Gov. Gavin Newsom was back in San Francisco on Thursday to call for immediate action on the state’s housing crisis, and he brought some people who agreed with him.
Teachers and safety workers joined Newsom and Mayor London Breed at Francis Scott Key Elementary School in the Sunset District to talk about their desperate efforts to keep living in San Francisco.
“My parents live here, and I was born and raised in the city,” said Joe Fazio, a San Francisco firefighter. “In my firefighters class, about half came from here, but only a quarter still live here.”
Elaine Redus is a retired sheriff’s deputy who grew up in the Fillmore. When she lost her home four years ago, she thought she was going to have to join the growing middle-class exodus from the city.
“All my family members have moved out to other cities” in a search for affordable housing, she said.
But for Fazio and Redus, the housing story had a happy ending. Both were able to buy homes in the city, thanks to down payment help from city programs designed to assist police, firefighters and teachers.
“I know this is the only way I’d be able to live in the city,” said Fazio, who used a $375,000 loan from a city program to buy a home in the Silver Terrace neighborhood earlier this year.
By most standards, San Francisco teachers and safety workers earn solidly middle-class salaries. But that’s not nearly enough to buy a home in the city, Newsom said.
“When you hear that a family of four is making $200,000, you may say, ‘That’s a lot,’” the governor said. “But with kids and other expenses, it’s hard to save money.”
He got quick agreement from Breed who, despite being the nation’s highest-paid mayor at $301,000 a year, described herself as a “still-aspiring” homeowner.
She makes too much for any of the city down payment assistance programs. But “after taxes, student loan payments and rent,” it’s surprising to see what’s left of her check, Breed said.
A recent survey found that it takes an annual income of $343,000 to buy a house in the city, so it’s a steep road to home ownership for people like Yolanda Phong, a second-grade teacher at Francis Scott Key.
San Francisco “has always been home, but a lot of family and friends have moved out because other places are more affordable,” said Phong, who lives with her parents while she tries to save for a down payment. “I’m a teacher, and I don’t know if I can afford to live here.”
Phong said she hopes to get down payment help from the city’s Teacher Next Door program, but there are always more applicants than money for the competitive program.
It’s important to keep local workers, especially police officers and firefighters, in the city in case of an earthquake or other disaster, Newsom said.
The governor, who said his fingerprints are all over the assistance programs from his years as San Francisco’s mayor, said studies have shown that only a small number of public safety workers live in the city.
The assistance programs are designed “to bring police and firefighters back to the city, not two or three hours away,” Newsom said. “Or, God forbid, two or three days away,” should an earthquake shut down the bridges and destroy roads.
But such programs don’t go far toward dealing with the housing needs in San Francisco and other California cities.
“Small ball,” Newsom called it. “We’re talking about a few dozen people,” although he said the housing aid is life-changing for those individuals.
The governor talked about the $2.7 billion for housing and homelessness assistance in this year’s state budget and new state programs to provide legal help for people being evicted and provide surplus state land for housing projects. Besides the carrot of more state money, Newsom also said he is willing to use the stick of withholding state funding to persuade cities to do their part to provide more housing.
But the state can’t solve the housing and homelessness problems for local government, Newsom said.
“We need accountability,” he said. “We can’t just keep throwing money at problems. … I want to see real results.”
John Wildermuth is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: [email protected] Twitter:@jfwildermuth
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