Jobs-to-Housing Balance

The jobs-to-housing balance metric is a ratio between the number of jobs and the number of housing units in a given geographical area. It is a measure of community health related to housing availability. A jobs-to-housing balance ratio of 1.5 means there are six jobs for every four households. According to the Building Industry Association, experts say that a healthy jobs-housing balance is 1.5.6 This accounts for at least one full-time worker in most households, given that some members of the population are retired, some choose not to or cannot work, and some hold part-time jobs. The jobs-to-housing balance recognizes that in a modern economy, a simple ratio of one job to one household is inappropriate, since most households need more than one person in the workforce.

The benefits of a healthy jobs-to-housing ratio include:7

  • Expanded housing choices and availability among all income groups
  • Reduced driving time, less congestion and less pollution
  • Lower costs to workers and businesses
  • Lower public expenditures on services
  • A better work-life balance

6 Building Industry Association:

7 Southern California Association of Governments, “The New Economy and Jobs Housing Balance in
Southern California”, April 2001, pp 19-20

The current jobs-to-housing balance ratio in San Mateo County is 1.49,8 based on the 431,951 individuals in the workforce (employed and currently unemployed) and 289,536 housing units.

At face value, the 1.49 ratio would seem to indicate success. However, measured over time, the jobs-to-housing balance can be an indicator of an ever-worsening condition when not enough housing units are being constructed to keep pace with job growth. It also does not consider that many workers in our county actually live in other counties or, conversely. that many county residents work in other counties all over the Bay Area.

The jobs-to-housing balance also does not address two key components of the jobs-housing fit, namely, affordability and having enough homes located within one geographic area, so that the need to commute is greatly reduced.

The New Jobs to New Housing Units Balance

A key component to understanding the reality of housing inequality and the housing shortage is exploring the rate of housing production relative to the rate of job creation. A 2019 report by Home for All, a regional collaborative initiative with representatives from San Mateo County, local cities, governmental agencies and businesses, expresses the problem quite simply:

“Between 2010 and 2019, 102,500 new jobs were created in San Mateo County, while only 9,494 new housing units were built, a[n] 11:1 ratio. Generally, San Mateo County has not produced as much housing as other inner Bay Area Counties. The ratio is decreasing, but we still have a long way to go.” 9

To better understand what the future jobs-to-housing balance will be, Sustainable San Mateo County recently reviewed the Building and Planning Departments websites for all 20 cities and the unincorporated areas of San Mateo County to gather data on how much
development is “in the pipeline” in those jurisdictions. We looked at every proposed residential project – that is, new single-family homes and new apartments and condominiums. We also reviewed proposed commercial and retail development, as well as office, R&D, hotel, commercial and other development. Included in our data compilation were projects under construction and not yet completed. As background, the headquarters of Facebook, YouTube and Genentech, as well as many biotech companies and many Fortune 100 companies are located in San Mateo County, all of them contemplating significant expansions.

We found:

  • There are approximately 330 large land development projects either approved, under review or under construction in San Mateo County.
  • These projects represent approximately 40 million square feet of net new construction. To provide some perspective, that number is more than 12 times the size of the Facebook campus in Menlo Park.
  • If all the projects are constructed, they will create more than 106,000 new jobs in San Mateo County, probably in the next five years, but there will be fewer than 25,000 new housing units produced. That would mean a new jobs to new housing ratio of 4.24 to 1.
  • It should be noted that the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) have projected that the number of jobs in San Mateo County will grow to 506,000 by the year 2050.10 However, if all the projects currently in the pipeline are completed in five years, resulting in 106,000 new
    jobs, the actual number of jobs in San Mateo County will be 537,000 in 2027, 23 years sooner that what is projected by ABAG/MTC.
  • The total jobs-to-housing ratio will then rise to almost 2.0, meaning that the housing crisis will be far worse than it is now, with more congestion and fewer opportunities for those in desperate need of a place to live.

8 All Together Better of San Mateo County:

9 Home For All,  (Data Source: CA EDD, U.S. Census, American Community Survey, 2015.)

Obstacles to New Housing

Challenges to housing production are due to many factors, including NIMBYism (meaning people who argue “not in my backyard”), escalating home values, increasing construction prices and the potential for higher profits from market-rate housing development, especially for multifamily development.

There is significant pushback in San Mateo County from homeowners who fear that more development will worsen traffic, housing will be too dense and overcrowded, buildings will be too tall, and parking will become difficult, all leading to decreased home values. Often, city governments in the Bay Area find it far more attractive to approve additional office and retail space because of the higher taxes and sales tax revenue they raise, compared to the expense of providing more city services as a result of residential development.

Housing developers are understandably motivated to build market-rate housing, rather than affordable housing in which approvals and financing are difficult and time-consuming.
There are many steps along the road to affordable housing completion, including complicated funding applications and city approvals, drawn-out state approvals for a portion of the financing and statewide competition for money. On the other hand, developers of market-rate multifamily housing often see profit margins that exceed 14 percent and can be as high as 18 percent, frequently with significantly less time required for planning, design and construction.

10 Plan Bay Area 2050, Updated January 21, 2050, Prepared by ABAG for the RHNA process
link to PDF file

Regional Housing Needs Allocation

Efforts are underway to increase housing production. Every eight years, ABAG assigns each city in the Bay Area an updated Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA). This process begins when the California Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD)
determines how many housing units are needed in the state and then, more specifically, how many new homes are needed within ABAG’s nine-county San Francisco Bay Area. Each individual county is then allocated a number, a goal, that is the number of housing units that need to be constructed during the next eight-year period.

ABAG’s San Mateo County housing needs for the eight-year projection period from 2015 through 2022 (known as the Fifth Planning Cycle, or just the Fifth Cycle) were 16,437 units, which were to be distributed as follows for construction of homes for families in these income groups:

  •  Very Low Income ($0 to $91,350 for a family of 4) 4,595 homes
  • Low Income ($91,350 to $146,350 for a family of 4) 2,507 homes
  • Moderate Income ($146,350 to $179,500 for a family of 4) 2,830 homes
  • Above Moderate Income (above $179,500 for a family of 4) 6,505 homes

HCD publishes yearly updates called the Annual Progress Report (APR). In the first six years of the Fifth Cycle, the amount of new housing units for which building permits were actually issued was not only lower than needed, but also was not distributed equitably within the above household income groups. While building permits were issued in the last six years for almost 150 percent of the needed housing units for Above Moderate Income residents (9,717 of the required 6,505), not nearly enough permits were issued for the other income requirements:

Very Low Income (27 percent, only 1,262 permits of the required 4,595), Low Income (48 percent, only 1,211 permits of the required 2,507), and Moderate Income (30 percent, only 855 permits of the required 2,830).

In June 2020, HCD and ABAG concluded that the number of new housing units needed in the county for the Sixth Cycle (2023 to 2030) is 47,687 distributed among the four income categories. This is a dramatic increase from the Fifth Cycle projection, which was 16,437, and will require a substantial increase in housing projects and city efforts.

Overall, the high number of housing units needed, combined with frequent indifference, weak enforcement and strong opposition, continues to pose a challenge for reaching housing equity. The lack of housing being built for low-income households continues to pose a threat for
an equitable future.

Building Permit chart San Mateo County

Source: California Department of Housing and Community Development, Annual Progress Reports,

Here are the RHNA allocations of housing units necessary to be built in San Mateo County during the next eight-year cycle (2023 to 2030):

RHNA Numbers for the Sixth Planning Cycle, 2023-2030

RHNA Numbers for the Sixth Planning Cycle, 2023-2030

Single-Family Zoning

Since the advent of the 20th century, zoning has shaped the identity, feel and aesthetic of the Bay Area. Close to 47 percent of all land in the Bay Area is zoned for single-family housing. Just two cities in the Bay Area have allocated less than 40 percent of all land for single-family housing: Suisun City (0 percent) and Benicia (11 percent).11 Neither of these is located in San Mateo County. Given the exclusionary history of single-family zoning due to redlining and restrictive covenants, and the fact that single-family zoning takes up such a significant portion of land in the Bay Area, a clearer picture begins to emerge about how single-family zoning shapes San Mateo County and its residents today.

Zoning maps

In these zoning maps of San Mateo, Hillsborough and San Carlos, pink represents single-family zoning, gray shows nonresidential zoning, and blue represents other residential zoning.

Additional zoning maps in San Mateo County can be found here.

Through the analysis of zoning maps, clear trends appear about the demographics of single-family zoning, affordability and public schools. Data collected from the U.C. Berkeley Othering and Belonging Institute and the 2019 American Community Survey of the U.S. Census Bureau over five years show higher percentages of white residents with higher incomes and lower percentages of Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) in single-family zones.

Taking a closer look at cost, housing prices are significantly higher in cities with more single-family zoning, making them less accessible to home ownership and the possibility of building generational wealth. Cities with more single-family zoning also have the highest average test scores in their public schools. Since these cities are so inaccessible to live in, the extremely high quality of their public schools also becomes inaccessible. These affluent housing zones overlap with the white-only regions that were developed between World War II and the 1960s. In this way, 21st century segregation in the Bay Area is still a reality. People of color are still much less likely to have access to better schools and neighborhoods today. The consequences of policies over a generation ago are still clearly seen throughout the county, making transportation hubs difficult, neighborhoods exclusive, and dividing the haves and have-nots.

Percentage of Zoning for single family housing chart

Source: Bay Area Zoning Maps, U.C. Berkeley Othering and Belonging Institute, 2019. Data for
Colma was not available.

Rent Burden

A key characteristic of housing affordability is rent burdens. According to the Silicon Valley Institute for Regional Studies, 44.6 percent of renters in Santa Clara and San Mateo Counties have housing costs greater than 30 percent of their income. It is generally recognized that people should spend no more than 30 percent of their monthly gross income on rent. This rent-to-income ratio worsens depending on income category and race. For example, looking at the year 2015, renters in San Mateo County spent on average of 38 percent of their income on housing, and households with similar incomes experienced similar rent burdens across all racial groups. Unfortunately, due to the overrepresentation of certain racial groups in low-income categories, a larger percentage of them had a high rent burden. For example, Black households’ overall rent burden was 47 percent, much higher than the Bay Area average.12

The rent burden can be further explained by the significant gap between San Mateo County’s minimum wage and the income required to afford a median rent home in San Mateo County. In order to afford an average two-bedroom housing unit in San Mateo County, renters need to earn 3.2 times the minimum wage.13 Currently, the minimum wage in the county is $15.62 an hour, and in order to afford the asking rent for a two-bedroom unit, one must earn at least $50.60 an hour. This large discrepancy further explains the overwhelming number of
rent-burdened households.

Source: California Housing Partnership, San Mateo County 2021 Affordable Housing Report chart

Source: California Housing Partnership, San Mateo County 2021 Affordable Housing Report

12 IPUMS-USA, University of Minnesota, 2011-2015,
links to 12 MB PDF file

13 California Housing Partnership, San Mateo Housing Report 2021

The housing burden is also apparent statewide:

housing cost burden chart

There is a temporary reprieve for renters. Although the eviction moratorium officially ended on September 30, 2021, San Mateo County renters and landlords can continue to apply to have rents paid, since tens of millions of dollars remain available through the Emergency Rental Assistance Program. And tenants will remain protected from eviction due to nonpayment of rent through March 2022, as long as they can show they have applied for assistance and haven’t been disqualified. Program details and links to service centers are available here.

The Challenge for Extremely Low-Income Households

Unfortunately, a large segment of the population cannot qualify for affordable housing because they don’t earn enough money. For example, see Estela’s story below.

Ray Hodges, Director of San Mateo County’s Department of Housing, explained that many affordable housing developments in the county and nationwide have used federal, state and local capital subsidies to construct buildings, but haven’t received assistance for long-term operations. The rents are typically affordable to households earning between 30 and 80 percent of the Area Median Income (AMI). (For a one-person household, that’s between $38,400 and $102,450. For a four -person household, that’s between $54,800 and $146,350). However, only a small percentage of units remain in any one development targeted at supporting people at extremely low-income levels, which is less than 30 percent of AMI (below $38,400 for a household of one, below $54,800 for a household of four). This includes most of the county’s homeless population. “The units in the 30 to 80 percent AMI range provide affordable homes for people earning low incomes but are also needed to provide enough cash flow to ‘keep the lights on,’” Hodges said.

One workaround that San Mateo County’s Housing Authority and others have adopted is to use some of their federal rental assistance to support operating costs of specific projects. Doing so, Hodges said, allows owners of affordable housing developments to incorporate
households earning extremely low incomes (ELI) and even those below the ELI income category, including households with only Social Security income. The rental assistance pays the difference between whatever the tenant can pay (even if that’s $0), and the U.S. Department of Housing and Development’s (HUD’s) Fair Market Rent for the area.

“We actually obtained approval from HUD to utilize a larger portion of our Section 8 vouchers in this way,” Hodges said, “but they’ve all been allocated to buildings at this point, and our overall rental assistance portfolio has no slack on the tenant-based or project-based side.” He was pleased when the American Rescue Plan Act approved the first major expansion of the Section 8 housing voucher program in decades, noting, “Those vouchers cannot be project-based to be used specifically in affordable housing buildings as I described, but do provide that deep level of affordability for extremely low-income and formerly homeless tenants to utilize in buildings throughout our communities.” One caveat is that federal housing subsidy programs like these rental assistance programs require citizenship documentation in order for tenants to be eligible.

Case Study: Estela’s Story

Family photo of Estela

Estela and her children

Some families in San Mateo County don’t have enough income to qualify for affordable housing. Estela earns $18,000 a year as a house cleaner. She lives in a one-bedroom apartment in Redwood City with her three children: Juan, 24, who earns $30,000 a year working at Costco; Yeshua, 17, a high school student; and Mia, who attends junior high school. She and all three children are U.S. citizens. Juan cannot move out of the apartment because Estela can’t afford to pay the $1,800 monthly rent by herself.

She also cannot qualify for affordable housing with her two younger children because her $18,000 salary is not enough to pay the rent in a typical affordable housing project. For example, Hallmark House Apartments, an affordable housing complex in Redwood City, is currently accepting applications from low-income residents for 72 one-bedroom apartments. The maximum occupancy for a one-bedroom unit is three people. The problem is that the $1,999-a-month rent is more than Estela can afford.

Relationship Between Housing, Jobs and Transportation

In San Mateo County, the largest source of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions is
transportation. In 2018, the average commute in the Bay Area was 20.3 miles. Many people commute to San Mateo County from outside the county because of the lack of adequate housing in the county, especially affordable housing. Connecting homes to nearby jobs and providing low-emission, convenient and affordable transportation opportunities is vital for a more sustainable, equitable county.

According to a 2018 report from the nonprofit Housing Leadership Council of San Mateo County, workers making less than $50,000 made up 40 percent of the people commuting from outside San Mateo County. Some have an average commute of 90 minutes each way, due to the lack of affordable housing within San Mateo County. It is not uncommon for workers to commute from Sacramento, Stockton and even farther away.

Commuters coming from homes in Contra Costa County, Solano County, San Joaquin Valley and the cities of Stockton, Sacramento and Gilroy experience horrendous commutes. In order to reduce GHG emissions from transportation and traffic congestion, affordable housing must be created within San Mateo County for the low-income population that serves the county.

The ideal situation would be for all workers in San Mateo County to actually live in the county. As explained by Bart Charlow, CEO of Samaritan House, more housing for local workers would also be a net benefit for the county, in two major ways. First, low-income workers would then also spend the money they earn within the county instead of spending it elsewhere. Second, the county would not be at risk of losing some of its critical low-income workforce, including but not limited to plumbers, first responders and teachers.

San Mateo County Bicycle Route Map

bike map

The bike routes in this map are broken down into the three class categories. Class I provides a completely separated right of way for bikers. Class II routes provide a striped lane, one-way bike travel. Class III provides shared use with pedestrians and other motorvehicles.

Most of San Mateo County’s 25 largest employers (those with more than 1,000employees) are located near BART, Caltrain or bicycle routes. However, there is a lack of safe bicycle routes connecting rail routes to bike routes to employers. Many of the largest employers are located east of Highway 101, and there are very few safe crossings for bicyclists who want to travel from a Caltrain station across Highway 101 to Foster City or Redwood Shores, where many large employers are located.

Currently, only a small percentage of bicycle routes in the county are in the safest categories, those designated only for bicycles (Class II) and those designated only for bicycles and separated from automobiles by barriers (Class IV). The majority of bicycle routes have on-street markings in lanes shared with automobiles. Several of the county’s cities are creating additional bicycle routes that are designed to more safely provide opportunities for bicyclists to cross Highway 101. For example, the City of San Mateo has several ongoing projects including the Hillsdale Pedestrian/Bicyclist Bridge and the North Central Bike Lanes Project.