OPINION: San Francisco’s $15 Minimum Wage Won’t Help the Housing Crisis


Daniel Abadia

Jenny Xu, Executive Editor

Over the years, San Francisco has accumulated a variety of nicknames: “The City by the Bay,” “The Golden City,” and now, “The City for the Rich.”

The San Francisco Bay Area’s housing crisis has spiraled, pushing low-income earners and many other long-time residents out of the city due to high rent. Although the minimum wage has increased from $14 to $15 an hour as of July 1, more needs to be done in order for people to be able to live comfortably while earning a minimum wage.

Interviews with people in San Francisco for the Fourth of July holiday, which usually brings about feelings of national pride and security, revealed anxiety, sadness, and bitterness about how the city’s housing picture is changing.

“I used to live in San Francisco on minimum wage years ago, and you could do it then, but I feel like you can’t do it now,” Joanna Robinson, a Hollywood writer for Vanity Fair, said. “It’s the Silicon Valley influx, the tech culture has created demand for housing and the market has just risen to meet it, and I understand that that’s just economics but it’s done damage to our communities in San Francisco.”

The average monthly rent for a one-bedroom apartment has risen by over $1,000 over the past seven years, and a family of four earning $117,400 a year is now considered low-income in the Bay Area.

The math of the minimum wage isn’t attractive. If a person works a 40-hour work week, his or her monthly income would come to $2,024 after federal taxes. With the cost of living, excluding rent, in San Francisco totaling $1210.51, only $813.49 remains to cover rent in a city where the average price of a one-bedroom apartment is $3441 per month. This often leaves residents with no other option than to move out of the city, or share an apartment with as many as five other roommates.

Assuming a person would pay ⅓ of a monthly income of $2,024 for housing, that income would allow them to live in Lubbock, Texas, as well as Wichita, KS and Lincoln, NE. Despite that, people should be able to have a choice in where they live, without feeling like they have to leave their heart in a city that they can’t afford to live in.

“I have friends who live in co-ops, that’s just how they make ends meet,” UC Santa Cruz graduate Daniele Lim ’12 said. “They’re gonna be 30 soon and they can’t afford a place of their own, that’s just what it’s like to live here. There’s a reason I live in Albany and not San Francisco.”

However, the problem is much more complex than a higher minimum wage. With rent prices rising as quickly as they are, the minimum wage would have to be constantly changing in order to keep up. Simply put, it’s not enough to raise the minimum wage. Much more affordable and high-density housing needs to be built at a faster rate in order to accommodate the level of growth in the city.

“We need housing for everybody here, and ultimately, if housing weren’t so scarce here, my landlord wouldn’t be able to charge $4000 a month for rent,” software engineer Robert Fruchtman said. 

Until we build enough housing for the newcomers to come, they’re gonna continue to push out people who’ve been here for five, ten, twenty years.”

It won’t be long until San Francisco, known for its diverse population and cultural movements, loses the population that makes it so special. Only by building more affordable housing can we prevent this melting pot of a city from becoming a place where only the rich can live.