Only a fraction of certain union workers can afford to live in the city without working more than one job, according to a new report sponsored by the Council of Community Housing Organizations, San Francisco Labor Council, and Jobs with Justice.
The report investigates how jobs and housing “fit” together. Roughly 50,000 trade and union workers volunteered wage data for the study, which the UC Berkeley Labor Center analyzed and compared to local housing prices.
The report spanned industries from nursing to airport staff, and found that only 7 percent of those employees could afford market-rate rent. According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, anyone who pays more than 30 percent of income on rent is “housing cost-burdened.”
“We can’t afford to live here,” said John Doherty, the business manager for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 6.
More than 40 percent of workers don’t live in San Francisco, which the report’s authors say reflects “the prohibitive costs of market housing.”
Even with “respectable” electrician wages, Doherty said, he struggles. At a Friday press conference in the union hall, Doherty estimated that 73 percent of their members qualify for below market rate units.
That issue pushes locals to relocate, as he did, said Doherty. He grew up in San Francisco and completed his apprenticeship here.
Ultimately he could not afford to stay in the city and has ended up “locked behind a steering wheel for a couple hours a day, like many of our members,” he said. That, he added, was the same struggle faced by sanitation workers, teachers, homecare workers, and other middle-income union industries.
The “job fit” dissonance, the report stated, can be chalked up to San Francisco’s exorbitant rents. According to the rental listing website Zumper, market-rate rents for a one- or two-bedroom apartment can cost as much as $3,300 to $4,300 per month. To avoid paying more than 30 percent of income on rent, an individual employee must earn $132,000 a year.
Meanwhile, the median 2020 employee wage in this report was far less than that: $67,000.
That causes some workers to take extreme measures. One couple at Friday’s press conference lives in Sacramento and rises at 2:30 a.m. each morning for the husband’s 4 a.m. shift in San Francisco. While he toils away in the morning, the wife, a housekeeper, sleeps in the car until her shift starts at 8 a.m. When the husband clocks out mid-day, he knocks out in the car until 4 p.m when his wife finishes her cleaning job and the pair head home.
“If people are spending more time in their cars than with their families, that is a problem,” said Kim Tavaglione, executive director of the San Francisco Labor Council who also spoke at the press conference.
Though the study is new, it tracks with recent trends of a housing shortage. A San Francisco October 2019 Budget and Legislative Analyst Report revealed that “job growth far outpaced housing production” between 2010 and 2018. At the time, about nine new jobs were listed for every new unit of housing produced.
From 2016 to 2018, the city added about 27,500 new low- and moderate-wage jobs, while only slightly less than 3,000 affordable housing units were produced.
On Friday, supervisors Myrna Melgar, Gordon Mar, and Connie Chan joined housing and labor advocates to demand more affordable housing for low and middle-income workers.
“What we fail to produce is that middle income housing. We need to do it to keep our workers here, and to keep our communities stable,” Melgar said.
Melgar declared the city needed to “innovate” and find avenues besides the federal low-income housing tax credit program that funds a majority of affordable housing and “sometimes works, and sometimes doesn’t work.”
Some are at our fingertips, she argued, point to cooperative housing like St. Francis Square that houses International Longshoremen’s and Warehousemen’s Union members, and utilizing local dollars from sources like Proposition I to fund affordable housing.
They echoed the report’s proposed solutions, which included co-ops, subsidies for home-ownership, increasing numbers of below market-rate housing in mixed-income developments, and bolstering revenue for nonprofit housing.