When politicians and developers speak of “affordable” housing in San Francisco, they’re typically referring to housing that falls within the City’s Below Market Rate (BMR) program.

Housing units within the BMR program – which includes both condos and apartments – are intended to be affordable to lower and middle-income households and the units and qualifying households are grouped into four bands: Moderate Income, Low Income, Very Low Income, and Extremely Low Income.

The income limits to qualify for below market rate housing are set at a percentage of the Area Median Income (AMI) which is currently $67,500 for an individual in the area that includes San Francisco.  The AMI for a household of two is $77,700.  And the AMI for a family of four is $97,100.

Households earning less than 30 percent of the AMI fall within the Extremely Low Income band; an income of under 50 percent of the AMI qualifies as Very Low Income; households which make between 50 and 79 percent of the AMI are Low Income.  A household income of between 80 and 120 percent of the Area Median qualifies as Moderate.

In other words, individuals making up to $81,000 a year can still qualify for below market rate housing in San Francisco, as could a two-person household making up to $93,240 a year.  Those are numbers that are worth remembering the next time you overhear a conversation about the scourge that a below market rate development will bring.

It’s also worth noting that an individual earning less than $53,325 a year or a household of two earning less than $61,383 are considered Low Income in San Francisco.

The median household income in the United States is currently under $53,000 a year.

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Comments from “Plugged-In” Readers

  1. Posted by noemom

    I appreciate your statement above re: “scourge” that BMR housing brings. In many ways what is happening in SF housing/real estate is like the opening line of Dickens’ Tale of Two Cities…It was the best of times, it was the worst of times….someday a social scientist will dissect all that is happening now and they will discover that some people made a lot of money and dramatically altered the historic patterns of population of the City and led the way in redefining middle class…

    I could say more, but I won’t.

  2. Posted by c_q

    So… if you are working at a startup for 80k and get a bunch of stock options that are currently worth somewhere just above zero, but could be worth millions in the future, does that get factored into the qualification?

  3. Posted by R

    “MOHCD will determine final income eligibility based on your household’s current income and assets. All forms of income shall be considered for determining income and for determining the household’s ability to pay rent”

    Stock options are never valued at zero, pennies perhaps, but ISO shares are also not considered a taxable asset until you exercise them so there is a potential loophole where someone does not exercise their ISO packages for a full ten-year term, then becomes a millionaire just after landing a below-market-rate unit. This is the correct approach though because those assets do not have liquidity often until close to a year after a public offering and are thus not helping your ability to live day to day until after years of hard work, risk, and deferred reward.

  4. Posted by cfb

    This data can be kind of misleading for anyone not familiar with SF’s demographics. There are a ton of people who are legitimately poor/low income by national standards in SF, despite the fact that according to this BMR program upper middle class people are considered “low income”. For example, SF has about 100,000 residents living below the federal poverty line (which is not adjusted for cost of living, and if it were, that number would rise a lot for SF). Nearly 40% of the city’s households make under $50,000 per year, 22% of the city’s households make under $25,000 per year , and 13% make less than $15,000 per year.

    I guess what I’m saying is that a lot more of these below market rate/”affordable” units should be geared towards actual poor people (of which there is no shortage in SF). It would be nice to see the lower middle class/working class and the impoverished get more attention than they’ve been getting, rather than so many of the BMR units just having slightly discounted crazy-land market-rate prices and sold to the upper middle class–who actually can afford market rate units if they want, unlike so many others who literally can’t afford market-rate housing in SF, and whose only options are family/friend rent discounts, sharing apartments/houses/rooms at insane prices, having a rent controlled unit, or living in public housing (which has had a closed waiting list for nearly 5 years now).

    And a bonus effect of providing a good amount of truly affordable housing is that NIMBY sentiment based on class issues will diminish a bit when the poor see that things ARE actually being built for them…which may lead to more market rate units being built as well. Eventually, if this city can stop being completely stupid with irrational NIMBY-based zoning rules, we may actually see enough or at least close to enough units built that housing prices will only be somewhat insane, rather than completely insane, and then providing large amounts of BMR units may not even be necessary anymore. And an important part of getting there is to not let half the city’s existing population feel left out and marginalized, as the city grows.

    Or we could just go 100% free market and privately say “F-you, got mine” to anyone audacious enough to want to live here on less than 6 figures (you know, like 75% of city residents when this current round of gentrification took off!), while at the same time pretending that we’re fighting for them by restricting development in order to protect views and “character” and to stop the wealthy tech invaders from gentrifying everything with their massive phallic towers of waterfront-wall horror! (when really we’re just protecting the feelings and property values for some of SF’s ultra wealthy residents)….which currently seems to be more the direction the city is headed, unfortunately.

  5. Posted by jacqueline8liu

    Please note that the link to MOH’s BMR program are for renters. The correct link to BMR Ownership Program (for home buyers) is http://sf-moh.org/index.aspx?page=291

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