jobs are created for every new tech sector job.

San Francisco is a special community because of the many people who contribute to make it a vital living place. The city’s economy thrives because of this essential workforce. And communities thrive when workers can live in the communities they serve. But today even those who identify as “middle-class” struggle to find housing they can afford. With one of the highest rates of income and wealth inequality in the nation, San Francisco’s housing prices continue to chase the highest dollar, leaving an ever-widening range of working people fending for themselves.

Jobs-Housing Fit

How do we ensure that people who are the working engine of our city can afford to live here? Does the affordability of new housing “fit” the incomes of workers? Could anyone who gets a job in a newly-built office actually afford to live in one of those new homes? Will a worker who already resides in San Francisco get pushed out by a new worker? Why should only high-paid professionals be able to live in San Francisco, when other office employees—including essential administrative and service staff—cannot afford to? A Jobs-Housing Fit addresses the imbalance between housing affordability and the jobs and wage levels being created by the city’s current economic boom.

The consequence of not creating sufficient housing to meet the full range of workers’ incomes is the difference between continuing to have a vital and competitive city, or a region increasingly segregated by race and class, with entire communities of workers displaced outside San Francisco.

Looking Ahead

A recent Jobs-Housing Nexus Study found that for every 100,000-square-foot office development, at least 81 new affordable housing units are needed just to house the lower wage workers in those offices, not counting all the contract employees such as janitors, or other population growth factors. With eleven million square feet of office development yet to break ground, that’s almost 50,000 new workers who will be looking for housing in the next decade, many of whom will not be able to afford market rents for themselves or their families.

Supervisor Haney recently introduced legislation—to be heard at the Planning Commission on Thursday—that will update the contributions that commercial development pays towards building affordable housing. The Jobs-Housing Linkage Fee has not been substantially updated since 1996..

To ensure housing for the full range of our City’s workforce, we must increase public investment in affordable housing at a rate that keeps pace with job growth. Commercial development needs to contribute its fair share to offset its housing impact.

The facts are clear: a much better “fit” is needed between the housing being produced and the wages of the jobs being created. One of the solutions is coming before the Planning Commission this week.

Maya Chupkov is communications director for The Council of Community Housing Organizations, San Francisco’s coalition of 24 affordable housing developers, service providers and advocates. Tracey Brieger is campaign director for Jobs with Justice San Francisco, a coalition of 30 labor and community groups in the city working for economic, social and racial justice.

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