Business & economics, Research

Many in San Mateo County priced, pushed out of affordable housing

A new UC Berkeley study presents a dismal picture for affordable housing in a county where the median annual household income is one of California’s highest

eviction notice

Many low-income San Mateo County tenants have been priced out of their neighborhoods and driven to homes much farther away, leaving them with fewer job options and health services, longer commutes and greater environmental and safety concerns, according to a new study.

The research, conducted by Justine Marcus and Miriam Zuk for the Urban Displacement Project at UC Berkeley’s Center for Community Innovation, also shows that although formal eviction is often seen as the primary device forcing residents to relocate, an extensive series of lesser-known but interconnected and equally effective processes are at play in San Mateo County. Homelessness and marginal housing are also startlingly common for households experiencing displacement, defined as any involuntary household move caused by landlord action.

“Tenants report that, aside from being formally evicted, they were harassed out by landlords, priced out by market forces and pushed out by poor housing conditions,” the study found.

“While this is only a small study of one county, we believe the results point to general trends, especially because many of the findings support the existing literature and narratives coming from communities across the region,” said Zuk, adding that she and Marcus hope to expand research to other Bay Area counties.

A stock photo of a stressed women sitting at a table using a calculator and touching her upper nose with her hand, while a man stands next to her with his elbows on the table and hand on his forehead also showcasing signs of stress.

Between 2012 and 2015, evictions of residents unable to pay their rent on time rose 59 percent and no-cause evictions, where landlords offered no reason for evicting their tenants, soared 300 percent, according to data from from those providing eviction defense assistance in San Mateo County, the report shows.

Their current study presents a dismal picture for affordable housing in a county with a median annual household income of $101,272, one of California’s highest.

The households displaced in San Mateo County that were surveyed reported an average annual median income of $25,480, and between 2000 and 2015, the researchers estimate that San Mateo County lost 44 percent of its non-subsidized affordable housing for low-income residents.

The California Housing Partnership Corporation estimates there is a shortage of 25,882 affordable rental homes to accommodate low-income renters in the county, which has a population of 748,732 and 106,289 renting households, according to the U.S. Census.

From 2012 to 2015, those providing eviction defense assistance in San Mateo County estimate a 59 percent increase in evictions of residents unable to pay their rent on time and a 300 percent increase in the number of no-cause evictions, where landlords offered no reason for evicting their tenants, disproportionately affecting Latinx and African American households.

Key findings of the report, Displacement in San Mateo County: Consequences for Housing, Neighborhoods, Quality of Life, and Health, include:

  • After being displaced, only 21 percent of households reported staying in the same neighborhood (within one mile of their previous home). Thirty-three percent of households left San Mateo County, generally moving to the Central Valley or eastern communities in the East Bay.
  • Approximately one in three displaced households reported some period of homelessness or marginal housing, living in a motel, renting a garage or doubling up with family or friends in the two years following their displacement.
  • More than two-thirds of children in displaced households had to change schools, with one in five children doing so mid-year.
  • Some 74 percent of displaced households surveyed said they chose their current housing because it was the only available place they could find, while 60 percent said they had no other options. With limited options, many households tolerate poor-quality housing conditions and overcrowding, which put tenants’ health at risk.
  • One in seven surveyed residents reporting displacement stated that some form of landlord harassment or discrimination – such as verbal abuse and threats, tampering with cars or utilities or withholding maintenance – contributed to their being uprooted.

The future of affordable housing and housing stability in San Mateo County is largely dependent on political will to enact both local and statewide policies and investments, Marcus said.

She noted that San Mateo County recently passed a housing bond (Measure K) to support subsidized, affordable housing, and nonprofit housing organizations such as MidPen Housing are exploring preservation strategies for permanently affordable housing in the county.

In addition, Zuk said, there are growing renter movements and efforts to put renter protection measures on local ballots in San Mateo County cities and in cities across the Bay Area.

The researchers tracked down 100 residents of low-income housing from Daly City in northern San Mateo County to East Palo Alto on its southern border to assemble a picture of the overall impacts of displacement. Of that number, 58 had been displaced in the previous two years and nine had moved voluntarily.

Zuk acknowledged that the numbers may not seem large, but said they were sufficient to establish patterns and reflect the challenges in tracking down displaced residents.