Housing costs are causing the Bay Area community to shift like sand. Prices rise and people come and go, looking for a steady place to land. We feel and see the effects of this every day on the Coastside — as people who live here, want to live here or depend on people who live here.

“We have an affordability problem on the Coastside,” San Mateo County Housing Authority Executive Director Ken Cole said. In this county, a renter would need to earn $103,000 to afford the average one-bedroom apartment, according to the Silicon Valley Community Foundation. Meanwhile, the latest available Census data shows the average median income was $93,623.

The picture Cole paints is bleak.

“The coast is so underdeveloped; there’s just not a lot of housing stock, but there’s still a lot of people who want to live here. There are people who need to be close to their jobs but can’t afford to,” Cole said. “We see more homelessness, people sleeping in garages or sheds, spaces not designed for habitation … and struggling with health and safety standards. People are desperate for housing.”

What can be done?

The Silicon Valley Community Foundation offered an opportunity to discuss this complex problem. On Nov. 15, more than 700 hosts led conversations with 6,000 participants throughout San Mateo and Santa Clara counties in an initiative called “On the Table.”

The Review was one of several Coastside hosts. The project was part of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation’s version of a civic engagement effort modeled on an initiative by The Chicago Community Trust.

Pasta Moon provided the venue. The Silicon Valley Community Foundation provided money for food. People from the community provided the conversation. 

They included insights from Spanish Immersion Parent Association member Mary Beth Alexander, Belinda Hernandez-Arriaga, founder of Latino cultural program ALAS, Realtor Brian Lee, Midcoast Community Council member Barbra Mathewson, Half Moon Bay High School teacher Joey Naple and iHalf Moon Bay City Councilwoman Deborah Penrose. 

Over pizza, the conversation offered a slice of how different community members face housing on the Coastside.

Skyrocketing costs

If housing costs are so high, would it make sense to keep them down? 

Penrose thinks so. She wants to push for rent stabilization. The idea would be to temporarily cap increases at 3 percent per year until more affordable housing options are available.

“I haven’t gotten another council member to agree with me,” she said. Penrose said she hears this argument: “‘We do not want rent stabilization. It doesn’t work.’ Yet, there are places where it has worked very well.”

Lee explained why some would disagree with that approach. He said some development projects take years, and that there are risks associated with rent control.

“The other part is it does mean there’s less that opens up,” he said. “The people who get in at those low rates, a lot of those people aren’t moving. The ones who do come on, they’ll actually send the market rate higher because there’s fewer (units).”

Mathewson has experienced the fluctuating market as a homeowner since she made the move to the Coastside in 1973.

“This was the cheapest place to live on the Peninsula,” she explained.

Costs have swelled in recent years and now MidPen Housing is looking into developing 71 units to create more affordable housing in Moss Beach. As a would-be neighbor, the project inspired Mathewson to get into politics. She worried that the site wouldn’t be safe for such a project, but also recognized there was tremendous need.

“I realized the housing problem was huge,” said Mathewson. 

She is alleviating the affordability issue in her own way. As a landlord, she rents to a policeman and two self-employed people below market rate.

“On each unit I could be taking a couple thousand dollars more a month,” Mathewson said. “But I have good tenants and I want to keep them … I’m now basically doing rent control.”

Making connections

As part of Cabrillo Unified School District’s Spanish Immersion Parent Association, Alexander has seen international teachers struggle to get established in the United States. She’s also seen the schools struggle to get bilingual teachers. One of the issues was securing housing. In response, her family opened their home to a teacher and has helped others to do the same.

“After a while I thought, if we really want to help the school, teachers are important,” she said. 

As a next step, she suggests the school community collaborate with HIP Housing, a nonprofit that works as something of a matchmaker for home providers and home seekers.

Naple experienced an informal version of this. Housing can be prohibitively expensive for new teachers, and he found his through a mutual friend.

“Coming down to the Bay Area from Humboldt County, I still wanted to live somewhere that felt rural,” he said. “I felt really lucky to get into Cabrillo because it has that rural feeling. Growing up in California, I have that as part of my personality and my interest and what I like.”

Now he tries to help his own students plan for a secure future. 

“I’m a special (education) teacher. I have a student who wants to be an electrician but struggles with math,” Naple said. “He was telling me, ‘Mr. Naple, how am I going to afford to pay rent if I can’t be an electrician?’ We went over some of the salaries for painters, which requires less math, and that put him at ease a little bit … but (he said), ‘Is it true that everywhere’s this expensive in the Bay Area?’ I told him, ‘Yeah, it is.’ I tried to push the positive part of how the painters’ salaries can be as much or more than a teacher’s over time.”

The long and short of it

Dozens of Coastside units are available for short-term rentals, and that can deplete housing stock. Both city and county governments are working on drafting ordinances that would detail policies to better regulate them.

“Lots and lots of rentals that are being used for that could be used for long-term lease,” Lee said. “It’s actually changing neighborhoods.”

Some people depend on real estate as investments, Alexander pointed out, noting a radio interview she heard.

“My response to that is these people don’t have any place to live. You have a roof over your head right now. Right now, these people are in crisis,” Penrose said. “It’s a matter of scale — who’s suffering more.”

“Maybe he’s using that to keep a roof over his head. You don’t know,” Alexander responded.

The elephant in the room

Fighting to make ends meet, families are being divided as some go to live in cheaper areas and spouses stay behind to keep a job. In some cases, multiple families are crowding into single dwellings. Sometimes it’s because of cost, but sometimes it’s due to racism, Hernandez-Arriaga said.

“The housing crisis is going to take out the Latino community faster than any immigration (policy) is going to here at this time,” she said.  

It’s an undercurrent that drags down the rest of the community.

“I think it’s really unfair we reap the benefits … and we don’t have housing that sustains our very people that our economy is based on,” Herandez-Arriaga said. “Our whole tourism industry is built on the community around the agricultural industry, fishery, hotel industry.

“I’m just wondering — what’s going to happen when these families really move away? What’s going to happen to Half Moon Bay? It really is an economic crisis, too, that we need to be contemplating. How does this play out?”

Hernandez-Arriaga suggested examining housing as a human rights issue.

“Everyone should have a way to have access to a home and access to not only safe living, but also humane conditions,” she said.

The American Dream

As pizza was served, Alexander left the conversationalists with further food for thought.

“The American Dream is to own your own home, a single-family residence, and spend your weekends mowing your lawn and trimming your bushes,” she said. “I’ve been thinking about this for years. Is it better to have sprawl or big tall buildings? … Maybe this whole idea we have is not right.” 

(8) comments


In my opinion, if people can't afford to live here, move out to an area you can afford. The "American Dream" has changed. It's no longer owning a house with the white picket fence. Those days are long gone. That's 20th century thinking. Housing is more affordable the further east one looks, including out of state. Nobody is forcing anyone to live on the coast; it's a luxury to live on the coast and is for those who can afford to live by it. It's not a necessity of life.


Believe it not, you won't find it so hot, if you ain't got the dough-re-mi! Woodiie Guthrie (circa, 1930's)

mr critter

I lived on the Coastside for almost 20 years before I moved to the "greener pastures" of Oregon in order to get back into the home owner category. I found lots of rain-often from Nov.-June and a native culture not enthralled with the Californication of Oregon. So, I now live very inexpensively in the high desert of Arizona where I can live on my SS monthly payment. My point: the housing issue has been around since 1976 when I bought my house on Myrtle. The same discussion has been going on ever since and now it has reached "critical mass". Talking over pizza is nice; the only solution is building lots of "people friendly" housing-and hardly anybody on the Coastside wants that. Until many of those lovely open areas get lots of housing built-which again, nobody wants-there will only be more worthless discussions. Face the facts folks: a radical transformation is needed and there are no mechanisms of any kind available to fix the crisis. Why not build a thousand "tiny houses" occupying a stamp of 1/10 of an acre and a living space of 500 square feet. Or supply those fine young first year teachers a RV in a nice RV park with a community center, trees, community store with discounted food and whatever else the collective wants. That's my idea for a solution: lots of tiny houses and a few more really attractive RV parks. Feasibility: zero. Why: too many meetings which reminds me of UCSC where I worked for a few years. The result of those meetings which were concerned with more mundane things than putting a roof over ones head: not very much. BTW: when working in Santa Cruz I paid almost $2000/month for a tiny cottage. All the concerned parties need to get beyond the talking and the only solutions available nobody wants to do. Let me repeat myself: nobody wants to bite the nail and realize, to say it one last time, radical change is needed and the "haves" haven't got the cajones to do what they know they have to do. Good luck.

Steve Hyman

There is a housing problem here, but frankly its really throughout the entire Bay Area. We are the victims of our own success, especially with the phenomenal growth taking place in Silicon Valley. These high tech companies pay their employees very well allowing them to buy or rent homes at ever increasing prices. As long as they thrive, the problem will persist.
While some people may feel that our prices here on the Coast are too high, the reality is that they dirt cheap in comparison to other cities on the peninsula to where our average home price here is roughly $500,000 below the entire County average.
There are solutions to our housing shortage here but the politics really make that a non-starter. We have hundreds of acres of vacant land along Hwy 1 from Ocean Colony to Miramar that could be developed. The City owns 40 acres of land in Beachwood. But nothing will be done with that.
Both the Moss Beach Heights parcel and land in El Granada are owned by 2 school districts, yet nobody is building that for teachers.
Lets face it there really hasn't been a new community built here (other than 3 Mid-Pen projects) in almost 30 years. The permit approval process for large scale projects is so laborious and costly, most builders avoid this place like the plague. There are so many other places where you can do things quicker.
The rental problem will persist for the same reason, there's little increase in supply of housing. Simple supply/demand problem.
I also take exception with the fact more people want to live here. The sales statistics paint a much different picture. Sales volume peaked in 2004 with 400 sales and this year we will be lucky if it hits 300.
I remember speaking to the City Council on Affordable housing a few months ago (and even gave them a few articles I wrote on the topic) and bluntly told them that this is one of those feel good exercises to make it seem like they care but have with no realistic solution. So all we are going to hear from our leaders is what they do best talk, talk, talk.


Sorry, but HMB doesn't have a housing problem. It has a population problem made worse by incompetent politicians who still don't want to admit that there is disaster coming. Read my earlier post of Woodie Guthrie's: "If you ain't got the dough-re-me...." Just grab as much as you can before the house of cards collapses.


The smartest thing I ever did was move out of that mess called Half Moon Bay. I haven't looked back since!


Lots of folks back East they say, are leaving home every,
Leaving their hot and dusty ways, for the California line;
Across the desert sands they rode, getting out of that old dust bowl,
Looking for a sugar bowl but here is what they find,
The police at the port of entry say, you're number 14,000 for today,
But if you ain't got that dough re mi boys, if you ain't got that dough re mi,
Better head on back to beautiful Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Tennessee;
California is a garden of Eden, a paradise to live in or to see,
But you won't find it so hot, if you ain't got that dough re mi!
Woody Guthrie

Tyler Durden

I have a novel idea to solve the so-called "housing crisis". Let's do a City wide rezoning that turns "single family home" zoning into "multi family home boarding houses with at least 10 cars parked out front ". Oh wait. We already did that essentially. So I guess the crisis has been resolved.

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.

More Stories