Here’s What Income You Need to Afford a Studio Apartment in San Francisco


2023 has seen San Francisco’s housing market cool amid the 2021 and 2022 booms — but, still, even that newfound coolness feels more like lukewarm water.

San Francisco’s rental market is a thing of pearl-clenching lore. Even during the height of the pandemic — when rental prices plummeted to record lows and gave way for people like myself to have a lease under their name — the city was still home to the most expensive rental market in the United States. Covid-19 didn’t make renting in San Francisco more palatable; it just made things marginally more attainable for working- and middle-class people.

But now firmly set in a post-vaccine world, the rental market in SF is again shoring up (and those fairytales of “pandemic pricing” have all but gone silent, traded for instead by higher prices that weigh on the city’s burgeoning AI boom). Though rental prices are still at least 16% lower than in 2021, over the past month, the average rent for a studio apartment in San Francisco increased by 1% to $2,100 — representing just a $25 increase over December of 2022.

Expensive? Yes, but comparatively cheaper than rates seen over the past seven years. Affordable? Unless you’re making somewhere in the ballpark of $45 an hour or are bolstered by at least a $94,000 salary, not so much.

In a recent report published by the National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC), researchers discovered that California’s “renter’s wage,” which sits at about $25.00, is grossly higher than the state’s minimum wage of $15.50. And though the City recently increased the minimum wage to $18.02 — about 250% more than the current federal minimum wage — you’d still need to earn something like 2.8 times that amount to afford just the average studio apartment in SF.

(Initially, we would do this analysis comparing one-bedroom apartments…. but renting an abode with a separate sleeping chamber and living space is a demoralizing pipe dream.)

Moreover, the NLIHC’s findings proved that San Francisco is still a renter’s city, with over 51% of residents living in rental units — though some other reports find that percentage point even higher, hovering just over 60%.

For someone making minimum wage in San Francisco, they could expect to shell out about $870 a month for rent; that amount correlates to roughly 30% of their gross income, which although it’s an old-fashioned metric, still remains the marker for how much one should spend on housing costs; financial experts have gone as far as to say you shouldn’t spend more than 25% of your net income on rent — but, alas, that’s an almost inconceivable fiscal goal here in the Bay Area, let alone San Francisco.

The fact remains that living wages continue to exist outside the realm of minimum wages. People who work minimum wage jobs are statistically more likely to suffer from mental health and physical issues related to stress, under-report cases of job harassment and injuries (out of fear of losing their positions), and become generally unwell due to just scraping by.

The minimum wage in the United States is indentured servitude — with a capitalistic bend. Living wages at least introduce some humanity into that narrative; we should strive for the latter to mirror the former.

So yes: If you’ve managed to lock in a great deal inside a rent-controlled building in SF, it’s best you count your lucky stars. And die inside there.

A “for rent” sign was posted on the exterior of an apartment building on June 02, 2021, in San Francisco, California. After San Francisco rental prices plummeted during the pandemic shutdown, prices have surged back to pre-pandemic levels. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

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