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High Prices Squeeze Homeowners and Renters

Rental costs are ballooning and home prices are skyrocketing in many urban areas, and nowhere is the housing pinch tighter than the San Francisco Bay Area.

Our booming economy and rocketing real estate market is a blessing on the one hand and a curse on the other. Generally speaking, the rising tide has lifted our incomes and improved our quality of life; more people have good jobs than ever before. At the same time, the price of housing has gone through the roof in some regions of the country, and that's bad news for lower to middle income people trying to live near where they work.

Nowhere is the housing market tighter than the San Francisco Bay area, where home prices are so high that homeowners dare not move. To their chagrin, many homeowners take one look at the real estate market and discover that moving up to a larger house is way beyond their price range. Why move when you can't afford a larger home than you already have? For first-time homebuyers, trying to find a home in the right neighborhood is a challenge. New arrivals discover that home prices can be several times higher than what they're used to in other parts of the country. Silicon Valley has turned the whole housing market topsy-turvy. You need either a six-figure income or the patience to endure a four-hour commute to an affordable outer suburb.

Recent public polls by the San Francisco Chronicle confirm the grim reality. More than 72 percent of San Francisco residents and peninsula counties said they can't afford the house they want. 82 percent called the Bay Area's housing prices a major problem, blaming the shortage on the new economy and a major influx of workers. Not only are homeowners feeling the pinch, it gets worse for renters. Rents have doubled and tripled over the last two years. Local churches have been sounding the alarm over the affordable housing crunch and its impact on families, seniors and the disabled. But taken to this extreme, the housing crunch forces important people such as public safety and emergency personnel, medical technicians and teachers to live elsewhere, and that's bad news for everyone concerned.

The housing crisis is causing traffic congestion and longer commute times. With no affordable housing closer-in, more people are driving more miles to and from work. The Bay Area is trying to find a way out by using public transportation and better planning. For example, residents of Santa Clara county voted recently to spend $6 billion to bring BART, the Bay Area rail system, to San Jose and to expand light rail and bus service. Some respondents to the poll said they are willing to make tough sacrifices in order to construct affordable housing. 51 percent are willing to lose open space and farmland. 60 percent support rent control.

Sources used to create this article include Alan Gathright, Stacy Finz and the San Francisco Chronicle.