Are San Francisco families earning $117,400 a year really considered low income?
That's what the latest data from the US Housing and Urban Development Department seems to suggest.
No doubt San Francisco has seen both its incomes and home prices soar in recent years, thanks largely to money flooding in from the tech boom. But the figure from HUD, which is income for a family of four, requires a bit more explanation.
Every year, HUD sets income limits that determine who can qualify for housing assistance, including Section 8 vouchers, public housing and other assistance programs. The calculation is also used to set eligibility for affordable housing built by developers who receive tax credits.
The formula takes into account an area's median family income, as well as its housing costs. Those who make 80% of the formula amount are considered "low income," while those earning 50% are "very low income" and those making 30 percent are considered "extremely low income."
In the San Francisco metro area, which includes Marin, San Francisco and San Mateo counties, an income of $44,000 or less for a family of four is considered extremely low, while the upper limit for having a very low income is $73,300.
These numbers are certainly eye-popping — and they have been rising swiftly. In 2014, the extremely low income limit was $33,200, the very low was $55,350 and the low was $88,600.
Home prices have been rising at an impressive clip, too. The median home value in the San Francisco metro area was $947,500 at the end of April, while the median rent was $3,300 a month, according to Zillow, a real estate marketplace.
Only 15 percent of San Francisco county residents could afford a median-priced home in the first quarter of 2018, according to Paragon Real Estate Group. That compares to 57% in the United States overall.
All this, however, doesn't mean that those earning six figures in San Francisco can now qualify for public housing or vouchers, a HUD spokesman stressed. In fact, those receiving federal housing assistance are typically making around $18,000 a year, according to the agency's data.
Also, the poverty guideline in the city is $25,100 for a family of four -- as it is across the continental United States, since it doesn't take into account the cost of living. That's the figure that matters in determining eligibility for many safety net programs, including food stamps, Head Start and some parts of Medicaid.
But San Francisco's high HUD income limits do allow middle class workers to qualify for affordable housing developments, said Susan Popkin, an institute fellow at the Urban Institute.
"Teachers, firefighters, people who work in restaurants commute crazy hours because they live so far out," said Popkin, recalling that a Lyft driver who is also a nurse at a hospital once told her he sleeps in his car during the week because his home is too far away.