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Here’s how many minimum-wage hours it takes to afford a two-bed in SF

According to a new report, 215 working hours

An aerial photo of the Sunset district, facing Golden Gate Park, with the observation deck of the de Young Museum appearing over the trees. Marius S Jurgielewicz

According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, a Washington D.C.-based think tank, there are only 12 counties in America where a minimum wage earner can reasonably afford a one-bedroom apartment.

Spoiler: San Francisco isn’t one of them. Not even close.

NLIHC’s annual Out Of Reach study estimates the affordability of rental stock in America based on federal data about worker wages and housing costs, with an eye toward the working poor in particular.

“Rent eats first,” Minnesota Congressman Keith Ellison writes in the preface to this year’s report. “Before diapers for the baby, medicine, food, and a rainy day fund.”

The coalition estimates affordability based on the federal standard of “no more than 30 percent of a household’s gross income” going toward housing costs (which includes utilities).

Rent estimates in the study spring from the federal Fair Market Rent formula, “typically the 40th percentile of gross rents for standard rental units.”

In San Francisco that’s $3,018/month for a two-bedroom apartment. Note that the most recent HUD data is from back in 2015, so that figure is a bit conservative now.

The final variable in this grim formula: San Francisco’s minimum wage, presently $13/hour but set to increase to $14 in July.

NLIHC recommends an hourly wage of more than $58 to really swing a two-bedroom San Francisco home. In San Jose it’s a bit less than $43/hour. In Oakland, just under $42.

The report calculates that will take about 5.5 minimum wage incomes to comfortably rent a two-bedroom San Francisco home. (Although $58 divided by $14 is only over 4.1, so there seems to be some discrepancy on the math.)

In other words, it would take about 215 minimum-wage working hours in a week; an impossible feat for one person as a week only measures 168 hours long.

“From the housing crisis of 2007 to 2015, the median gross rent [...] in the U.S. increased by six percent after adjusting for overall inflation, while the median income for renter households rose by just one percent,” the report adds.

Last year’s Out Of Reach recommended a $44/hour wage for a two-bedroom home in SF, or about 4.4 incomes at the 2016 minimum wage.


Whenever anyone tries to quantify housing affordability, San Franciscans just laugh at the federal 30 percent benchmark (the better to dull the pain, perhaps).

In 2015, Fortune dismissed the 30 percent rule as “an arbitrary holdover from the New Deal.”

But the U.S. Census points out that the 30 percent rule of thumb dates back to 1981, after being cranked up from 20 and 25 percent under previous standards.

In any case, “households paying 50 percent of their income are considered severely cost burdened” by the feds. However, that rubric would knock the recommended San Francisco wage down to about $35/hour, or some 2.5 minimum wage incomes for two bedrooms.