Housing Crisis: Affordable for Locals or High End for Wealthy Techies – A Neighbor Weighs In

South San Francisco, CA       January 20, 2016                     Public Letter to SSF City Leaders by John Martoni

Airport & Miller High Density Luxury Units Rendering

Airport & Miller High Density Luxury Units Rendering

Dear South City Leaders:

I appreciate your leadership and enjoy living in Downtown South City because it is diverse/eclectic, quaint, has good services, and is stable. I think that civic leaders have been vital to creating such a nice environment. Thank you!

However, it is no longer affordable. I am being priced out and just read about Sares Regis developing the Ford Site. Please excuse me while I rant:

All this time I thought that the “housing crisis” was about locals being able to afford to stay in the area. Thanks to the City of South San Francisco, I now know that the true housing crisis is that there is not enough upscale housing for wealthy techies from out of town.

It’s great that South San Francisco is tackling the problem by having Sares Regis Group develop luxury apartments at the Ford site. They are experts at building expensive (overpriced) housing for the rich. 600-square-foot one bedroom apartments in their existing projects on the Peninsula range from about $3,400-$4,800 per month. The median income in South San Francisco is about $74,000/year (net of about $4100 per month). It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that these apartments are not being built for South San Franciscans.

Sares Regis has a national empire of extremely overpriced rentals with floorplans that are similar to hotel suites. Rental rates are set with software and often come to strange amounts such as $3769/month. They have EXTREMELY high turnover of tenants because when the leases expire they raise rents dramatically. Eventually people are either priced out or wise up that they are being significantly overcharged for what they are getting.

You would be hard-pressed to find people of color, families, senior citizens or low-income residents in their complexes. You will not find many locals either. They can’t afford it. Sares Regis target demographic is young, single people new to the area/without much experience renting an apt.

Like used car salesmen, they have a variety of gimmicks to attract their inexperienced/financially unsophisticated victims– including extremely low security deposits and highly discounted rent for the first month. The ridiculously low move-in costs often attract those in precarious financial situations who often cannot afford the astronomical rent that will come after the first month. That is OK with Sares Regis because a large portion of Sares Regis’s income comes from debt collection on those who move out before their leases expire. They are a major player in the predatory debt collection industry that sets up low income people in unsustainable financial arrangements, and then sells their debt to debt collectors who follow/threatens/sue them.

BEWARE! They are not local, do not care about the local communities they invade, and are not helping with the housing crisis. Since they control thousands and thousands of units—- they are, in fact, in control of the housing market.

Look no further than South City Station for proof that overpriced, over-sized corporate developments are based on greed. Although it seems counter-intuitive, they actually RAISE housing prices because they control the vast majority of available units without any competition (except for a few other mega developers engaging in the same predatory practices).

You can easily verify everything I have said by simply checking out the apartment listings on Craigslist and comparing the rents in small-scale, individually-owned complexes downtown with those being charged at South City Station’s corporate-owned mega complex (you can check out SSF Station rents on their website).

Another interesting pattern to note, is that there are hardly any rental openings in the old downtown because residents are scared to risk giving up a dignified, affordable rental unit that is locally-owned (with a humane landlord that is a person) because they know that they won’t be able to find another one.

In contrast, you will notice tons of openings all of the time in South City Station because it has extremely high turnover (it was not designed for long-term residency).

Are there any renters on city boards, commissions, elected bodies? I think it would be a good idea to have input from local renters when you review these projects. Please don’t hesitate to call me if you need somebody!

As a teacher, I am extremely frustrated because I am being priced out of South City and there is nowhere left in the Bay Area to find affordable housing. South City WAS one of the few affordable pockets in the Bay Area. Although lots of new units have been approved, they are all being developed by corporations with track records of greedy opportunism. NONE of them will be remotely affordable for those of us with middle-class incomes who don’t qualify for subsidies/assistance. Consequently, I am currently in the process of updating my resume because it looks extremely likely that I am going to have to move to another region of California next school year.

FINALLY…. I AM NOT ANTI-DEVELOPMENT! In fact, I think South City is extremely underdeveloped, with many empty lots, parking lots, etc.

PLEASE INVESTIGATE MIDDLE HOUSING CONCEPT BY DAN PAROLEK IN BERKELEY AS A POSSIBLE SOLUTION TO HOUSING CRISIS. It is based on traditional development patterns/scale of historic downtown core. Increases number of landlords/property owners (instead of consolidating massive lots to hand over to corporate developers, it is based on maintaining the existing fine-grain pattern and having human landlords!), The more landlords, the more competition. This is what will lower rents.


John Martoni

South San Francisco


NOTE: When Everything South City contacted Mr Martoni to advise we would be publishing his public letter should he want to add further comments he replied with the following:

I welcome new development downtown on vacant and underutilized lots. I even welcome luxury housing! And I recognize that Sares Regis will activate a blighted corner, provide living wages to construction workers, and donate funds to our parks. That is all great!

However, we can’t limit ourselves to building luxury housing for highly-paid millennials without families.

We need housing for all age groups, family compositions, ethnic groups and incomes.

Furthermore, the city shouldn’t subsidize Sares Regis by consolidating four lots, making exceptions for increased height/density, making exceptions for decreased parking, and making exceptions for decreased storage UNLESS Sares Regis is willing to build housing for groups more typically found in South City (i.e. those earning the median household income of $74,000/year, families and senior citizens!). Some of those lots could have been used for “normal” housing instead of luxury housing! – JM


A public hearing will take place before the SSF Planning Commission on Thursday January 21, 2016 at the MSB 33 Arroyo Drive SSF. The City has streams the meeting on their website, CLICK HERE for more info.

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