Despite making for a shocking headline, a “six-figure salary” is not actually considered “low income” for residents of San Francisco.

Yes, for a household of four in the city, a total household income below $117,400 is considered “low income” per the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the cutoff for which is simply 80 percent of the area median. But again, that’s based on a total household income for a family of four.

For a household of one, an income of less than $82,200 currently qualifies as “low income” in the eyes of HUD. Or in other words, and as a matter of fact, a six-figure salary of $102,750 would be around the median for an individual in San Francisco and above which you would actually be making more than most.

Comments from Plugged-In Readers

  1. Posted by

    Well, that’s SFGate’s “reporting” – which usually seems to be written by interns who are high school juniors doing extra credit assignments.

    Their main intent seems to be staunching their plummeting readership by rousing the local anarchists into a frenzy so SFGate can write more stories about scooters piled in front of Google buses. That’s always an eyeball-catcher! 🙂

  2. Posted by bachman_erlich_overdrive

    Thanks for straightening this out.

  3. Posted by Dave

    The clarification is spot on but, taking a totally random city that just popped into my mind, Seattle has a median household income – family of four – of 72K (2017). Given the median Seattle home price of 800K versus 1.3 million here the headline, though exaggerated, is not off the mark in terms of the unaffordability of SF for the average and above average and way above average wage earner. Forget 105K – a techie couple (one child) pulling in 300K a year just barely were able to buy a home in the less than “in” pneumonia gulch quite recently. A fixer upper at that.

    • Posted by SocketSite

      Taking the numbers you’ve provided at face value, we’ll assume that your argument is that Seattle ($72K median income for a family of four with an $800K median price) is less affordable/overpriced compared to San Francisco (median income of $146K (117/0.8) with a $1.3 million median price), correct?

    • Posted by Pablito

      Given the hard cold facts that no one in this income group is buying a house in SF ever – lets talks rents.

      A person who makes $82,200 a year takes home $4700 a month in their check. Socket reports average asking rent for a one-bedroom currently at around $3,500 a month. So that’s 75% of the monthly income on rent. Not including health insurance, not including food, not including transport to work. Not a nice place to rent – just an average place. A salary that would allow you to buy a house pretty much everywhere else in America means you can live in the Tenderloin and eat prepackaged raman noodles everyday here.

      Even the person making the median in SF – $102,750 – who doesn’t have to live in their car or a cardboard box to afford to eat – still does not have anything left over at the end of the month to save for retirement.

      We have a pretty serious housing affordability situation here with no real solutions on the horizon.

      • Posted by haighter

        Not to downplay the seriousness of the housing crisis, but if you’re making $100k you don’t get your own $3500 one-bedroom, you live with roommates. That’s what I and all my friends did/do. $2000/mo in rent on $100k salary is doable. Not to mention everyone who is rent controlled paying below market rents. Could you rent a place at market rent for a family of three or four on $100k? No. But many singles with that salary do just fine.

        • Posted by Anon123

          And that is what my then-single friends did 25 years ago (and once they got families they moved to the east bay). Still blows my mind that you can get a $100K job but not afford your own place.

      • Posted by SFRealist

        Also, not everyone pays the “average” rent. Assigning that as your metric is arbitrary.

        • Posted by Pablito

          Agreed that very few people pay ‘average’ by the very definition of the word everyone pays more than or less than ‘average’. But it is hardly an arbitrary metric. Quite the contrary – its the most commonly cited metric precisely because people find it the most useful in helping them understand a situation.

          • Posted by SFRealist

            The problem is that it’s wrong. Someone making $82K is not going to pay 3500 in rent, so that person will not be paying 75% of their monthly income in rent.

            If you make $82K, you have roommates and pay much less.

  4. Posted by Bob-SF

    Note that “San Francisco, CA HUD Metro FMR Area” includes Marin County, SF County and San Mateo county.

  5. Posted by hundo_p

    A lot depends on your housing situation.

    • Posted by Pablito

      Yep. Exactly. A lot of people who inherited a house from the parents – or are in a rent control situation – think everything is just fine and dandy as they step over the 6,500+ people literally living on the sidewalk in front of their place. Boggles the mind.

      When a 3 person family making $102,750 a year (our median) – is considered “low income’ – there is something very wrong on the housing supply side of the equation in the Bay Area. Very wrong. The income side is just fine. The housing supply side? Ridiculous.

    • Posted by anon2

      And the timing of your housing situation.

      Just scraping by to get in at the bottom before an up-slope works out well. Stretching to get in at the high flat top of a cycle leads to years of sacrifice just for the privilege of losing 5% of your equity to selling costs. And stretching to get in at the end of a cycle is financially disastrous.

      Affordability is very much tied to where we are in a RE cycle. And this dynamic is self-reinforcing. More demand during an up-slope causes prices to rise even higher. And demand fleeing during a down slope further accentuates the decline.

  6. Posted by hundo_p

    The devil is in the details. Based simply on HUD’s formula, $101,850 qualifies as “low income” in the San Francisco, CA HUD Metro FMR Area. However, HUD artificially caps the annual increase at 11.5% (regardless of on-the-ground, market factors), resulting in the $82,200 figure. So disregarding the arbitrary required cap, yes, a single person needs to earn six figures to avoid the low-income designation.

    “HUD limits the increase in income limits to be the greater of 5 percent or twice the national average change in median family income. For FY2018, the national change in median family income is 5.7 percent, therefore the maximum increase amount is 11.5 percent. The preliminary FY2018 4-person low-income limit exceeds the FY2017 4-person low-income Limit; therefore, HUD checks to ensure that the change in low-income limits is limited to 11.5 percent.”

  7. Posted by frozentoast

    It kind of is. As others here have pointed out 100k per year works out for singles willing to live with roommates but it’s not realistic for a family. Never mind all the charts it would be ‘low income’ in a very practical sense.

  8. Posted by Sabbie

    A single person making $80k per year can qualify for a government handout? That’s almost 3x the median salary in America ($30k). How about instead, the taxpayers buy that person a one way Uhaul rental to go live in a cheaper city?

    • Posted by Jack

      Well if you ship them to Biloxi Mississippi they’ll get out of your Uhaul to find a job paying a lot less than 80k.

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