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Families Flee San Francisco: City Has Lowest Percentage Of Kids Of Any Major U.S. City

Families Flee San Francisco

First Posted: 03/ 9/2012 3:27 pm Updated: 03/11/2012 6:00 pm

According to statistics presented to a special hearing of the Board of Supervisors on Thursday, San Francisco has the lowest percentage of children of any major city in the country. Only 13.4 percent of the city's approximately 800,000 residents are under the age of 18.

The number of kids in San Francisco has gradually declined since the 1960s, when they made up a full quarter of the population.

The San Francisco Chronicle reports:

The high costs of housing and living in general seem to be the main culprits of family flight, according to city officials who testified Thursday. Households earning at least 80 percent of the city's median income--pegged at $92,700 for a family of three--can easily afford to rent an apartment, [Director of Community Development at the Mayor's Office of Housing Brian] Cheu said.

But buying a house is much more difficult because there are so few single-family, detached homes with multiple bedrooms. And the housing crash has actually left some families who used city programs to buy below-market-rate homes in the Bayview during the housing peak underwater now.

As middle-class families have increasingly fled to suburbs in the East Bay and along the Peninsula, their absence has fundamentally shifted the city's demographics toward being older, whiter and wealthier than the San Francisco of a generation ago.

There was also some question at the hearings about what effect the San Francisco public school system had in pushing families out. The San Francisco Examiner reports:

While it might appear that families are leaving because they’re unhappy with The City’s public schools, San Francisco Unified School District government relations director Chris Armentrout, said the district has seen an increase in kindergarten applications.

According to the Mayor’s Office of Housing, the proportion of children in the highest and lowest income brackets grew, while middle-income families moved away. Many of the families that stay are either those that can afford The City’s high cost of living or those that can’t afford to leave.

Despite the rise in kindergarten enrollment, the city's public school system, which has been racked by budget cuts and is perennially under the specter of teacher layoffs, has been criticized by some area parents for the recent institution of a system that gives preference to students to go to schools close to their homes instead of dividing students more evenly throughout the city based on socio-economic factors as it was previously done.

The trend is largely for parents with children under the age of six to stay in the city but, as the kids get older, there is a tendency to then move out.

Working for the creation of more affordable housing is a stated priority of San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee, who called for the creation of a Housing Trust Fund Working Group tasked with finding funds for more public housing.

Following the dissolution of the state's redevelopment agencies at the bequest of Governor Jerry Brown, the city lost one of its largest funding sources for affordable housing. "We might have $20 million a year in the general fund [for affordable housing]," housing activist Peter Cohen told the San Francisco Bay Guardian's Tim Redmond. "But that's compared to the $40 million or $50 million we had in the past, and it still leaves housing short."

While, San Francisco's General Plan dictates that a full 60 percent of new housing built in the city should be priced below the market rate, developers are only required to designate 20 percent of their new units as "affordable housing" and, thanks to a 2010 policy change allowing them to do so, an increasing number of developers are opting to pay a fee to the city in lieu of actually offering the cheaper units.

Similarly, over $400 million in state and local funding cuts to non-profits providing free and low-cost is another factor forcing many middle-class families, already struggling to make ends meet, give up on living in the city and decamp for thriftier pastures.

Even so, suburban flight doesn't just affect poor and middle-class. Former San Francisco Mayor, and current California Lieutenant Governor, Gavin Newsom moved to Marin after having his second child and swapping his post at City Hall for statewide office.

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Filed by Aaron Sankin  |