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Is San Francisco Driving Its Families Away?
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Is San Francisco Driving Its Families Away?

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Is San Francisco Driving Its Families Away?

Is San Francisco Driving Its Families Away?
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Census data confirms what many San Francisco lawmakers and policy wonks know: The city is bleeding families. San Francisco has about 5,000 fewer children than 10 years ago, despite the city's reputation for being among the most family-friendly in the country. The culprit: the cost of housing.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block.

The latest Census numbers confirm a long-term trend in San Francisco: The city is losing young families. It has about 5,000 fewer children living there than it had 10 years ago.

As NPR's Richard Gonzales reports, this exodus is happening even as city leaders are trying to make San Francisco a more attractive place to raise kids.

RICHARD GONZALES: Suzie Williams is a designer of educational toys and mother of two. Not long ago, she and her husband were living in a small North Beach apartment when they had their first son. But when number two arrived, they decided they needed more space.

(Soundbite of children yelling)

Ms. SUZIE WILLIAMS (Toy Designer): And, you know, it's something that we thought: We are not going to leave the city. You know, everybody else is going to leave the city when they get kids, but we're not suburban people.

GONZALES: So they bought a three bedroom condo with more space than they'd ever had before. But raising children in the city is harder than she had imagined. For example, she has to drive out of for neighborhood for school and childcare. On top of that, their mortgage is double what they paid in rent. And the neighborhood can be a little sketchy, she says.

Ms. WILLIAMS: And here I am wanting what they have in the suburbs, wanting a yard, wanting more of a community. We have great community in this building, I have to say. There's tons of people with kids, but you know, I just - I think we just need more space.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. WILLIAMS: And I feel like I'm selling out in saying that.

GONZALES: Williams' ambivalence is common here. San Francisco is losing children even as it sees an upsurge in births. In fact, it has fewer kids per capita than any other major American city.

Hans Johnson is demographer at the Public Policy Institute of California.

Dr. HANS JOHNSON (Demographer, Public Policy Institute of California): Something like this simply reflects the fact that San Francisco is a dense, older city with a housing stock that is not necessarily very favorable towards families.

(Soundbite of banging)

Mr. JASON RANDALL (Computer Engineer): In the front yard, we have cherry tomatoes, some basil. I've got a blackberry bush, as well.

GONZALES: Jason Randall is a computer engineer and father of two. He's in his front yard in Oakland, tending to what he couldn't grow when renting a Victorian flat in San Francisco.

Mr. RANDALL: We like the city. You know, my wife grew up in New York City and...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. RANDALL: ...when we started looking at places with three bedrooms, and then we started looking at prices of houses in San Francisco, we realized pretty quickly that we were just priced out of that market.

GONZALES: And the market is changing the face of San Francisco in more ways than one. The city's African-American population declined by more than 12,000 since the last Census - roughly half were children.

Anthony Spiers(ph), a parking garage supervisor, left San Francisco about a year and a half ago and took his family to the suburbs.

Mr. ANTHONY SPIERS (Parking Garage Supervisor): I got a four bedroom, two-bath house for the same thing I was paying in rent. I got a little more commute but it's nothing compared to the price that I was going to have to pay to live here in the city.

GONZALES: It takes an annual salary of more than $200,000 to buy a median price home here, says Margaret Brodkin. She's the former head of the city's Department of Children, Youth and their Families.

Ms. MARGARET BRODKIN (Former Executive Director, Department of Children, Youth and their Families, San Francisco): We have the best childcare policies, the best afterschool policies; we have one of the highest healthcare ratings for children in the country. But it can't change the economics of the city.

GONZALES: Several years ago, Brodkin and housing activists promoted policies to make the city more family-friendly, such as requiring developers to build more affordable multi-bedroom apartments with larger laundry and kitchen facilities. The city has made marginal progress, building hundreds of such units - but the need is in the thousands.

The other problem, of course, is geography. Confined to a tight peninsula, the city has nowhere to sprawl.

Richard Gonzales, NPR News, San Francisco.

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