$117K now considered ‘low income’ for some Bay Area residents

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Deborah Chen/File

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The federal government currently considers a family of four making as much as $117,400 in three Bay Area counties “low income,” a more than 10 percent increase from the past year.

This number applies to San Francisco, Marin and San Mateo counties, but other places in the Bay Area are becoming more expensive as well. For Alameda and Contra Costa counties, a family of four earning $89,600 a year is low income, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

“The Bay Area is one of the highest-cost regions in the world because we have such a strong economy,” said Karen Chapple, a campus professor of city and regional planning.It’s a good thing in general that we are able to be the strongest tech economy in the world.”

Because of the tech boom, a large number of highly paid tech workers are moving to the Bay Area, which drives up the cost of living, according to Chapple. There is a limited supply of housing in the Bay Area, and since tech workers can pay higher prices for homes, they essentially outspend those who used to be able to afford housing.

In his State of the City address, Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín spoke about the 142-unit Berkeley Way development meant to create affordable housing. He also said the city will be “launching a Small Sites Program this fall to help nonprofits acquire and rehabilitate existing multi-unit buildings to preserve affordability and prevent displacement.”

Because of the rapidly increasing cost of living, many San Franciscans are considering leaving, and 65 percent of Bay Area voters consider housing affordability to be an “extremely serious” issue, according to a campus poll.

“I just had lunch yesterday with one of our incredible artists who was forced to move out of the city,” said Berkeley City Councilmember Kriss Worthington.

Additionally, Worthington said he was concerned over the shrinking diversity of the city, noting that a number of minority Berkeley residents have left, Black residents in particular.

The biggest thing that will slow rising housing prices and halt outward migration is an economic bust, according to Chapple, who stated that she is convinced one will happen.

“The only thing we can do is put in place a number of public policies that make it easier for low- and middle-income families to stay,” Chapple said.

In order to qualify for Section 8, a program that helps people pay their rent, residents in Alameda County must be “extremely” low income — earning $34,850 per year, or 30 percent of the area median income — or “very” low income — earning $58,100 per year, or 50 percent of the area median income — for a family of four.

People are considered “low” income by HUD when their income is within 80 percent of the median for the given area.

UC Berkeley has programs to help students struggling with the cost of living, such as the UC Berkeley Food Pantry, which provides emergency nonperishable food to students in need. Additionally, the Cal Rentals program is meant to help students find affordable off-campus housing, according to an email from campus spokesperson Adam Ratliff.

“The Bay Area is never going to be affordable,” Chapple said. “This is just the rules of … highly productive economies. It’s a gift and a curse.”

Contact Jackson Guilfoil at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @GuilfoilJackson.