Affordable Housing in High Demand

With the fair market price of a two-bedroom apartment currently at $1,900, approximately 58 percent of San Mateo County residents cannot afford housing, according to Michele Beasley, senior field representative of Greenbelt Alliance.

Residents making minimum wage would need to work 183 hours each week in order to afford such high costs.

“The lack of affordable housing and lack of economic stability is an equal opportunity issue,” said Daly City Mayor Sal Torres. “It matters to all of us, it affects all of us.”

As part of San Mateo County’s Affordable Housing Week, Greenbelt Alliance, in partnership with Peninsula Interfaith Action, the Grand Boulevard Initiative, SamTrans and Housing Leadership Council of San Mateo County, hosted a bus tour Saturday to showcase affordable housing developments along El Camino Real, or "the Grand Boulevard."

Beasley, facilitator of the tour, said that though the tour featured great examples of successful and affordable, community-minded buildings, affordable housing is still sorely needed.

“They're really just scratching the surface of what is needed in San Mateo County,” she said.

Stopping first at the Daly City War Memorial Community Center, an award-winning facility, Mayor Torres discussed the pessimistic stereotypes associated with affordable housing.

“Affordable housing is not a negative thing,” Torres said. “It means building homes that people can afford, period.”

At first mention of affordable housing, Torres said, community members often envision high rises and increased crime rates.

“We have to fight not only a community that doesn’t understand it, but a state that doesn’t embrace it,” Torres said.

Along with Governor Jerry Brown’s cease of redevelopment agencies, Torres said that loopholes in Prop 13 have allowed the state to take funds first rather than the underfunded cities and counties.

“This is why we can’t build affordable housing,” he said. “This should piss you off to the point you want to write 18,000 letters.”

Tour attendees then donned hard hats to gain a sneak peak at the Habitat for Humanity family housing development currently in construction at 7555 Mission Street in Daly City.

The 36-unit building, set for completion next March, was purchased by the city for Habitat for Humanity at $3 million.

Though each unit is estimated at $430,000 in value, 36 families will have a mortgage of only $230,000-$280,000 at zero percent interest, according to Deven Richardson, director of real estate development.

Each family will pay less than $1,000 monthly.

Applicants for family housing must be first-time homebuyers, need of housing and meet income qualifications.

However, family housing does not only apply to nuclear family models.

“We don’t define your family,” Richardson said.

Family members must live together for 12 months in order to apply together. Successful applicants must complete a total of 500 hours of volunteer work between family members and their volunteering friends in order to move into their new homes.

“About 90 percent of our labor is organized by folks like us who don’t swing a hammer everyday,” Richardson said.

The next stop featured Trestle Glen, a 119-unit affordable housing development next to the Colma BART station opened in 2010.

Built on a former mobile home park, more than 2,400 applicants applied for a spot in the complex.

The complex offers a community room, homework club, childcare facility basketball court and ESL courses among other community building features.

Residents live in one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments in the eco-friendly development with apartments ranging from $400-$1,400.

“Affordable housing creates savings for home ownership,” said property manager Rebecca Joseph.

Joseph hopes that as more current residents are able to afford home ownership, Trestle Glen will then be able to accommodate families that are currently on their 400-applicant waiting list.

The last stop on the affordable housing tour highlighted the nearly completed MidPen housing development at 636 El Camino in South San Francisco.

“MidPen really saw the opportunity in this, and the city did too,” said project manager Abby Goldware.

The city of South San Francisco invested $15 million into the 109-unit complex, community gardens, playground, fitness center, computer lab and the 5,700 feet of retail space that will accompany the development.

More than 2,200 applicants are currently vying for housing in the five-story building.

“Obviously, the demand is there,” Goldware said.

The area formerly provided mobile home housing.

The complex is expected to begin moving in families this August in time for school.

The tour concluded with hope that affordable housing would move to the forefront of planning conversations and city agendas.

“Without affordable housing it becomes difficult not only for families to live, but for families to live comfortably and enjoy the fruits of their labor,” Mayor Torres said.