To afford a market-rate one-bedroom apartment in San Francisco, you need to earn $29.83 an hour, or $62,046 annually, according to a new report out this month from the National Low Income Housing Coalition. Add a second bedroom and your household hourly wage needs to hit $37.62 ($78,249 annually), the highest for any metro region in the country.

Things don’t get better in other parts of the Bay Area: San Mateo, Santa Clara and Marin join San Francisco atop the charts as four of the six most expensive counties in America. Oakland-Fremont, Santa Cruz-Watsonville and San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara join San Francisco in the top 10 most expensive metro regions.

Several California cities and counties top the list of most expensive places to rent a home. (National Low Income Housing Coalition)
Several California cities and counties top the list of most expensive places to rent a home. (National Low Income Housing Coalition)

This report also contains dismal news for minimum-wage workers in California. Those earning the state minimum wage of $8 an hour would need to work 130 hours a week (there are 168 hours in a week total) to afford a market-rate two-bedroom in California based on the statewide real estate average. Though the minimum wage is higher in many California cities, including San Francisco and San Jose, there is still a wide gap between what minimum-wage workers earn and what they need for housing.

A campaign to raise the state minimum wage to $12 an hour failed to gather enough financial support to get on this year’s ballot. KQED’s Do Now project recently asked people across the country how much they think minimum wage should be. 

Minimum wage workers in San Francisco and San Jose still fall short of being able to afford housing. (National Low Income Housing Coalition)
Minimum wage workers in San Francisco and San Jose still fall short of being able to afford housing. (National Low Income Housing Coalition)

If you look at what people in the Bay Area are actually earning, the picture is a bit less grim. The average renter in San Francisco, for example, earned $31.45 an hour – well above the $10.74 minimum wage.  At that rate, it would take 1.2 full-time jobs to afford a two-bedroom in the city. Factor in a roommate or partner to split the rent with, and things look a bit more manageable – at least for those at or above the average.

In the San Jose metro region, the average renter is even better off, earning $32.99 an hour, but only $31.71 is needed for a market-rate two-bedroom.

Meanwhile, if all of these wage levels seem out of reach, we’ll leave you with a glimpse of all the cheaper places you could live. Hint: Can anybody give us a ride to Idaho?

A nationwide view of housing affordability. (National Low Income Housing Coalition)
A nationwide view of housing affordability. (National Low Income Housing Coalition)


Report: You Need to Earn $29.83 an Hour to Afford a 1-Bedroom in San Francisco 1 April,2014Olivia Allen-Price

  • JM

    I actually don’t think these calculations are accurate. In fact, I believe the truth to be staggeringly higher.
    One should technically make in one week what their monthly rent is. With that in mind, the current average for a 1 bedroom apartment in SF is probably around $3000 a month.
    To make $3000 a week you need to make $75 an hour.
    That’s an annual income of $156k. Clear, take home cash money.

    • John_How

      Your rule of thumb assumes that other costs of living rise in proportion to housing costs – which is not the case. While it may be ideal to spend 25% or less of your take-home income on rent and/or mortgage it is not a requirement for having a balanced personal budget. This is especially true in areas like the Bay Area where housing costs are so dramatically high in comparison with other costs of living. Having said that, as a BA resident I would gladly welcome your proposed minimum wage of $75 p/hr.

      • JM

        This was the standard I was told when living in NYC. Now living in SF for the past 13 years and seeing it become more expensive than my home city, it’s a standard that seems appropriate. I don’t make anything close to that so I am with you. I propose a $75 a hour minimum wage.

        • Sanfordia113

          Yhat is BS, JM. Food is MUCH cheaper in SF than NYC. We have farmers markets and Chinatown where you can get farm-fresh infredients for an average of $0.80/lb. I live on less than $7/day food budget. I don’t own a car. I don’t use the useless Muni. I don’t go to paid concerts (there are hundreds of free entertainment events every year). Only entitled small-minded people with no experience with poverty will find it difficult to live in the City on less than $30,000 income per year.

    • anon

      no, that’s wrong lol

    • Maxwell

      When applying for apartments, many times they require that your housing not be more than 30% of your monthly income.. Don’t know if that helps tweak your assumptions a little further.

    • RWat

      I agree – 1 bedrooms are at $3000 right now. I make above the wage in the article and could not afford that per month. I choose a studio instead – my rent is $1200/month less than the 1-bedrooms currently available in my unit!!! I usually go by the 30% of income rule of thumb, so you are probably just a little more conservative in your estimate (although nothing wrong with that).

    • Eric

      All this and more in today’s episode of “JM’s First World View.”

  • jdawg

    I agree with JM, these figures are way off. I make more than that and couldn’t find a one bedroom anywhere in my price range. Unless I felt like doing nothing other than working eating and sleeping.

    Rent is up 40% city wide in two years… Staggering and unsustainable.

  • correction

    These figures are not based on “market rate” rents (i.e., what you would pay off you got a new apartment today). They are based on HUD fair market rents, which are calculated based on the average rent paid by city residents. That means they average in the much lower rents paid by people who have stayed in the same rent controlled apartment for a long period. Someone who’s lived in the city for decades and pays $1,000 a month for a three bedroom apartment in North Beach is being included in the “fair market rent.”

  • franklin

    After being evicted from a shared place where roommates held lease and were moving, moved into a place called Crown Colony where I was threatened w eviction (i didn’t know vacation enant rights and had no written lease) after landlord found out about vacation rental sites) Ive only been able to afford car dwelling, first two Volvo wagons now a camper van. That’s with two pointers and the occasional foster dog-from Rocket Dog Rescue-who are awesome, btw. I actually enjoy the city’s nature areas this way. If, with my GED level education, If I’d have to pay rent, my job options would be soul-crushing and I’d have to work day and night just to fatten the wallet of a greedy landlord-wearing out both body and soul and be broke and broken when old. No thanks. I work and have no public financial assistance, never have.

    I went to a cpl yrs of H/S here and have been dreaming of coming back ever since I left in ’93.
    (SF is heaven when all youve known is racist bullying and the police state ofTexA$$. I am grateful for Healthy SF and now Medi-Cal. Only way I could afford a roof would be a BUGS-N-DRUGS SRO and that would mean a complete and total end to the peaceful existence I know now, again, no thanks. I don’t bother anyone, no one bothers me. My dogs and I will live this way til the end. Only two ways I’m leaving MY San Francisco-in a box or over the bridge. And I WON’T live in a Tenderloin or Soma or Mission SRO in the meantime….this ain’t the San Francisco I remember from the 90’s but its HOME.

  • franklin

    Correction to earlier post: I didn’t know CA tenants’ rights and the landlord wanted to vaction rental my unit, I didn’t have a written lease. I WAS NOT a vacation tenant.

  • N G

    The take home pay on 62k a year is closer to 45. Really really low rent (and no parking fees) is 2100/mo for a 1 br. You can rent an efficiency for 1700 if you know someone who knows someone. That’s half your income for housing alone. Basic home ec says no more than a third on your mortgage…we’re supposed to be saving for retirement, ya know.

  • Kathryn Cue

    As for that offhand Idaho comment…

    According to the same study, in Idaho, it would take a 73-hour (minimum wage) work week to be able to afford a 2-bedroom apt. And, just in case you were scoffing at the mention of minimum wage, Idaho just recently (and barely) fell from the #1 spot to #2 for our still horrendously high percentage of minimum wage workers. That’s a large proportion of our workers earning just $7.25 an hour. And I am sure it is all tied up with the fact that here in this lovely state, out of 10 high school freshmen, 8 will get a diploma, 4 will will go on to college, and only ONE will graduate.

    Just a little bitterness from a Bay Area native currently living in Idaho.

  • Adam Rose

    Here’s my 2c on this…. minimum wage is set for entry level, no skill, never worked before jobs. If you get a first time job at McDonalds & aren’t a complete waste of air, you work hard & learn you will move up in position in a short time. After you have an entry level job for 6 months to a year & prove you can handle basic tasks & show up on time you will be able to apply for a better paying job. No one should be raising a family on minimum wage because no one should aspire to stay on minimum wage. Force your children to have a job before they move out. Teach them work ethic & this will never be an issue

    • GStorm

      Uh, most retail jobs in SF pay minimum wage. Almost everyone working along my street makes minimum wage or maybe a dollar above it.

  • jeremy boivin

    I live in a beautiful 2 bedroom flat located in upper haight, my rent is 2400 a month, there are many places in SF proper that are affordable if you do your research. (i plan on staying here, i do agree it doesn’t get much better than this)

  • SFCitizenz

    I live in SF and make about 150k a year (though more like 97k after taxes). Currently I ain’t hurting, but this should put it in perspective – I looked ALL OVER the city and wound up in the Outer Sunset (when I would have preferred Twin Peaks or Bernal Heights) because it was the only place I could find a 1 bedroom for $1860. I lucked out – 750 sq ft., very well kept up, parking for $1860 – an unheard of deal in SF these days. I moved in 10 months ago – now units in my bldg. just like mine rent for $2200 and seem to go up about $100/month every 3 months – seemingly endlessly. That’s $340 increase/month in 10 months. I live in the Outer Sunset because after a pretty modest 50k of graduate school loans and a car note (I drive a used mini cooper, nothing fancy) honestly this is all I can afford. I eat most meals at home.
    The notion that someone can afford a 1 bedroom in SF on $29.83/hr is patently absurd. I’d say that the actual number (even for someone without a car) is much closer to $50/hr – and that assumes not much debt is being held by the renter.
    If it’s tough enough for me, one clearly gets the picture for someone making a more SF average wage – even if that wage is $31.45/hr. I cannot imagine living in SF on that unless you are willing to live like a poor college student for the rest of your life. Quality of life here is amazing, but man you gotta pay to play…

  • Let’s all just move to the states no one really hears about…lol. San Mateo county is expensive as hell.

  • GStorm

    It’s a major misconception that people in San Francisco can afford these high rents. I’ve rented out space in my apartment for seven years. I usually get 25 replies the first day on a first CL post. But whenever I have tried to ask for more money, it gets hard to rent. I get a lot of couples. People are just squeezing more and more people into small spaces is what is happening.

  • Tawny Versprill

    I definitely think SF is quite expensive…Don’t get me wrong. Many on here complaining though I would think have other options? Living in the east bay perhaps and commuting? I dunno…just a thought. It’s a great city to live in but if it’s outside your budget there are other options…Save it for when you can properly afford it I guess. When I see $3000 a mo for a 1 bedroom or 2 bedroom in the city…I’d think you’d need two HIGH incomes to make ends meet. Ouch!~

  • axnyslie

    The good old days are long gone. I lived in a so-so 1 BR in SOMA for $550 month for the first half of the 90’s Then a really nice 2 BR flat in SOMA for $800. The day after I moved out they raised it to $1200 in 2000. Now it’s around $3k. If I were wealthy enough I still would not even think of going back. The city by the bay has lost all its charm. Pushing out the multi-cultural artist scene in favor of gentrified Google yuppies.

    • Sanfordia113

      How many Google employees do you know?

  • Dan

    you can find some pretty cheap apartments in daly city, about a 20 min drive into to the city, with traffic, maybe 30 to 45. Considering that it’s much cheaper, worth the drive, having room mates helps of course

  • Mohawk

    If my 1 bedroom were back on the market it’d cost roughly $1400/mo. Currently paying about $1250. I live within walking distance of Prospect Park, Brooklyn Zoo, Botanical Gardens and a train stop away from the Brooklyn Museum and 15 minute train ride to the all new Barclay’s Center and bustling downtown shopping centers in Brooklyn. I guess what you’re paying for on the west coast is drought weather and less sketchy beaches?

  • jaygoji

    Slaves, all of us.



Olivia Allen-Price

Olivia Allen-Price is producer and host of the Bay Curious series. Prior to joining KQED in 2013, Olivia worked at The Baltimore Sun and The Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk, Va. She holds degrees in journalism and political science from Elon University. She loves to talk about running, ice cream and curly hair.

Follow: @oallenprice

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