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Most individuals who work for San Francisco don’t dwell within the metropolis. Right here’s why

The majority of people who work for the city of San Francisco don’t actually live there, according to data provided by the city.

In fact, 58% of San Francisco’s public workers live outside of the city as of 2022, a slight increase from where it was a decade ago. SF workers commuting into the city most often live in San Mateo County (19%), but that number is also decreasing.

Meanwhile, East Bay counties Alameda and Contra Costa are seeing more San Francisco public workers move into their areas. As of 2022, 14% and 12% of San Francisco city employees live in Alameda and Contra Costa counties – 10% and 15% percent increases since 2013, respectively.

In particular, Stockton is attracting lots more San Francisco city workers these days than it used to, despite the significant commute. Nowadays, 311 city workers reside in San Joaquin county — still only about 1% of all workers, a 46% increase from 191 in 2013.

While the lack of affordable housing is likely one of the main factors driving city workers out of San Francisco, other factors could also be at play, according to Enrique Lopezlira, Director at the UC Berkeley Center for Labor Research and Education.

For example, improvements to public transportation — like a BART extension to San Jose — could be making people more comfortable commuting longer distances.


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“It’s hard to definitely say it’s all housing [costs] that’s causing this. Those other areas, if they’re also getting more residents and they start building more amenities, better schools and so forth, that might also cause people to want to live outside the city,” Lopezlira said. Still, Lopezlira thinks that it’s “a bit high” for a city like San Francisco to have six of every 10 municipal employees living out-of-city.

San Francisco’s public safety departments have the highest shares of workers living outside SF In 2022, just 25% of San Francisco Police Department employees lived in the city proper, the lowest share of any department.

SF Police Department spokesperson Adam Lobsinger said some officers choose to live outside of the city to have separation of their work and home lives.

“I live outside of San Francisco … it’s really important for us to have some downtime and get away from work because of the toll that this job can take on you both physically and emotionally,” Lobsinger said.

Only 28% of SF Fire Department employees live in the city. According to Fire Department spokesperson Jonathan Baxter, many workers who do live in town can do so because they inherited homes from their parents, still live with their families or work second jobs.

“Rent is extremely high in San Francisco and most of the firefighters that I’ve spoken to who rent in San Francisco have [two to five] roommates so that they can have a decent living standard, [and be] able to continue to educate themselves to progress in their careers such as going to college and taking trade classes,” Baxter said.

Despite having the highest median income out of all the city’s departments at over $200,000, the San Francisco Fire Department has one of the lowest portions of employees that live in the city.

Many city departments prefer to have their staff live in San Francisco and recruit locally to make that happen. For example, the Fire Department offers youth outreach programs like CITY EMT, a four month program that offers Emergency Medical Technician training to at-risk young adults in San Francisco.

The Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development offers affordable housing programs that give preference to people who work in the city, like the San Francisco Affordable Housing Lottery — the city’s system for allocating “Below Market Rate” properties. San Francisco workers have an advantage when applying to this program because every lottery has a “live or work in San Francisco” preference that improves an applicant’s chances at being awarded housing.

Some housing programs are more targeted to specific departments. The First Responders Downpayment Assistance Loan Program helps members of the San Francisco Police Department, Fire Department and Sheriff’s Department buy their first home in San Francisco. The loan covers a downpayment of up to $375,000.

But with already-high median home values ​​rising even higher in recent years, Baxter questions if this is enough support.

“I myself could not afford my driveway at the home that I live in right now if I were to buy my home again and that’s a factor in seeing the rise in the cost of housing that we have here in San Francisco,” he said.

Not all of the city’s departments are seeing the same patterns. Even though Public Library employees have a median income of $102,000 – over $100,000 less than Fire Department’s median income — six out of ten Public Library employees are city residents.

One explanation could be age-related: Public Library employees have a higher median age than most other city departments, according to City Librarian Michael Lambert.

“We have employees who are still in their late 60s and 70s working for us. In the past, we’ve even had 1 employee in their early 80s,” Lambert said. “If our employees are older and stay longer, they have a greater likelihood of having put down roots in their younger years here, and perhaps have had a relatively easier time staying in the city and navigating the housing market.”

Labor Center researcher Lopezlira said his organization is beginning research on why the public sector has seen slow recovery in employment staffing since the pandemic. He said the city’s lack of affordable housing could be one of the causes of the high number of vacancies in government positions.

“We realize that there’s a lot of talk about [public sector] labor shortage in general, but maybe part of the reason for those hiring vacancies is the fact that it’s really expensive to live in the city and county,” he said.

Adriana Rezal and Harsha Devulapalli are San Francisco Chronicle staff writers. Email: adriana.rezal@sfchronicle.com

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