Housing and Transportation Connection
Housing costs and traffic congestion are two of the biggest problems facing people in the Bay Area, prompting more residents to consider relocation, according to a poll conducted by the Bay Area Council. Though the regional workforce has expanded, the rate of residential construction has not kept pace and traffic congestion has increased.
As of 2015, San Mateo County hosted 111,262 more jobs than housing units, requiring workers to live outside the county. Housing and transportation are often the largest household expenses, and the two are interrelated since home location affects transportation options and costs.
The cost of homeownership and home rental in the county increased by approximately 50% in 2015 compared with 2010. Pressures on affordable housing stock are compounded by disparate wage distribution, as 61% of the workforce earns less than $100,000 annually (21 Elements).
In contrast to neighboring counties, San Mateo County residents are increasingly more open to development of new housing. Growing awareness of housing issues and the impacts of transportation on air quality and Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions is influencing trends in development design and city planning. Improving neighborhood walkability, bike routes, and access to transit are opportunities to reduce transit costs, relieve traffic congestion, enhance air quality, and encourage physical activity in daily life.
The 2016 Housing Affordability Index revealed that San Mateo County had one of the least affordable housing markets in the state. Only 29% of first-time buyers can afford to purchase a home in San Mateo County, second to San Francisco County with 26%. In contrast, 46% of first-time buyers in the Bay Area can afford a home and 51% of first-time buyers in California. Learn more about housing affordability in the Housing Indicator page.
- The Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) oversees the State’s Regional Housing Need Allocation (RHNA) system, which recommends and tracks the number of permits planned for both affordable and market rate housing.
- See our Housing Indicators for more information on the implementation of RHNA by jurisdiction in San Mateo County and the number of approved housing permits over time.
Funds for Affordable Housing Development
Jurisdictions may require inclusionary units, in-lieu fees, commercial linkage fees, and impact fees on new developments to generate funding for affordable housing projects.
- Inclusionary unit requirements direct housing developers to allocate a number of units set for Below Market Rates (BMR) to ensure that residents of various incomes are included in the development (these requirements do not apply to rental homes). The City of San Mateo requires inclusionary units in new housing developments. In other jurisdictions, developers may have the option to pay in-lieu fees instead of providing BMR units.
- Commercial linkage fees offset the cost of adding new housing needed for jobs located within the proposed commercial development. Menlo Park collects commercial linkage fees.
- Impact fees on market-rate residential development are intended to offset the cost of housing for workers who provide essential services for those in the new development.
- To discover which jurisdictions in the Bay Area have inclusionary policies and development fees, see ABAG’s Bay Area Housing Policy Directory.
- Though the chart above combines renters and homeowners, the housing cost burden has grown worse for renters and improved for homeowners over time.
- Black and Latino residents of San Mateo County are more likely to experience severe housing cost burden (spending over 50% of income on rent or homeownership) compared with white and Asian residents. Learn more from the Nonprofit Housing Association of Northern California’s report, Moving Silicon Valley Forward.
- From 2010 to 2015, median rent for a 2-bedroom increased by 49% but renters’ median income only increased by 8% (US Census).
- Multigenerational housing has increased overall.
- See the change in median rent and median home sale price over time on the Housing Indicator.
- Renters are more likely to experience overcrowding (ABAG).
- Brisbane, Burlingame, Daly City, East Palo Alto, Redwood City, San Bruno, San Bruno, South San Francisco, and unincorporated San Mateo County have foreclosure assistance programs.
- 57% of residents over the age of 40 are in favor of residential development compared to 70% of those between the ages of 18 and 39 (Bay Area Council).
The California state senate and assembly passed bills in 2016 that enhance the viability of secondary housing units or accessory dwelling units (ADU). Increasing housing density in areas that are already developed is preferable to “greenfield development,” which requires costly infrastructure. The County Planning and Building Department confirms that permits for secondary units have increased in recent years and a recent poll indicates that 32% of San Mateo County homeowners would consider building an ADU on their property (Bay Area Council).
- California’s property tax is capped at 1% of the purchase price, and the assessed price of the property thereafter. As a result, similar properties may have significantly different property tax rates.
- Long-term homeowners who purchased property at a low price might be discouraged from downsizing to a smaller property for risk of increased property tax. This may explain the decrease in property turnover.
- Property tax benefits may be transferred to new properties under specific conditions, including inheritance.
- California’s property tax law serves to stabilize costs for owners; however, there is no requirement for landlords to pass these benefits on to tenants.
- According to the San Mateo County Assessor Reports (State Board of Equalization), the greatest amount of property tax revenue in San Mateo County is associated with property improvements rather than property ownership tax.
- California’s property tax structure (established by Proposition 13) has led to an increase in the cost of housing development as jurisdictions have instituted development fees to compensate for low revenue from property tax. These development fees are passed onto consumers.
Eviction And Displacement
California’s “No-Cause” eviction structure allows landlords to evict a tenant without cause. Under this system, no-cause evictions may be used as a method to retaliate against tenants or increase revenue through tenant turnover.
- Between 2012 and 2015, no-cause evictions increased by 308% in San Mateo County (San Mateo County Eviction Report 2016).
- Individuals who experience eviction are 11-15% more likely to be laid-off.
- In San Mateo County, evictions disproportionately affect Latinos, Blacks, and female heads of household.
- East Palo Alto is the only city in San Mateo County to have a “Just-Cause” eviction policy that protects renters from being evicted unless the landlord has a legally valid reason.
Considering the increase in poverty in California and the nation overall, recent research indicates that eviction may be a cause of poverty rather than a symptom. Studies shows that even 2 years after eviction a household continues to have material hardships, compared to similar households that were not evicted. For more information about services for those facing eviction contact the Legal Aid Society of San Mateo County and Community Legal Services in East Palo Alto (CLSEPA).
Tenant Protection Policies
Tenant protections such as rent stabilization, “Just-Cause” eviction rules, anti-harassment protections and tenant relocation assistance, are determined by local jurisdictions through the action of the City Council or through a local ballot measure. State law restricts rent stabilization ordinances to buildings constructed before 1995, and does not include single-family homes, condos, or duplexes.
- East Palo Alto and the City of San Mateo have tenant anti-harassment protections.
- Menlo Park has minimum lease requirements that require landlords to inform tenants of the 12-month lease option, rather than a month-to-month lease.
- Several jurisdictions in the county have rent stabilization policies for mobile home parks, including Daly City, Pacifica, East Palo Alto, and the County of San Mateo.
- East Palo Alto is the only jurisdiction in the county to have rent stabilization for multi-family apartments.
- The City of Pacifica is considering rent stabilization and just-cause eviction policies during a special election in November 2017.
Health and Housing
- Growing research points to neighborhoods as the greatest indicator of health and life expectancy. Neighborhoods with aged housing in proximity to industrial or transportation pollutants are often affordable options with underlying health risks. Learn more from the Health Disadvantage Index.
- High housing costs can lead to a lack of funds for medical treatment or cause people to prioritize work over taking time off to visit a doctor.
- Housing insecurity, such as eviction and foreclosure, leads to health problems, including anxiety and depression.
- Living in proximity to foreclosed homes has been linked to high blood pressure.
Housing Centered Community Organizations
- Interviews, screens and connects homeowners or renters who have an extra bedroom to rent with persons seeking housing. For every one home provider offering a room, there are five times as many people seeking housing. 50% of HIP Housing’s placements are hosted by residents over the age of 60. In San Mateo County, 77% of those over age 60 are homeowners and 37% live alone.
- The Self Sufficiency Program (SSP) provides rent assistance for 1-2 years for low-income families with parents in school or job training programs.
- Over 400 adults and children have benefited from HIP Housing’s affordable housing development and facility management.
The Housing Endowment and Regional Trust (HEART) of San Mateo County
- Moderate income, first-time homebuyers may qualify for the down payment assistance loan for homes priced under $781,875. The program enables recipients to avoid the cost of Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI).
- HEART also provides loans to affordable housing developers at various phases of the project process, with approximately 1,000 units funded to date.
- Affordable home development intended to integrate residents into healthy neighborhoods, close to schools and transit.
- Four recently completed projects in Daly City, East Palo Alto, Foster City, and Menlo Park were made possible through funding from the county’s Affordable Housing Fund (AHF).
- Nonprofit developers like MidPen Housing employ a wide range of methods to acquire land for affordable housing projects, including: donations, long-term ground leases, direct purchase with eventual financing from external sources, funding from development linkage fees, and arrangements with master developers under requirement to provide affordable housing.
- Distributes over $100,000 annually to families in need of housing cost assistance in the form of rent, mortgage, or utilities payments.
- The number of assistance requests has grown each year and last year the agency saw a 15% increase.
- In the past, Samaritan House clients were the working poor, however, the housing crisis has expanded the demographic of their clients to teachers, emergency service providers, and other professionals associated with the middle class.
Federal Housing Assistance Program
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) calculates housing assistance need as a percent of the area median income (AMI). In 2015, the qualification calculation was adjusted for San Mateo County to account for the high cost of living and corresponding rents. As of 2017, a family of four with a household income of $105,350 qualifies as low income in San Mateo County.
- In San Mateo County, 4,575 housing assistance vouchers are distributed monthly.
- There are over 6,500 applicants on the closed voucher waiting list.
- Vouchers may only be used for rent at specific properties and 19% of these properties in San Mateo County are at risk of conversion to market-rate housing.
Housing and Transportation Solutions:
Regional Development Policy
Priority Development Areas (PDA)
- All jurisdictions within San Mateo County have identified locations that are best suited for future development due to proximity to transit and existing development.
- Since PDAs tend to be located in highly desirable areas, opportunities for affordable housing development are often limited to inclusionary Below Market Rate (BMR) units integrated into market rate developments. However, several stand-alone BMR developments have been built in PDAs in recent years.
- Historically, low-wage residents have been confronted with displacement in the face of new transportation, housing, and commercial projects. Balancing new development with retention of low-wage residents ensures economic inclusivity
Transit Oriented Development (TOD)
- Transportation is the largest Green House Gas emission source in California. To address this problem, city planning policies are shifting toward Transit Oriented Development (TOD) policies that favor infill development that is close to transit.
- The Grand Boulevard Initiative is a local effort to increase access to buses and trains and concentrate development within a half-mile of El Camino Real to revitalize what was once the backbone of the Peninsula. See a map of developments and planning tools.
County Housing Programs
The county supports housing affordability initiatives that increase housing development, preserve and improve current housing, increase homeownership, administer federal housing assistance programs, and fund services for homeless.
San Mateo County Home for All Initiative
- San Mateo County initiated a Jobs/Housing Gap Task Force to enhance livability by increasing the housing supply to counter-balance galloping job growth.The Task Force brought together agencies, cities, organizations, companies, developers, educators, community organizations, and advocates to investigate solutions for the county’s housing challenge.
Through Measure A, San Mateo County voters funded transportation, parks, and affordable housing programs. Recently, residents voted to continue the half-cent sales tax for the next 20 years (Measure K).
- Last year, $500,000 in funding was awarded for the following projects with funding from Measure A:
- New affordable housing fund
- Study of options for affordable housing in transportation corridors
- Single-family home acquisition program for low and moderate income households in rapidly gentrifying areas
- Evaluation of approaches to housing for mental health support
- GIS study of accessory dwelling units (ADU) feasibility in the unincorporated county
- The passage of Measure K has delivered continued funding for affordable housing projects:
- $22.5 million is allocated in the county budget for affordable housing in the 2017-2018 fiscal year, and $21.25 million the following year.
Agricultural Worker Housing Program
- The county recently completed an Agricultural Workforce Housing Needs Assessment, which found a need for 1,020 to 1,140 affordable housing units.
- The program provides no-or low-interest loans for farm operators who seek to add, improve, or replace existing housing units.
- In 2016, the county constructed or rehabilitated six housing units and plans for six more in 2017.
School Districts Provide Housing for Teachers
- The San Mateo County Community College District offers low interest second home loans to first-time buyers as well as below-market rentals to district employees. Workforce housing was constructed at the College of San Mateo and Cañada College with the benefit of cost savings afforded to nonprofit organizations.
- San Mateo Union School District conducted a teacher survey, which revealed that 60% were renters and 37% had children living in their household. 15% of district teachers reported that over half their income was spent on housing and 28% pay between 31% and 50%.
Housing and Transportation Solution:
Reduce parking and make room for housing
- Though parking lots and structures are usually located in areas zoned for commercial or industrial use, in a literal sense, space used for parking cars is also space diverted from potential housing development.
- Reduction of parking requirements for new developments allows more space for people to reside and saves construction and maintenance costs, as well as encouraging the use of transit, bikes, or walking.
- Development that unbundles the cost of housing units and parking ensures that residents who do not own cars are not required to pay the cost of parking construction and maintenance.
- Public-Private shared parking facilities enable businesses to provide parking for workers during the day and the public in the evening.
- For city level data, visit the H+T Index.
- Use the commute calculator to compare the costs of different transportation modes.
- Walking and biking are arguably the least expensive modes of transportation. However, in a suburban environment, the distance between home, work, and retail outlets often requires a vehicle. Furthermore, roads designed for vehicles must be altered to maximize safety for pedestrians and cyclists.
- Though public transportation often takes more time than driving, transit encourages an active commute that includes walking or biking, which has health benefits.
- For more information on county travel modes, see our Transportation Indicator.
Commute Cost Assistance
The Commuter Benefits Program aims to reduce the number of single-occupancy commutes. The legislation requires employers with 50 or more full-time employees to provide commuter benefits, but doesn’t require the employer to share transportation expenses. Employers choose from a list of options including:
- Pre-tax benefits: enable employees to deduct transit or vanpool costs from taxable income.
- Employer subsidized transit: employers contribute resources and reduce the cost of transit and vanpool for employees.
- Employer provided transit: employer provides a shuttle or vanpool service to employees for free or at a low-cost.
- Alternative commuter benefit: any other offering that reduces single occupant commutes.
- San Mateo County hosts one of the most congested segments of highway in the Bay Area: US-101 northbound from CA-84/Woodside Road to East Hillsdale Boulevard (MTC).
- In 2015, traffic congestion reached a record high after increasing for three years in a row.
- Regional research by MTC indicates that in recent years per capita vehicle miles traveled (VMT) was not severely impacted by the Bay Area’s economic cycles. This data suggest a shift in transportation patterns and modes. Between 2011 and 2013, as San Mateo County’s economy rebounded from the recession, per capita daily VMT decreased slightly from 26.8 to 25.5.
- Approximately 50% of workers in San Mateo County commute in from a different county, contributing to traffic congestion. According to data compiled by the U.S. Census Bureau and the California Employment Development department, 15.2% of workers in San Mateo County who reside outside of the county commute more than 50 miles. Whereas, of those residents who live in the county and work elsewhere, only 9.6% commute over 50 miles.
- The Metropolitan Transportation Commission maps the average commute times in minutes, while One Bay Area shows travel time based on mode and time of day as well as home prices.
Alleviating Traffic at Schools
- SamTrans offers discounts for youth passes as well as several routes specifically designed to transport students to school.
- Safe Routes to School aims to make walking or biking to school a safe option for students and convenient for parents.
- Driving kids to school accounts for 20-30% of morning rush hour traffic.
- To date, the program has served over 47,000 students in San Mateo County.
- The San Mateo County Department of Education oversees the implementation of the program with funding from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) and Measure M funding administered by City/County Association of Governments of San Mateo County (C/CAG).
- As of 2010, SamTrans received subsidies of $7.90 per passenger trip, whereas, Caltrain received $15.49 (Moving Silicon Valley Forward). This year, Caltrain is considering a fare increase after raising fares last year and reporting a decrease in ridership.
- Currently, there are no transit discount programs for low-wage riders who work in San Mateo County. The Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) is conducting a Means-based Fare Study focused on options for reducing transit costs for low-wage workers. The City of San Mateo and the City of Redwood City are investigating the transit needs of the workforce as well.
- Bus schedules are determined by population density, leaving a gap in service for low-income riders in low-density areas, such as the coast.
- For those without cars, transportation may be a barrier to middle-income jobs as transit access varies by location.
- The 2013 San Mateo County Community Health Assessment found that lack of transportation resulted in reduced medical care for 4.8% of survey respondents.
Transit Discounts for Low-wage Workers
The Palo Alto Transportation Management Association (TMA) is offering free transit passes to those who work in the city and earn less than $50,000 annually, as part of pilot program. Palo Alto TMA’s research found:
- Employees who are provided commuter benefits by their employer are more likely to use public transit.
- 100% of technology workers surveyed were offered transit discounts through their employer and 26% commuted using a single occupancy vehicle (SOV).
- In contrast, none of the low-wage workers surveyed were offered transit discounts from their employers and 80% commuted using a single occupancy vehicle (SOV).
- 46% of workers who drive would rather not drive, but do not have other viable options.
- Service workers would take transit if it was less expensive, faster, and more frequent.
Downtown Palo Alto Mode Share Survey. 2016. Palo Alto Transportation Management Association. Retrieved from: http://www.paloaltotma.org/transit/
Eviction Report 2016, San Mateo County. Legal Aid Society of San Mateo County & Community Legal Services in East Palo Alto. Retrieved from: http://www.legalaidsmc.org/uploads/1/6/5/5/16559712/sanmateocounty_eviction_report-2016.pdf
Getting Past “Business as Usual” Sacramento Politics:Our Housing Crisis Is Also A Health Crisis for California Families. 2017. California Forward. Retrieved from: https://cafwd.app.box.com/s/zbdd5sd2j7j7x352517wejmattmiwhg2
Means-based Fare Study. 2017 Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC). Retrieved from: http://mtc.ca.gov/our-work/plans-projects/other-plans/means-based-fare-study
Moving Silicon Valley Forward. 2012. Nonprofit Housing Association of Northern California. Retrieved from: http://nonprofithousing.org/moving-silicon-valley-forward/
San Mateo County Community Health Assessment. 2013.
U.S. Census Bureau, American Community Survey, 1-Year Estimates. 2010-2015.