The Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) has assigned Bay Area cities the task of building 441,000 new homes and apartments between 2023-2031 to meet the region’s dire need for housing. But chances are slim they will be able to meet this goal. More than a quarter of Bay Area cities are protesting the state’s proposed guidelines, and 27 towns, cities, and counties have filed appeals against the ABAG to reduce their quotas. These appeals are concentrated among the wealthiest communities – 11 of the 18 cities with the highest median household income are requesting the largest quota reductions. These include Saratoga, Los Altos, Los Altos Hill, Palo Alto, and the East Bay cities Alameda, Lafayette, Pleasant Hill, and Marin County.
It is easy to point fingers and accuse those cities of refusing to sacrifice some comforts to make room for others. But some cities have valid arguments. For example, Santa Clara County has argued that their limited infrastructure, including water and sewage, cannot sustain the many units they are being asked to build. They have agreements with cities to acquire land to develop in less dense areas and have claimed that regional planners ignored this fact in their analyses. Other towns like Mill Valley and Dublin have argued that they already put in considerable effort to plan for future growth, only to find that their housing allotment is overwhelmingly more than they can sustain.
California’s goal is simple – to provide enough housing to support every household that wants to live here. If 441,000 families need accommodation, they need to build 441,000 units no matter where in the Bay Area they are. If a city refuses to contribute its share of housing, then another nearby municipality will need to build that much more. Dublin, in particular, feels that it has received the brunt of other city’s unwillingness to yield. Dublin has grown by over 50% and has approved twice more homes than requested in the past ten years. But with the housing allotment asking for another 3,700 homes and dwindling available space, city administrators feel they have not received their due credit for their earlier efforts and think they are being penalized. It is easy to understand their point – the housing mandates don’t feel fair for those that have made efforts to accommodate the requests.
The Bay Area’s largest cities – San Jose, San Francisco, and Oakland – have accepted their development targets and are working to construct more high-rise apartment complexes. These cities have large homeless populations and have had the opportunity to witness the consequences of the housing shortage every day.
Every city is looking out for the interest of its citizens – that is healthy and expected. But in the end, if some cities are unwilling to yield and we can’t build the infrastructure needed to keep talented workers in the Bay Area, then we all lose.
Our CEO Kiai Kim recently showed me an article about a mansion in New Jersey that was initially listed at $39 million but sold at just $4.6 million eight years later – an 88% discount! From 2013 to 2021, the price dropped from $39 million to $25 million and went through more than five rounds of re-adjustments to the current price of $4.6 million. I thought to myself, “Why even wait that long? How can a homeowner have the patience to deal with the upkeep for eight years? And what a massive waste of space to leave a huge house like that empty?”
In San Francisco’s ritzy Cow Hollow neighborhood, a luxury Italian-style mansion sold earlier this year after sitting idle on the market since 2008. The initial asking price was $29.5 million and sold for $17.5 million. The price drop wasn’t as drastic, but the fact that the owner was willing to let the house sit empty for 13 years is just another example of sellers’ unwillingness to compromise.
The issues of the super-rich are far removed from those of us working-class folks, but I think in these extreme cases, we can also see to some extent what perpetuates the high Bay Area housing prices – the desire to make the highest profit even if it takes years and years to sell. And in the case of the New Jersey mansion (and probably many other homes owned by the uber-wealthy), the house was not even occupied. When sellers are unwilling to budge on the high sale price, it means houses remain unaffordable for that much longer.
The strategy of waiting years hoping that a desirable offer will appear doesn’t always pan out. The New Jersey mansion had earlier been offered a price higher than the final selling price but had refused it, later to realize that they wouldn’t get an offer that high again. Unfortunately, these lessons aren’t apparent until the end – sometimes many years later.
We at Care Association have been trying to stay on top of issues concerning affordable housing for lower and middle-class Bay Area residents. We worry about the psychological cost of high rents and the growing rates of homelessness. At the same time, we are also actively participating in the discussion around innovative ways to bring down the costs of new structures.
One of the developments we have been following is the growing interest in cob as a (much!) cheaper alternative to lumber in North America. Cob is a mix of clay-soil, straw, water, and sand, used to build walls that alone are strong enough to support a roof. Cob was used for thousands of years in ancient times throughout Asia, Africa, Europe, South America, and the Middle East. Here in Northern California, the stringent codes regulating seismic strength, fire resistance, and insulation have made cob a tough sell.
Cob’s growing visibility
The soaring housing costs led Bay Area architect John Fordice to revisit cob in the late ’90s to see if he could address those deficiencies. He set up The Cob Research Institute (CRI) in 2008 to ramp up visibility and research efforts into the viability of this cheap and clean alternative. The CRI began working with local university engineering labs to build cob wall prototypes and develop solutions to address its structural weaknesses. They compiled the results of their years of research into a guideline to help others overcome the common hurdles that past cob projects have faced when trying to get approval from their local planning departments.
We are delighted to share that this guideline has been formally approved for inclusion into the International Residential Code (IRC) just this year! It is now accessible to any interested builder as Appendix U, the Cob Construction Appendix, in the 2021 IRC. We were also excited to hear that the appendix was accepted by an overwhelming 93 to 6 majority. A lot of people are as excited about cob as we are!
Remaining obstacles to cob-based housing
Inclusion into the IRC is not a green light to start building cob housing for human habitation, but speeds up the permit process for other types of buildings, like storage units. Nevertheless, it is a very encouraging sign that we are getting closer to the possibility of cob-based homes. Other types of earthen building solutions, such as strawbale and light straw hay, also started as appendices in the IRC and were gradually adopted into local building codes. “Then why hasn’t Care Association started promoting strawbale or light straw hay?” you may ask. Strawbale will result in a sturdy home, but the walls will need to be 2 feet thick to meet the insulation requirements. If we are looking to build at volume, the area requirements will be prohibitive. Cob, we believe, can be as narrow as 12-16 inches with proper insulation. Straw is also difficult to find locally, and there is concern that straw is environmentally unclean.
Cob will result in thinner walls, but we don’t know how thick or thin the final product will be. Cob alone can not pass the requirement for an insulation R-value of 13 in Northern California. In layman’s terms, a cob wall is not “breathable” enough; vapor needs to be able to pass through the wall with some quantifiable measure of ease. The CRI and other organizations are working on this problem. They are researching possible solutions, such as replacing the heavy components of the cob mixture with lighter substitutes, adding more straw/hemp, or wrapping the outside of the cob wall with less dense mixes of clay or straw/hemp. Our CEO, Kiai Kim, has also been attending cob workshops to stay up to date on the latest research and help pose some solutions.
Because cob is heavy, the labor costs to build cob structures will be high. If cob gets adopted into Bay Area building codes, our initial vision is to use a volunteer force of builders to provide labor. Luckily, building with cob is easy to learn. The savings from volunteer labor and the cheaper materials will offer an affordable housing solution for those in immediate need.
There are a lot of people rooting for cob. It is non-toxic, can be molded into beautiful shapes, environmentally friendly, and so fire-resistant that some make ovens out of cob. This is a great advantage in this new era of yearly wildfires. (Imagine fleeing a wildfire and returning to see your walls fully intact!) At Care Association, we are thrilled with cob’s newfound recognition and have great hopes for its future adoption, especially with lumber’s skyrocketing costs. With 21st-century engineering advances, perhaps the cob structures that housed our distant ancestors can also provide safe, warm, and affordable places for us to sleep as well.
In all honesty, I didn’t give much thought to the issue of affordable Bay Area housing until my brother Ted became homeless. He had received a diagnosis of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), anxiety, and schizophrenia but refused to take his medication. After a particularly bad fight with my mother, he left the mobile home in which they lived, saying that she always opposed anything he wanted to do and felt that the relationship was toxic.
The next few years were very stressful. We would plead with Ted to come back, but he always refused. I was constantly wondering where he was, whether he ate lunch, whether he found a place to sleep away from the cold in the winter, and whether he was able to escape the baking heat in the summer. Another question I grappled with was whether I should move out of the Bay Area. If I could afford a tiny studio for him, then we would worry a lot less. But I already had to pay a mortgage on my current home, and at today’s prices, even a tiny Bay Area studio would be twice more than what we paid for the house in the early 2000s.
Fortunately, Ted didn’t go completely silent. Once a month, he would call back and allow us to take him to dinner. I asked him so many questions over these dinners and learned a bit about how the homeless get their basic needs met. Before Ted left home, I always thought that homeless people could just go to shelters and get food, showers, and safe places to sleep. This is true, but only if they can get a bed at all. The shelter that Ted attended most often would allow people to assemble starting at 3 pm, hold a random lottery at 4 pm, and then let the winners in at 5 pm. Unfortunately, the number of those seeking refuge increases in the winter, so the chances of getting a bed become slim. In San Francisco, the number of homeless without beds is around 6,800, but officials say the estimate is closer to 18,000 (!) as the pandemic has incurred heavy job losses.
My brother often slept on bus 22, a 24-hour bus route in Santa Clara County nicknamed “Hotel 22” because of the large numbers of homeless people that use it as overnight housing. Unfortunately, like the shelter, this option became less reliable in the winter. So every afternoon became a race to find a place to sleep for the night. Many nights he ended up sneaking back into an empty bedroom in my mother’s house through an open window and then climbing back out in the morning. He was fortunate to have this option, but many homeless don’t.
As if the homeless don’t have enough to worry about already, there is also a high incidence of theft. It is not uncommon to fall asleep only to find that what little you have is gone. This is an issue on the bus as well as in the shelters. We once had to replace Ted’s entire suitcase with fresh clothes, toiletries, and cash. We also had to replace his phone five times.
We finally got Ted to move in after trying many things, including having my mother move back in with me. But I believe what ultimately worked was installing a new treadmill in the garage. Ted’s biggest fear is getting cancer or diabetes, so he runs every day for an hour. After his gym canceled his membership and stopped letting him enter (because his disheveled state was disturbing customers), I purchased a treadmill. He started to come over more and more often until he decided it was more trouble to leave than to stay.
I am beyond relieved that he is back home, but it troubles me that he couldn’t get proper support. Shouldn’t Ted have been able to find a place to sleep if he wanted? Returning home is not an option for many of the homeless. So many are evicted, some children, and many leave toxic situations or families that cannot properly care for them. And with the Bay Area housing prices skyrocketing, the problem will only worsen as a growing number of homeless compete for a fixed number of beds. Nobody should have to battle through a frigid night … not even once.
The shelter-in-place mandates introduced during the pandemic have strained many individuals who find themselves with a lot less personal space at home than they enjoyed before Covid. As a result, we have seen a disturbing increase in domestic violence, so much so that some local domestic violence shelters have had to turn people away for lack of space. However, this is not a new story for many Bay Area families; we have seen this phenomenon for years caused by another culprit: Bay Area housing prices. We have heard the painful accounts of those forced to stay with abusive partners and divorcees forced to live with their exes because they cannot afford to rent or buy another residence.
One demographic that has been particularly affected by the high rents is young adults, often nicknamed the “Boomerang Generation” because of the large percentage of them who have returned home to live with parents. This arrangement can be beneficial, with children saving on rent while also contributing to the family’s finances. In healthy families, parents continue to foster independence in their adult children, respecting their privacy and choices. Parents that do not respect boundaries, on the other hand, can psychologically cripple their children for years to come.
Helicopter parents may not stop their controlling ways when adult children move home. Early-career adult children suddenly find themselves with a lot more freedom and many more choices to make, particularly regarding their future careers and family. For example, they may need to try various jobs before finding their fit. They may need to meet a lot of the “wrong” type of guy or girl before they meet the “right” one. Trial-and-error is necessary and healthy. Living at home means that parents will be privy to their children’s choices, and the overprotective ones will nag, maybe harass, and even physically assault their children into choosing what they think is best. Children in such situations become demoralized, lose self-confidence, and harbor long-term resentment against their parents. They are also victims of a type of domestic violence for which there is no shelter.
Bay Area home prices have imprisoned many within the same walls as their abusers. Even though the cost of a San Francisco studio has dropped to $1,895 during the pandemic, that is still too much for many young adults who barely make above minimum wage. And for those who have no recourse but to return home to controlling parents, the only solution is to find a way to set clear boundaries (which is often easier said than done) or stand to suffer. It is a sad situation. Every individual should have the right to get out of harm’s way.
It is well known that San Francisco’s housing prices are consistently higher than those of other cities across the United States. There are many reasons for this phenomenon. Many well-known technology companies and high-tech talent converge here. However, people with low-income can’t afford the high rental rates.
Let’s first take a brief look at the current state of San Francisco rentals. We have to admit that the overall rental prices in San Francisco have dropped this year because of the pandemic. According to the statistics, the price of studio has dropped from $2,596 last year to $1,895, down 27%, and the price of one-bedroom has also dropped to $2,600, down 25% compared to last year.
The above is the current situation of rental prices in San Francisco. Due to the impact of the pandemic, many companies are working from home. Many people are starting to move out of the Bay Area to cheaper places to live. However, are these rental prices acceptable for people who cannot move further away?
I think it is not. For someone making $15 an hour, rent at $1,895 takes up 78% of his salary. The rest of the money is also not enough to support his other expenses for a month. Even though the price of renting in San Francisco has decreased significantly compared to last year, it is still unaffordable for people earning lower income.
This also shows the need for truly affordable housing, not housing for which people spend more than half their income. We expect the rent for an affordable home to be nore more than $780 per month per household earning $15 an hour. This rate is extremely below the current rent rates in San Francisco.
Currently, our country is facing one of the worst affordable housing crises in its history. Without a doubt, those living in poverty are the most severely impacted.
A very common trick scammers use is to copy a legitimate ad and lower the price to lure unsuspecting victims. Especially in the San Francisco Bay Area where high rents is a major issue, it takes perseverance to find a home in the area. Unfortunately, there are scammers taking advantage of innocent people looking for a roof over their heads. Thus, you always need diligence especially if it involves large sums of money.
Here are some ways to spot fake Craigslist rental ads.
They refuse to meet you in person
One of the biggest signs of a scam is the seller refuses to directly meet you for some odd reason. Whether it’s because they’re out of the country, vacation, or elsewhere, if you can’t meet in person, it’s a red flag.
Photos look better than other listings
Photos are very important in regard to housing. What is tricky is if the photos are legitimate or not. Often scammers will download photos from the internet posing as legitimate photos. Luckily there are ways to counter this scam tactic. The first method is to Google search the images or see if it contains any watermarks. Second, check for the small inconsistencies in the ad especially in regards to the photos.
How to verify photos through Google Images
1. For most browsers, simply right-click on an image in the Craigslist ad and choose “Copy image address.”
2. Open images.google.com and click the camera icon. Mousing over the icon, it says “Search by image.” Paste the address you copied from step 2.
3. Look at two part of the Google image results page that says “visually similar images” and “Pages that include matching images.”
4. If the image matches any of the results, it’s with high certainty that it could be a stolen image. If the image from the other source comes from a webpage advertising a higher cost, then the ad is a scam.
Back to the list…
Asking to wire money
When you are asked to pay through a third party like Western Union, MoneyGram, etc, rather than cash/check, it’s a red flag, especially if they ask for money before you even see the property yourself. Scammers are trying to avoid dealing with you directly. Also, to cover their tracks as well.
Suspicious sense of urgency
Ads or listings that create a false sense of urgency. What I mean is essentially anything that forces you to make an irrational decision without giving yourself the time to think things through is a scam. If they say you have to make a decision today to buy it or lose it forever or anything like that, it’s a red flag. For anything involving houses, it’s ultimately a research game, not an emotional one.
Too Good to be true
If the deal is too good to be true, it’s a red flag. Why such a low price in an area where the rent is a lot more? Note that the ad above includes “cats are OK,” “dogs are OK,” and “attached garage” among other amenities.
If a listing has a sob story, it’s most likely a scam. Serious lessors are unlikely to mention their personal problems in a listing. If they do include a sob story, they may be scammers trying to bait you with emotions to trick you in giving your hard-earned cash away.
Typos and grammar errors
Typos and grammar errors are common among all types of scams. Fake listings are no exceptions. Scammers for some reason or another do not take the time to ensure their fake listings are typo-and grammar-error-free.
Lack of information
Scams may give a lack of very important information. If it’s just a paragraph of scant info, it’s potentially a scam. However, scams could give lots of important information in which you need to rely on other signals to tell if it’s a scam or not.
Protect yourself from fraud, especially from the internet. Even with the efforts of moderators, there is no excuse for not being diligent in looking for a place to live.
Right now, rents around the country are elevating at a unstoppable pace. The ongoing battle between supply and demand is agonizing the economic upheaval. Now that employment, wages, and population are increasing landlords and property owners believe it is acceptable to uncontrollably raise rent prices. It may be the case, however, with speculative rent policies, and high perception of gentrification discriminating lower income residents to affluent municipalities makes this process intangible for equality. One side is getting the favor while the other is grappling to survive the consequences. It is indefinitely hurting the crisis and bringing injustice to existence within laws of the housing market.
Why Property Owners Require Rent
Most people may believe that rent is the occurrence to satisfy the landlord or property owner. It is, but it also reflects back to help the landlord contribute to the promises committed on the rental agreement for maintenance, mortgage, and paying “property taxes to the government” (Eberlin, 2018). These rules apply even if the landlord doesn’t live on site but is acquainted by the property owner. Does this mean they should charge higher prices? Yes, but only to limited cities that can afford it without hassle. Without a doubt this is highly obtainable for property owners to utilize, but the effect it is has on long-term renters could be devastating to survive random rent inflation without explanation. Economists and other researchers have noticed a change in rent prices during certain times of the year for long-term and short-term due to “landlords risking foreclosure” (Landes, 2012). In general, this is true because of how vacations are timed and planned throughout the year for all people.
Jerry X, a economy entrepreneur for AirBnb, drastically proves this by explaining how short-term prices and occupancy constantly “fluctuate throughout the year due to demand shifts.” Meaning, if the landlord needs more funds once school session starts to maintain the building units, prices will increase, and short-term rent availability will dwindle. It’s as if this is one of the main reasons why most communities enable uptight rent laws due to short-term renters harming “property value by not maintaining their house as well as homeowners” (Pindell, 2009, p.72).
Does Increasing Housing Rates Help or Hurt The Economy?
Throughout the rental crisis, most of the economists have agreed that the increase of housing rates is what is causing most of the affordability hardships among many citizens. This is true because of the structure of employment income being stereotyped, and renting laws not being monitored so they could target low-income families. Not only renters but also “preventing workers from moving to areas with growing job opportunities.” (Been, Ellen, O’Regan, 2017, pg.1). An example could be the rate of construction jobs being added to the economy. Yet, with housing and rental policies being subjective it automatically qualifies wealthier cities to have higher quality than deprived ones. As a result, more houses are being built while the wealthy get richer and the poor struggle more to make ends meet with little to no income support. Does this mean they should lower prices? Yes, to some extent. There needs to be a balance with supply and demand towards employment and homeownership. However, unparalleled housing properties and stagnant interest rates make this process harder to accomplish without segregation being present in municipalities.
What’s Holding Back Bringing Rates Down From Landlords?
Overall, the economic crisis would be a time for lowering rent, but not from the landlord’s perspective. Many of them believe that once the prices dwindle, they would lose on competitiveness, and welcoming lower income residents. This may be true, however, it may attract a negative belief of gentrification to prevent diversity populating in high-class cities. Should landlords consider this a reason to lower it? It depends on many factors among tenants, rent policies, and the economy. Some researchers consider raising prices economic growth due to higher consumer spending in GDP, but unaware of how this unequal trend caused a traumatic effect in segregation within the housing market.
Been, V., Ellen, I. G., & O’Regan, K. (2017). Supply Skepticism: Housing Supply and Affordability. Housing Policy Debate, 1-22. doi:10.1080/10511482.2018.1476899
Eberlin, E. (2018, November 21). 7 Safety and Maintenance Responsibilities of a Landlord. Retrieved from https://www.thebalancesmb.com/landlord-rental-property-responsibilities-2124989
Hegewish, Arianne, et al. “The Gender Wage Gap by Occupation 2017 and by Race and Ethnicity.” Institute for Women’s Policy Research, 9, Apr. 2018, iwpr.org/publications/gender-wage-gap-occupation-2017-race-ethnicity/.
Landes, L. (2012, August 07). Earning a Living With Rental Properties: Should You Be a Landlord? Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/moneybuilder/2012/08/06/earning-a-living-with-rental-properties-should-you-be-a-landlord/
Pindell, N. (2009). Home Sweet Home? The Efficacy of Rental Restrictions to Promote Neighborhood Stability, 29, 42-84. Retrieved March 5, 2019.
* Tables were used from citydata.com and iwpr.gov.
Cohousing is a form of housing created as an intentional community in which people share household tasks, resources, and space. Living cooperatively can reduce cost of living and prevent isolation or loneliness. For thousands of cohousing residents, it has become the only way to live within their economic means.
The term came into use with the innovative advances to social housing in Denmark from the early 1970s. Housing was in short supply and demands resulted in progressive movements such as the “free state” of Christiania and the rise of social democracy. Cohousing may take the form of a cooperative or as a collective. Cooperatives are generally formed for economic sustainability and often have written bylaws. Some are legally structured as corporate entities or associations. Collectives tend to have a less formal structure.
In real estate, cooperatives are legal entities formed to share the repayment of debt on real property (land and structures). Many cooperatives also share common spaces and amenities, such as gyms. Lesser known, cooperative living may not be structured for land ownership. And it differs from legal cooperatives as well as from houses shared by multiple roommates in intention. While the term cooperative has been used to mean different things, the main idea of cooperative housing is that it is formed with the intention of sharing the burdens of cost and responsibility, and for fostering strength of community.
While cohousing includes a range of different shared arrangements, economically-viable cooperative housing is an option for affordable housing that needs more attention.
Andrew, an owner of a young business, shares a glimpse of living in a highly affordable cohousing arrangement in Cambridge, MA, in the following video.
For more information on cohousing and cooperatives, visit the following links:
***EDIT: Some of this advice may seem like wishful thinking, because in some ways it is. But acting purposefully in certain ways, even if wishful, has been known to make others respond in kind. ***
When I had five-figure consumer debt, I tried to find a place to live in San Francisco that would allow me to get rid of that debt in a year. Are you laughing? Because it is laughable unless you have a six-figure salary. Most Bay Area residents do not earn six figures. Yet most housing in the area is unaffordable to the lower-income masses. It makes no sense — unless you’re a greedy property owner sitting on a vacancy until finding a six-figure-income-earning tenant. (A single person earning $100k a year can comfortably afford $2,500 – $2,750 in housing expenses.)
There will be competition no matter what, no thanks to the lack of new housing construction. But there are actions one can take to increase chances for finding housing that don’t involve signing up for a lottery or waiting list.
Tip 1: Save Your Cash
Saving cash is especially important if your credit score is less than Good. How much should you save? Some places require one month’s rent as a security deposit plus the first month’s rent, though it’s better to have at least two months of security plus rent in the bank. But if your credit is Poor to Fair, you might need more cash. Try to save at least six months of rent; even better if you can save a year’s worth that can be paid in lump to a landlord. This cash may be the factor that beats the competition.
Saving cash is much easier if you aren’t already paying an arm and a leg for housing, maybe living in your vehicle, on the street, or on someone else’s couch. If you’re already cost-burdened by housing, consider getting a roommate. I Airbnb’d an inflatable mattress in my living room for $40 a night. My building’s management knew I was in financial trouble, and they let me get away with it for a little while. But maybe your landlord will let you use Airbnb if you remain transparent about how much money you make. (Full disclosure: that link refers you via my personal Airbnb account, and if you sign up through it, I get $300 Airbnb credit. Hey, I don’t have a salary.) Make sure to check your lease for restrictions and amend it if necessary.
At the least, make changes to your spending or lifestyle. If you drink alcohol, stop and put that drink money into a savings account. Find something else to do. I found a Scrabble game at the thrift store for $3 to occupy time with friends in lieu of going to a bar. Olympic figure skater Adam Rippon has a saving trick: use shopping desires to move money into savings.
Tip 2: Improve Credit-worthiness
Even someone with a perfect credit score can have trouble finding affordable housing, but if your FICO score is below 600, you’re in real trouble. Unfortunately, paying rent every month isn’t going to raise it. Unless you have a mortgage or other qualifying loan from a financial institution, the only way to raise your score is to have, use, and regularly pay off a credit card.
I have a credit card for exactly that purpose. I use it to pay my phone bill, an expense already in my budget. I have another credit card for emergencies, which is used rarely, and if it is used it’s paid on time every month. The key to raising a score with a credit card is to ensure payments of more than the minimum are made on time every billing period. Do not just make minimum payments, because if you use the card for other purchases, the account may appear as “revolving,” which is not good for your FICO score. Besides, you may end up paying more in interest than for the actual purchase.
Tip 3: Lobby for Decreased Rates
Many property management companies will accept tenants for market-rate units even though the rates are higher than 30% of tenants’ gross income. Many of San Francisco Housing Authority’s “affordable” units allow tenants to be cost-burdened having them pay 50% of income on rent. We need to demand rents to come down or demand legislation that makes them come down. San Francisco has such legislation in the works for a tax on vacant units. If you’re in San Francisco, tell your city supervisor to support the vacancy tax ballot; and then vote for it in November 2019. If you’re in another city, propose appropriate legislation to influence affordability for your jurisdiction. That might mean starting a petition to approve new housing construction, like multi-family buildings. As the market dictates, if there is more housing availability, the rates decrease. While we don’t have time to wait for rates to fall, we can do something.
Or just ask
You can also ask for a decrease in rent rate. Asking for a decreased rate on a unit that received a dozen applications probably isn’t going to work. But if a unit has been vacant for longer than a month, the owner may be asking too much rent for it. Let’s say your budget is $1,600. If a homeowner is asking $1,700, ask, “Would you take $1,600?” The worst that can happen is the homeowner says “No.”
A neuroscience study by Reuter et al. (2011) found that 72% of the study’s participants had a genetic predisposition for altruism. If most homeowners are altruistic, then some might accept less for rent.
Negotiation can help. It may help the owner to know if you have home repair skills, if you’re a neat freak, or if you’re industrious and will help keep the grounds clean. An example of a home repair skill is changing the stopper in a toilet tank. A good stopper costs about $6. Calling a plumber to fix a leaking toilet tank costs at least $200. These days, you don’t even need tools to change it. I just changed one myself the other day without even turning the water off.
Tip 4: Use Humor
Homeowners whose vacancies you apply for or their agents will remember you better if you make them laugh. Researchers Curry & Dunbar (2013) found that shared humor increases altruism. Altruism not only has genetic markers, but it can also be influenced by neurotransmitters in the brain. Mirthful laughter reduces stress hormone levels and releases endorphins. Granted, a property owner or agent may not have the same humor as you, but different humor and new jokes can be learned. Get the owner or agent to laugh, and you may tap into that person’s altruism.
Tip 5: Increase Your Social Circle
If anyone in the Bay Area is able to find housing below market rate that’s not a share and not subsidized, there’s a good chance the lessee was previously known to the lessor. Care Association is working to increase these chances with our forthcoming Care For Us platform. But for now, build face-to-face connections with people, because someone knows someone who has a vacant unit.
Connecting with people face-to-face these days can be difficult. If you’re uncomfortable in social situations, you may be at a disadvantage, but building connections with others is still possible. You may need to find different ways to connect with people. Some ideas:
Spend time on Nextdoor.com if you can get an account, engage in conversations, and find opportunities to acquaint yourself with others.
Join a Meetup.com group and participate in meetings.
Many homeowners prefer to not rent out their vacancies but prefer peace and quiet, and the feeling of privacy. Some homeowners simply don’t want just anyone to live with them. They want someone they like and respect, and who will leave willingly if they no longer want a tenant. If you meet a homeowner like this, you need to be willing to comply.
Related to increasing the number of people in your life, connect to people who can provide positive references. Positive references should indicate that you’re reliable and trustworthy. Make sure that these people you count as references are open to being contacted by potential leasing agents and homeowners. If finding references is difficult, then you’ve got work to do that might involve taking a sober look in the mirror. I’ve been there.
Tip 6: Find a Roommate
This follows increasing your social circle. As you get acquainted with more people, you might find that certain personality types are more compatible with you than others. Jungian personality typology can help with this. My personal favorite resource is Humanmetrics.com. The website appears Web 1.0, but the content can be useful if tried. Maybe a potential roommate is a homeowner with a spare room.
What if making connections to people is hard for you? Psychological researcher Abigail Marsh recommends learning to stop making yourself important to learn to have compassion. Compassion leads to acts of kindness. People notice acts of kindness. Acts of kindness draws people in and opens up opportunities for making connections.
Tip 7: Lower Your Expectations
The media is filled with luxury. Popular Instagram posts show mansions, designer goods, and everything else expensive. Celebrities popularize wealth. Yet less than 100 years ago, up to 20 families crowded into one 4-story New York City building just 25 feet wide and 100 feet deep. If five families lived on one floor, each family may have had roughly 450 square feet of space. Today, people with low income expect multiple bedrooms in more than 1,000 square feet for a single family. Privacy and having one’s own room has become so important that renters are willing to be cost-burdened, paying 50% or more of their income for housing.
Spending more than half of one’s income on housing will not improve life. If anything, it will perpetuate impoverishment. Look for housing that costs 30% to 33% of your gross income, including the cost of utilities. This may mean finding a room instead of an apartment. It may mean sharing a studio. It may mean moving away. If you’re fortunate, it may mean finding an altruistic landlord with a vacancy and taking it even if it’s not the perfect place.
Tip 8: Simplify Your Life (Go Tiny)
Many people who have downsized their belongings, keeping only what they need, or keeping only what sparks joy a la Marie Kondo, have found themselves feeling less anxious and more stable. Downsizing belongings thus enables requiring less space. Less space is less maintenance and lower cost. By downsizing, living expectations no longer require lowering; rather, they simply change.
Consider joining the tiny house movement, influenced by Sonoma County resident Jay Shafer, known by the tiny house community as the godfather of the movement. If a family of eight 100 years ago could share 450 square feet, then you can live in a tiny house, which ranges in size. Shafer’s house is 89 square feet, but they can be larger. In general, going tiny means moving out of a conventional house or apartment into much smaller spaces. Tiny houses on wheels tend to be no more than 360 square feet.
There are barriers to tiny house living, especially in the Bay Area. For one, they aren’t easy to find, and empty lots are expensive. Nor is it easy to find a place to park a tiny house on wheels and live in it legally. RV parking is limited in the Bay Area, but people have been able to occupy houses on wheels parked on RV pads. Maybe someone in your social circle knows someone with a driveway where one could park. Or maybe rent a tiny house on Airbnb, connect to the owner, and see if becoming a tenant is possible. When I managed an Airbnb listing, I got tired of the revolving door and settled with a roommate.
Municipalities vary in their support of tiny houses. Sonoma County planning department recognizes tiny houses as livable structures. And Marin County has a temporary waiver on the $1,500 permit fee for building separate accessory dwelling units and junior dwelling units inside the main house up to 500 square feet. Alternatively, 120-square-foot structures are allowed without a permit. David Smith in Marin builds attractive structures this small called Backyard Eichlers. His sheds have been installed in the backyards of both Marin and San Francisco counties. For those living with family, it’s not exactly moving out, but it can be an improvement.
The best part of tiny house living in my opinion is that the options are endless, especially for houses on wheels. They are only limited by lack of creativity. Maybe someone in your family has a spot in the yard or driveway. Or reach out to your social circle for leads. Search online for ideas, educate yourself, start dreaming, and get yourself a home.
I know that there are vacant apartments in San Francisco that have been empty for years. Care Association wants to reach out to their owners and encourage altruism that they may offer them for affordable rents. We are building the Care For Us website so that property owners can get acquainted with people looking for housing, and we hope they will make these vacant spaces available to users on the site. But we need to populate the site.
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Yim, J. (2016). Therapeutic benefits of laughter in mental health: A theoretical review. The Tohoku Journal of Experimental Medicine,239(3), 243-9. doi:10.1620/tjem.239.243