San Francisco Works to Keep Families in Town
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.
DON GONYEA, host:
And I'm Don Gonyea.
For years, San Francisco has watched as families fled to the suburbs. The city's housing is among the most expensive in the nation. But now the city is determined to get families and children back. A new budget adds a record $44 million for affordable housing and other services to make San Francisco more family-friendly.
NPR's Elaine Korry reports.
ELAINE KORRY reporting:
In the 1960s, San Francisco was swarming with children. They numbered one out of every four residents. Now, kids are down to barely 14 percent, one of the lowest rates in the nation for a big city. With enrollment dropping, nearly a dozen public schools have closed.
City leaders have been talking about the problem forever, but September Jarrett, with the Mayor's Office on Children, Youth and Their Families says, finally there's been a breakthrough.
Ms. SEPTEMBER JARRETT (Director of Planning and Policy, San Francisco Mayor's Office of Children, Youth and Their Families): The policy commitments are being backed by real dollars, so it's not just saying, we like our families. We're actually putting our money where our mouth is as a city.
KORRY: Forty-four million dollars in new family housing, childcare and healthcare for young people. That's a 25 percent boost in funding. Even more than advocates for children have demanded at their many rallies outside city hall.
Unidentified Woman: Has anyone seen the mayor yet? Is the mayor here?
Unidentified Woman: I don't see him either. So when he gets here, can someone let me know?
(Soundbite of drum)
KORRY: At one recent rally, children from Chinatown performed a dragon dance while organizers kept up their own drumbeat: more money to stem the flight of families.
Theresa Manning(ph) lives in the Sunnydale Housing Project with her daughter and grandchildren.
Ms. THERESA MANNING: I mean, housing is just too high in San Francisco and childcare is outrageous, especially for low-income people. So, I mean, it's almost a privilege - not almost, it is a privilege to live in San Francisco. You know what I'm saying? If you ain't making, like, what, $80,000 a year, you really don't belong here.
KORRY: That's about the area's median income. But even families making that much feel the pressure. Take Leslie Galkin(ph), a teacher, and her husband Graham(ph), who works in advertising. With one child in preschool and another on the way, they say they're already priced out of San Francisco.
Ms. LESLIE GALKIN: We've lived her about 11 years and we live in a rental house - a house that we would love to be able to own someday but will never, ever be able to own. We actually had it valued and it was valued at almost $900,000.
Mr. GRAHAM GALKIN: Most of our friends have left the city already. They've either left California or moved to the East Bay.
Ms. GALKIN: And we're also one of those families where we don't have cable. We don't go out to eat. We don't get to take advantage of a lot of things San Francisco has to offer indoors because we can't afford it.
KORRY: The city is attacking the cost of housing by increasing rental subsidies in the new budget. And just this week, lawmakers boosted requirements that private developers help pay for family housing in projects such as this one called Carter Terrace.
Ms. JANE GRAF (President, Mercy Housing California): This is affordable housing, first and foremost. Three stories, basic wood frame construction. We're talking about primarily two and three-bedroom units.
KORRY: That's Jane Graf with Mercy Housing, the nonprofit which build this award-winning project. Tucked into a hillside, apartments in muted golds and greens face inward on a central courtyard.
Ms. GRAF: It creates that secure homey feature so there's all sorts of little play areas: benches, the kids benches for adults, trees that will eventually provide a great amount of shade.
KORRY: Residents pay between $200 and $1,400 to live here, depending on their income and the size of their apartment. The courtyard leads into a community room where kids in a summer program are slicing bananas and strawberries. They're making fruit smoothies with the help of a services coordinator, Amara Alee(ph).
Ms. AMARA ALEE (Services Coordinator, Carter Terrace): They know I don't let them drink sodas. They know I don't let them kind of bring those Cheetos and stuff around. So anything I can do to kind of engage them in eating healthy, this is one of those things we do.
(Soundbite of music)
Unidentified Man: (Singing) (unintelligible) I've got the...
KORRY: Carter Terrace also has a teen center where kids can play music or ping-pong. Affordable housing is financed mostly by non-profits, but San Francisco now requires commercial developers to offer up to one in five of their new units at below-market rates. Developers who opt out must subsidize construction of affordable units by other builders.
It's one more way San Francisco is putting out the welcome mat for families. But with a median price for a home above $800,000, families like the Galkins still may find the door shut in their face.
Elaine Korry, NPR News.