The paperwork for a proposed ballot measure which would double the maximum income that San Francisco residents can earn and still qualify for a Below Market Rate (BMR) apartment in the city, from 55 percent of the Area Median Income (AMI) to 110 percent, has been filed with San Francisco’s Department of Elections.

The current AMI for a one-person household in San Francisco is $71,350. It’s $81,500 for a couple and $101,900 for a family of four.

Keep in mind that while the proposed ordinance would dramatically increase the pool of those eligible for BMR rental housing, which is awarded by lottery, it wouldn’t require additional production (although another ballot measure would).

And if qualified, the proposed measure, which has tentatively been titled the “Expanding Affordable Housing for Middle-Income Residents Ordinance” and is being championed by Thomas A. Hsieh, would appear on the November ballot.

73 thoughts on “Ballot Measure to Double Income Limit for Affordable Housing in S.F.”
  1. So… $142k~ or so for a single income earner and $162k~ for a couple?

    I’m from Canada (crazy liberal socialism) and I think this is a joke.

  2. Well, it sort of makes sense because people making from 55 to 110% of the median STILL can’t afford market rate housing. The downside is that it makes these units even more difficult to get

    1. Yeah, but people making that much can afford to live elsewhere. Shouldn’t this be open to people who can’t really afford to live elsewhere? This is like the people pulling in $250k who cry about Palo Alto not being affordable.

      1. How do you know they could? Will an agency track home prices near BART stops? Gas prices and bridge tolls? Childcare costs for additional commute time?

        Income limits alone will always be a somewhat flawed proxy for ability to afford market-rate. Short of having accountants vet people’s finances and family situation before they enter the lottery, this whole line of reasoning is just as speculative as anything else.

  3. Prop C doesn’t require additional production of BMR housing. It increases the percentage of BMR-affordable units required of market rate developments not already in the pipeline (with some grandfathering thanks to a trailing legislation). It has also been analyzed probably decrease production of units about 13%, all else being equal. If there is any type of increase in construction or land costs, or any decrease in demand due to economic circumstances, the amount of housing built in the next stage of the cycle could be considerably less. The next 2 years we have about 4000/yr units already approved and likely do finish construction. For subsequent years, if we pass prop C and it takes full effect, we could easily see production fall to half. There are MANY years in the last 30 that we failed to produce 2000 units of housing. In that case, we would actually be producing less BMR affordable housing than we will this year, and a big part of it will be because of prop C.

    25% of 2000 is the same as 12.5% of 4000

    We also need to remember that its still a miniscule drop in the bucket, and VERY few people are going to win the lottery. those other 2000 units total we should have built could have helped everyone a little but, in a more fair way than a lottery 60% of the people can join but less than 1% will win.

      1. If you read carefully (or follow the link), you can see the second to last paragraph is. I’m merely correcting the idea that prop C requires anything to be built. It makes building BMR a condition of something else being built. Not building is still an option.

  4. This would pit the “have-nothings” who currently are eligible against the “have-littles” who would become eligible. The measure seeks to assist the middle class in staying in SF, rather than just giving a leg up to the lower class. But with a finite pool of units, I guess support depends on whether you think this program should assist only the poor as it currently does, or should include assistance for the middle class at the expense of the poor who will now have lowered odds. Frankly, with only a few hundred BMR units, neither the middle class nor lower class will really be helped by this program in any numbers that matter.

    It seems a bit odd to me for something like 60% of the city’s population to qualify to beg at long odds for housing assistance. Not sure yet how I come out on this one.

  5. FYI — I live in a BMR studio unit in Berkeley. To qualify I needed to make between $31,000 and 80% of the AMI. My rent for a studio is currently $1281. There was no lottery or waiting list, I just applied and was accepted.

  6. The benefit of expanding the income eligibility pool is it will give a slight leg up to the middle class to save and buy a home down the road. Contrast this with the low income folks who will remain life-long renters because they will not be able to buy in SF at any point.

    1. False premise you just stated.
      Plenty of people who “say” they will start saving up for a down payment never do. They end up taking more vacations, buying that new car and just spending, spending. Never really getting serious about their saving habits.
      2. Yes, there will always be a pool of low income and very low income people who will always be renters. There will ALWAYS be people who can never afford to buy in SF. Fact.

      1. Thanks for your concern about other people, their saving habits, what kind of vacations they take, and their personal choice whether they want to be a homeowner or not. None of us here would appreciate it if people with a bit more financially than we have condescended to make the same judgements about us.

        1. Additionally, I know nothing about you and am willing to stipulate that you worked hard and made some sacrifices for what you have. All of that said, privilege and luck are largely invisible to those who benefit from it. Lack of financial success does not always boil down to lack of motivation and discipline. Sometimes people do all the right things and bad stuff happens anyway. There is no point in demonizing people with fewer material benefits.

          Others have pointed out the difficulty in differentiating between the poor who “earned” their fate and those who had it thrust upon them. I think there’s a benefit to having a more diverse city and am willing to take a chance that some people will receive assistance who don’t meet some arbitrary standard of deservingness.

        2. I think you have it wrong. What is being proposed is that the “government” is now going to be gentler and more accommodating to those who CHOOSE not to save up for a down payment and adjust their choices of living, but rather allow the higher (double) income limit as a new threshold so they can then qualify for subsidized housing.

          Seems like the government is taking over personal responsibility. Ridiculous.

          1. You seem to think that saving-up for a down payment should be the default choice for all people in all circumstances. IMO, that is a somewhat narrow view of the range of choices that different people are faced with.

            One of the purposes of government is so that society, collectively, can do things where markets fail and individuals can’t or won’t take up the slack. The market, left to its own devices, will only produce housing in this city for people with a ton of money. The government is saying here that developers must produce other housing that will make it possible to maintain some diversity to the population. Your final sentence states that failing to save to buy a house is evidence of a lack of personal responsibility. That benefits will accrue to some people failing your arbitrary definition of “personal responsibility” doesn’t trouble me greatly.

          2. Of course not, but it should be a choice that’s considered. People are free to be renters or property owners. But seriously, you actually believe that government should “take up the slack” where someone CHOOSES NOT to make a responsible, albeit wise choice?

            Good grief, taking that logic to an ultimate conclusion would mean we should ALL the let the government take care of all of our needs, without EVER having to lift a damn finger.

            Once again, ridiculous.

          3. One of the purposes of government is so that society, collectively, can do things where markets fail and individuals can’t or won’t take up the slack.

            To house the homeless — which they manage to do in UT — not to create a lotto for people who make $100,000/yr. But it beats working out some sensible policy to serve the whole public.

    2. If they are so extraordinarily lucky as to win the subsidized housing lottery, why would they give that up and buy an expensive market rate home where they have to worry about mortgages, insurance, HOA dues, etc.? I imagine they will hang on for dear life, keeping the place even if it means long commutes to a new job elsewhere or it is too big or small for their new needs or whatever. Or maybe they can get away with subletting it for a fortune to someone else. Using tax dollars to subsidize housing for families who make up to $203,000 is ridiculous. The subsidies will come out of the taxes of people who on average make less than them, and who are already burdened with paying their own market rate housing costs. Then again, the current system is a mess too. And I don’t qualify in either case. So I’m not sure how I’ll vote. But probably: “no”.

  7. I got my BMR apartment because three people drawn before me in the lottery couldn’t get a mortgage. It’s like threading the eye of a needle – poor enough to qualify for the program, rich enough to qualify for a mortgage, lucky enough to be drawn in the lottery.

    If the city wants to change the pool of potential winners of the BMR lottery such that it includes more people who can get financing, I don’t think that’s a bad thing.

    I do think it’s a bad idea to do it by ballot measure, because that’ll make it a complete PITA to adjust when economic conditions change again.

    1. I think they should all be rentals and for a limited time (maybe 5 years) so that more eligible people have a chance. A five-year head start on earning enough and/or finding the connections to secure housing they can afford. I have numerous friends who make very little and rent rooms here in SF for less than $1,000/mo. Yeah, it’s a cramped lifestyle but it’s worth it for them. And if it’s not, there are places not too far form the city where they can secure more room for the same amount.

      1. Much better Idea.
        The problem w/ this town is too may people are living the easy life, thinking they should never pay market rent/prices.
        Get rid off all these subsidies and we’d need NO MORE BMR’s.

        1. Yes, exactly. Some of my friends who live in a nice rent controlled apartment in the Upper Market area each make about 85k, yet they whine about NOT being able to afford anything to buy, YET they don’t save, they go to Europe twice a year and buy a new car every other year.

          Their choice yes, but what’s wrong with this picture?

  8. I know that HOA fees are so high for some buildings that they can approach and exceed the mortgage on a BMR unit.
    Doorman, valet, elevator maintenance, window washing.
    Maybe you need 110% just to afford the fees.

  9. people making $100K/yr should not be subsidized. They can afford many areas that are a short bart ride to SF. This is insane.

    1. I don’t necessarily disagree with this. On the other hand, I get a significant taxpayer subsidy with my mortgage interest deduction, so I can’t in good conscience argue that someone who makes a lot less is not deserving of a housing subsidy.

      1. I agree completely with moto mayhem. I didn’t “deserve” to buy my house, I saved up for it. I didn’t “deserve” my job as an architect, I went to college for 5 years for it (and paying back a student loan), and then worked 3 years after to take the licensing exam.

        And I’ve said before here, get rid of rent control and I’ll gladly give up my mortgage interest tax deduction.

        The entire ballot measure is ridiculous. I hope it fails.

        1. i hope it fails too, but it might pass because the majority of population would theoretically qualify and most people want to look out for their own interests

          1. interestingly, if they proposed something more reasonable, like going from 55% to 80% of AMI, it might be a reasonable proposal. but to go up to 110% is ludicrous

        2. The mortgage interest deduction is a federal exemption. Rent control is specific to SF. I really doubt a homeowner in “insert state name” would agree with your plan.

    2. why don’t you also tell the poors to move to “areas that are a short bart ride to SF” then?

        1. Let’s not kid ourselves about how far $100,000 will go in this city for a family of 3 or 4. I fully recognize that a lot of families are getting by with a lot less but I don’t want to see a minimum income qualification of $100K or $150K for residency here.

          1. BART goes to Concord. You can do pretty well on $100K there. Even in daly city, SOuth San Francisco, and San Bruno which are all <15 miles away. I dont want to incentivize a lifestyle choice to live in SF. Its a huge moral hazard

        2. no i meant your suggestion to tell the 100K’ers to move out of SF and let’s subsidize only the sub-100K’ers; but i could just as well say the sub-100K’ers should move out of the city.

          1. you can live decently here on $50K with roomates. families get subsidized through tax deductions.

      1. The Poors already live just a short BART ride from SF. All of these stations. Please come over NOW and indroves to continue pushing them out:
        West Oakland, Fruitvale, Coliseum, and of course Richmond.

  10. This will be bad news for low income people and good news to middle class. More middle class people will be able to live in SF and more low income people will need to move out of the city.

    But on the other hand, the middle class people more likely work in the city and the low income people more likely have no job. So look at overall commuting hours, this can be good.

  11. Agreed, this is a ridiculous idea. I will vote no on this.

    It’s all these subsidies that have driven the middle class out, bring them back by not taxing property owners.

    It’s just another way for crappy Kim to get 30% BMR’s and have all the tech folks who can afford a house get one.

    1. Another reason to vote for Jane Kim for State Senate. She will be out of SF and her ideas will go nowhere in Sacramento.

  12. Such BS.

    I can’t afford to live in Bel Air. I demand housing there that I can afford! Why? Just because I want to live in Bel Air, that’s all. I don’t feel like living elsewhere.

    1. OMG! I agree with you 100%. I’ve also said a similar thing: I’d LOVE to live on outer Broadway, say next to the Getty mansion, but dammit I can’t afford it. I want our government to help me to do that.

      Oh, well, guess I have to settle for Noe Valley. I’ll be fine.

    2. SocketSite doesn’t allow us to post pictures in responses, so you will just have to imagine I’ve posted the Orson Welles Clapping meme in response to your comment.

    3. This proposed measure is not to decide whether SF has a BMR program. That already exists and is not going anywhere. Some small number of people get to “live in Bel Air” even though they can’t afford it, regardless of this measure.

      This is just to determine the income range for eligibility to participate in the lottery for this small number of below market units. Will the pool be limited to low income residents, as it is currently, or will it expand to permit middle income residents to participate. I can see arguments for both positions. Can’t say I’ve decided, but I’m leaning toward voting for this if it should qualify for the ballot.

  13. I’m confused, does this apply to rental units or ownership units? Please clarify/correct me, some people are talking as if this applies to ownership units while in the post it only mentions apt/rentals.

    Either way, I do agree that increasing the pool will only make it harder for the lower-income folks to compete for units.

    1. As we reported above, the proposed ordinance would apply to rental units (apartments), not ownership units (condos).

      And Thomas Hsieh, not Jane Kim nor any other City Supervisor, is the measure’s sponsor.

  14. Totally support this idea. It’s about time that we did something to help the middle class in San Francisco.

  15. Its about time. This is right . Goal is to make housing affordable for those who cannot live here otherwise — and some one at 110% of AMI cannot afford to rent or buy — they are short by a lot. Housing subsidies already go to those at lower incomes than 110%.

    If you don’t like this it means you only want to support some folks to live here – the more poor, but not the less so — or as some on this page state, dont support anyone.

    Its really not like “I wanna live in belair but cannot” – that’s a standard and gratuitous rejoinder — its that the city will stop functioning if people who are required to filled jobs at the mid to lower ends of income ladder cannot live here or near enough commute to tolerate.

    Im not a socialist, Im an investor, and local investments dont make sense — whether corporate, VC or real estate if theres not a strong diversified employment base.

  16. yea… the only problem is that this in no way helps the middle class of san francisco. The only people this measure will help are the tiny fraction of people who, by complete luck will be picked by a random raffle which gives them discounted housing because they can simply no longer afford to live here anymore. it’s a little like giving false hope to someone who has already lost.

    1. it hurts the middle class, because it may end up causing some projects not to pencil out, and less housing will be built, continuing the supply demand gap

  17. I’ve never understood the AMI requirements for singles vs. couples. If I have this right, as a single person you qualify if you make up to but less than $71,350. But if you’re a married couple the limit is $81,500 meaning each individual can earn no more than $40,750 each?

  18. This is total bull sh*t.

    When my parents came to Canada, (yes, that dirty socialistic country) they had no expectations of subsidies to live in the nicest parts of downtown Toronto. They took the subway for 40 years, 45 minutes to get into work in -40 weather.

    People need to understand they’re not entitled to live in SF, and that there are affordable options outside the city.



    *Starbucks actually only offering 3 cups of coffee this way.

    Isn’t this meant to be a sop to developers who will be able to charge higher rents for the ‘affordable’ units they are forced to build? Faustian bargain for the higher BMR provision requirements?


    More market meddling means prices keep going up.

  20. Some other outrages:

    Free school for poor people! (I pay full tuition for my kids’ private school)

    Medicaid for poor people, subsidized Obamacare for the middle class, and Medicare for the elderly! (I pay for all the health insurance and out-of-pocket medical costs for me and my family)

    Free food for poor people through food stamps! (I pay for all the food we eat)

    Free money for unemployed people! (I have always gotten paid only for the work I perform)

    Free SSI for disabled people! (again, I work for a living)

    Free lawyers for poor criminal defendants! (OK – I’m all for the government paying lawyers . . .)

    I put myself through undergrad and law school, I work for a living (with no paid benefits as I’m a partner in the firm), and I pay for everything. If I can do it, anyone can – if they are too lazy or undisciplined, they should just starve, suffer, and die. Think how much cheaper school/healthcare/food/taxes would be for me without all this government meddling!

    1. If you read my message as outrage about providing housing per se, I have mis-communicated.

      What would food stamps or unemployment or public defense be worth if they applied to a lucky 1-2% of the population who actually received the right to them in a lottery system? Very little.

      Also, what if SSI was a 5X benefit for those who choose to dwell in SF – would that make sense?

      This BMR rule isn’t a policy, it’s a farce.

      The new minimum wage law? Great. Applies to everyone. Things will cost more, workers will receive more, burden is widely shared and widely gained.

  21. So a law that benefits people who don’t feel like commuting? Pretty bizarre. Basically everyone where I work commutes – with incomes ranging from very little (e.g. security or cleaning) to millions.

    It would be more efficient to subsidize public transportation at certain income brackets. But that doesn’t achieve the goal – wholesale theft from certain people to benefit others – all with the goal of achieving more voters and political power.

    1. Subsidizing public transportation is much less expensive and could be much more effective than BMR housing. But only BMR gets vote for SF politicians.

      Subsidizing public transportation can be a good way to get votes in state level elections though.

  22. The only way to solve SF’s housing problem is:

    1. End rent control
    2. Subsidizing public transportation for all people. Allow 20 free round trips each month for low income workers. Reduce fare by 70% for everyone else.

      1. Ending rent control will greatly reduce the housing cost and locate the population in the best geo distributions.

        Rent control has distorted the market and make many people live in a location that’s the best choice for them and for the region.

        1. Reduce the housing cost for whom? Locate what population in the best geo distributions, and best for whom? If by solving the housing crisis you mean pushing whole swaths of folks out of the City, yes it would do that.

        2. In an area with a half-decent mass transit system, why is that such a bad thing? We are spending massive amounts of tax payer money to subsidize someone who wants to live in San Francisco when they could live in El Cerrito or Oakland for significantly less. It isn’t like they have to move to Fresno.

          1. Oh no, not Fresno, not likely anyway. Vallejo, Tracy, and Santa Rosa are much more likely. A version of what you folks are advocating has been going on for ~20 years, ever since the steep increases in SF housing costs in the dotcom.

            Since then, by far the biggest increases in commuters to work in SF has been from counties that do not boarder on SF: Solano, San Joaquin, and Sonoma. Still plenty of space in those counties to handle the 100,000+ workers that would be geo erupted out of SF by ending rent control.

            BTW, is “geo dis-trib-uted” a new euphemism for dis-placed?

          2. If you view the movement of people and transformation of communities/neighborhoods as being not significant, and feel that the determination of location for people is best done by market forces, it is definitely not a bad thing. If you view that people being involuntarily displaced from their homes and communities being transformed might have some negative consequences, then it could definitely be a bad thing. I personally like the crazy quilt of perspectives and incomes we have in SF, in part by virtue of the anomalies of rent control, but I think most SS commenters would like to see SF work strictly by the logic of the market. I think that would be a pretty dull place, by comparison.

  23. Fine, but what are we going to start calling affordable housing geared towards those who really need affordable housing?

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