DPH: Unaffordable housing is bad for your health

Mind the affordability gap: The numbers represent how many full-time jobs you'd need at minimum wage to pay the rent.

To cover rent on a two-bedroom apartment at "fair market value" in SoMa, a San Francisco minimum-wage earner would have to work 7.4 full-time jobs.

That jaw-dropper of a statistic is just one tidbit in a fascinating dataset featured in a recently published interactive map plotting housing affordability in San Francisco neighborhoods. Combining data from Craigslist and PadMapper, the U.S. Census Bureau's American Community Survey, and the local minimum wage ($10.24 per hour, widely regarded as generous), the map isn’t the handiwork of affordable housing activists. [Note: this reflects the 2012 minimum wage, the rate now stands at $10.55.]

Instead, it was created by the San Francisco Department of Public Health’s Program on Health, Equity and Sustainability. To view the full map and dig around for data on your neighborhood of interest, go here.

The embedded dataset reveals that the median income in SoMa is $91,000 lower than the $158,000 one would need to afford renting a market-rate two-bedroom. This figure, expressed as $-91,000, is known as the “affordability gap,” and the map plots these gaps neighborhood by neighborhood.

It was rolled out as part of a weeklong effort to raise public awareness about the link between affordable housing and public health, explains Cyndy Comerford, manager of planning and fiscal policy at the Environmental Health division of DPH. The reason? “Unmet housing needs in San Francisco can result in significant public health concerns,” Comerford says.

A lack of affordable rental housing can push more tenants into substandard or overcrowded living situations, she adds. Housing units within reach for lower income residents might be squeezed up against a highway, for instance, putting tenants in close proximity to noise, traffic, or air pollution, thus increasing their risks for experiencing heart or respiratory problems. Substandard housing also makes lead or mold exposure more likely, possibly triggering serious health issues over time.

For residents who fork over a significant percentage of their income for rent, other problems can arise. “It leaves little money for other provisions,” such as healthy food or preventative health care, Comerford adds, so low-income tenants have a higher likelihood of malnourishment or preventable disease related to nutrition.

The map is part of a broader DPH initiative known as the Sustainable Communities Index, which provides datasets for more than 100 health indicators. There’s a whole section on housing, which even covers the negative health effects of eviction: “Involuntary displacement contributes to stress, loss of supportive social networks and increased risk for substandard housing conditions and overcrowding,” DPH points out.

More information is yet to come: “Every day this week, we’ll put out a new bit of information around health and housing,” Comerford says.

Taking a broader view, it appears that sweeping cuts to public programs will present a whole new set of challenges for lower-income populations who have a higher risk of housing-related health problems. As a New York Times opinion piece highlighting the public health ramifications of austerity measures notes, “there are warning signs … that health trends are worsening. Prescriptions for antidepressants have soared. Three-quarters of a million people (particularly out-of-work young men) have turned to binge drinking. Over five million Americans lost access to health care in the recession because they lost their jobs.”

Amid all this, as a consequence of the $85 billion “sequester” that began on March 1, “Public housing budgets will be cut by nearly $2 billion this year," the New York Times piece continues, "even while 1.4 million homes are in foreclosure.”


It was always obvious that the average person could not afford SF or SOMA, in much the same way as the average person cannot afford Aspen, Aruba or Andorra.

So what? Not everyone can afford fabulous.

What matters is whether the average SOMA home is affordable to enough people. And it clearly is because the vacancy rate in SOMA is very low, whether we are talking about rentals or owner-occupied.

So if "days on market" or "vacancy rate" for a rental or home for sale is very low, there is only one reasonable conclusion to draw. The average SOMA home is affordable, because clearly people are affording them.

Posted by Guest on May. 14, 2013 @ 4:03 pm

home value is about 20 times the average annual income for that town. The average rent there actually exceeds the vaerage local income.

And yet people live there and many more clamor to live there. There are no vacant homes priced so high that they sit empty. Affordability is an odd concept.

By that standard, it would seem that SOMA is quite cheap.

Posted by Anon on May. 14, 2013 @ 4:13 pm

A significantly large percentage of the jobs in San Francisco are relatively low-paid service worker positions. If none of these people can afford to live in the city, and increasingly the metropolitan Bay Area, then it puts an undue strain on these workers who are commuting.

It's also a bit twisted to imagine a city where the workers are from far away and the residents work in an hour away in Mountain View and San Jose.

Posted by Josh Wolf on May. 14, 2013 @ 9:16 pm

downtown area from cheaper suburbs. You see that pattern in every major city (except for a few basketcases like Detroit where the downtown is poor and it is the suburbs that have the wealth and the jobs).

So if you cannot afford SF but your job is in SOMA, then you live somewhere like West Oakland where there is lots of space, many vacancies, rent that is half of SF and where the BART or freeway gets you to SOMA faster than people who live out in the Avenues.

Any study of housing needs to look at the entire Bay Area and not just SF, let alone just one area of SF.

To your other point, it's up to people where they live and where they work. If people want to travel further so they can buy a home or live in a niver area, that's their choice - what you think about it doesn't matter, and nobody forces you to do that.

Posted by anon on May. 15, 2013 @ 6:44 am

Except you miss the point that we "see that pattern in every major city" only with the corollary pattern of gentrification in previously poor urban centers, at different times and rates in different places, but not yet in Detroit. Thank goodness, Detroit!

Posted by Guest on May. 16, 2013 @ 1:42 pm

But hey, take Tim with you. I feel sure he will love it there.

Posted by Guest on May. 16, 2013 @ 2:12 pm

of the local commute pattern where so many people pass so many others going the other way on freeways each morning and afternoon.

The troll anon is, of course, a malingering miscreant who will write whatever it deems in its puny-minded state to be most distorted and disturbing to those of finer intellectual capacity.

Posted by lillipublicans on May. 15, 2013 @ 7:10 am

Is a "capacity" for something best described in terms of its fineness? I'd go with "acuity." Don't thank me; I'm just here to help.

Posted by Chromefields on May. 15, 2013 @ 7:26 am

both directions because the Bay area has multiple nexi of work. It's not just downtown SF but also Silicon Valley, downtown Oakland and San Jose and various office and technology parks in Marin and the East Bay counties.

And in fact, a two-way commute is healthier and everyone trying to go to the same place at the same time.

It's really none of anyone's business how far I am willing to commute, nor in which direction.

Posted by Guest on May. 15, 2013 @ 8:25 am

Jason Grant Garza here ... What a WONDERFUL useless piece of TRIPE. This report was created by "the San Francisco Department of Public Health’s Program on Health, Equity and Sustainability" ... what a laugh. I mean DPH and PUBLIC HEALTH ... what a FARCE.

Here is what DPH can and does do .... CRIMINAL FRAUD, Denial of HEALTH CARE, Denial of followup, etc ... then ABUSE of POWER/AUTHORITY http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7cP3jCmJFRo

with complaint and complicit city agencies (see all six videos and note Ross' cup of poison) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xax7ksytpu4 ... note the NON ADVOCACY and all the OTHER PLAYERS. Then note what DPH did after I drank Ross's cup of poison http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VFd-KtS8Zss and then again on the IDES of March http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pa7kfWNt4aQ and THEN again ... this time with the SHERIFF's Department BRUTUAL ASSAULT on 5/1/2013 ... http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HCuMwXVxADk

and don't think that SFPD is better ... what about the civil standby on 8/15/2012 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7cP3jCmJFRo or http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4AtSBurJFCc ( note before the BRUTUAL ASSAULT by the SHERIFF'S department http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HCuMwXVxADk ... please watch the followup videos on youtube to see my attempt at scheduling a follow up meeting with ROSS ... maybe you should see what I get from SFPD while trying to file a police report and assault charges ... http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JT4xqqBjvpo and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1CAwYmxZfQk

Now ask me about the agencies ... go to youtube ...type in Jason Garza.

Would you like to see the DA's part http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3eN41g_veF8 and then the assault http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zot6w6eVntU

then the article above states ... As a New York Times opinion piece highlighting the public health ramifications of austerity measures notes, “there are warning signs … that health trends are worsening. Prescriptions for antidepressants have soared. Three-quarters of a million people (particularly out-of-work young men) have turned to binge drinking. Over five million Americans lost access to health care in the recession because they lost their jobs.”

So my question is WHERE SHOULD I GO DIE ...


and I will continue against ALL ODDS just as I did when the city BROKE EMERGENCY LAW, had my case thrown out of FEDERAL COURT (C02-3485PJH) in 2003 with FRAUD and TESTILYING only to sign a confession years later in 2007 thru the Office of Inspector General admitting fault and guilt http://myownprivateguantanamo.com/settle1.html ... I mean what was the consequence other than LEAVING their INNOCENT VINDICATED VICTIM for DEAD and the ability to continue as has been apparent by the above videos.

And DO NOT BELIEVE that it was from the KINDNESS or COMPASSION of either DPH or the CITY ATTORNEY ... as a matter of fact ... when I approach the city attorney ... http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qQLQav2VBOs and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uPdWNGZas7Y and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nMKVpsXXy6k and with Jack http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-kANBfIc5GA and then NOTE the followup http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RlhnYy_Xykw and note the SHERIFF'S departments' part.

Keep DRINKING the KOOL-AID ... lovely meaningless words to insure their pay, benefits and pension ... yet what about my or your Health, Equity and Sustainability ??? Ha,ha,ha!!!

Posted by Jason Grant Garza on May. 15, 2013 @ 8:20 am

It's always funny how much libertarian tripe there is on the subject of housing. Everyone's just choosing freely in a free market! I'm always shocked how far to the left ideas like that go, and how no one on the right seems to get there's an economic problem with what we're doing in US cities.

Leave aside that it shouldn't work this way--we might want to have nice houses and preserve the life of cities and neighborhoods longer than the whims of the market, what's happening is also not sustainable, as an economic system. The structural problem is any wealth created in the bay area is sucked immediately into housing. Is there a tech boom? That money goes to rent and mortgage. Is there a bust? Well, rents stay pretty high because landlords collude and no one fights back. Have the money to start a great restaurant? Well, if you don't charge a hundred a plate your landlord will jack you up for more rent. If you bought decades ago when ordinary people could buy property, great, you might be the five or ten percent still rising, but transfer your property again, and the wealth is just going to banks or big real estate owners. It kind of doesn't work--putting all the wealth of a nation in oblique bets on bad loans already didn't work once, and very well might not work again, and we are quite literally doing that by moving income from entrepreneurial startups so directly back into interest payments on bank loans for housing. I mean, bubbles will last a while, but you always run up against the problem that 1% minorities need to sell the rest of the people things, and accelerating prices of necessities like housing can't be endlessly accelerating.

There really is a good old Marxist concept that explains more about bay area housing than the invisible hand, the starvation wage, which is basically just that those in power will take what you let them take from you. It's about where people draw the line. Will you pay 100% of your senior software engineer income to live in a one bedroom house with a three hour commute to work? Will you settle for living in a tent under the bridge on your retirement income? Maybe, but you don't have to, by any law of economics or nature.

Posted by Guest on May. 15, 2013 @ 2:14 pm

to the fact that you lack the education and job skills to compete in this city, and so you desperately appeal to whatever political ideology that you think (wrongly) will bail out losers.

If you want to afford a SF home, it's really very easy. Develop the job skills that will enable you to afford one. No politicians will ever give you one for free.

Posted by Guest on May. 15, 2013 @ 2:23 pm

I agree life is like a game and living in San Fran is definitely one of the higher levels to conquer...If you want to live there do what is needed! The article is about how unaffordable housing is bad for health and most of the comments on here have strayed from the subject matter.

Posted by Guest! on Jun. 18, 2013 @ 6:04 pm