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What’s a BMR? Affordable Living in the Bay Area


Hello, my name is Natalie and I am Bay Area house-poor.

The Below Market Rate (BMR) program is a way for middle-low income individuals and families to purchase a home. I live in San Francisco and on average, a new one bedroom, one bath condo costs $800,000. Through the San Francisco BMR program, the same unit may only cost $350,000!

The first step on my BMR journey was to sign up for a First-Time Homebuyer Education Workshop with one of five different certified agencies. I was able to make an appointment with the Mission Economic Development Agency (MEDA). The first available class was three months from when I called—six hours long with a short lunch break on Valentine’s Day. Hurrah!

The class was aimed at educating me about the process of buying a home and the BMR program. The main rules that I took away were:

  1. I must be a first-time homebuyer to qualify.
  2. My household income must fall below an Area Median Income (AMI) to qualify. At the time, as a 1-person household, I couldn’t make more than $71,350. 10% of any savings over $60k would be added to my annual income.
  3. I must obtain a Pre-Approval loan from a BMR approved lender.
  4. My household size must be equal to or greater than the number of bedrooms within a unit. (A 1-person household may not purchase a 2-bedroom unit.)
  5. When selling my BMR unit, it will be affordably priced based on the current AMI and can only be sold to eligible BMR applicants.
  6. All BRM sales are lottery based.
  7. Lottery preference is given in order of:
    a. Certificate of Preference (COP),
    b. Displaced Tenant Housing Preference (DTHP),
    c. Live/Work in San Francisco. (That would be me.)
  8. A minimum 5% down payment is required and additional financing is available from the BMR Down Payment Assistance Loan (BMR-DALP).

After my six hour class, I scheduled my mandatory two-hour counseling session where they went over my finances and was finally certified into the program for two years. Once I was pre-approved by one of the BMR approved lenders, I was ready to start applying.

Over two years, I applied 12 times to different units or developments with multiple listings. From start to finish each application took 2-4 months. When a new unit was posted that I was eligible for, I would email my lender and send them updated bank statements and paystubs. Since the banks were so impacted with other BMR applicants, it could take up to three weeks before I received my pre-approval letter. Next I was required to print my entire application which included my BMR application form, MEDA Homebuyer Education Certificate, pre-approval letter, three years of tax returns, last three consecutive paychecks, last three consecutive statements from all bank and other cash asset accounts, proof that I lived in San Francisco and a purchase agreement if it was a resale unit. My application then had to be dropped off in person and deemed complete before I was given a red paper lottery ticket.




Most results were posted three weeks after the applications were due. In my first application, I was one of 35 applicants for one resale unit. There were always at least 20 other applicants in each lottery. The closest I got to be a lottery winner was when I was the eighth pick out of 71 applicants for one resale unit. During my last lottery with 5 available units, a new preference was introduced that favored applicants that already lived in the neighborhood of the unit(s) for sale. When the results were posted, there was one person with a COP preference, then 16 with a “Proximity” preference, followed by the rest of us with a standard Live/Work preference. There were over 100 applicants in total. Living in the Inner Sunset neighborhood with no new development or resale units, my already poor chances of winning were now impossible. With 4 months left on my 2-year certificate, I lost hope and stopped applying—it was not worth my time anymore. I learned later that the “Proximity” preference was repealed due to its unfair nature.

I found San Francisco’s BMR program to have a wonderful mission statement, but the sheer number of applicants overwhelmed the program causing massive delays, poor communication, and an environment much like the DMV on a busy day. I see the Bay Area’s expensive and highly competitive housing market as a direct result of its housing shortage. With high demand and a limited quantity of homes, it is no surprise that many young professionals and families are priced out of the market and turn to BMR programs like San Francisco’s. With a broken supply/demand chain for both market-rate and below market-rate, I believe if there were only more homes hitting the market, there would be less competition and as a result lower prices for everyone.

I wish I could have won a BMR unit. To those lucky enough to benefit from the program, I offer my congratulations. For me, I plan on renting until I can save enough to buy. It may be a long journey, but I find comfort in knowing that my first home is out there waiting for me.


Link to 1400 Mission St website:
The entire building had only BMR Units.


Link to 1001 Seventeenth Website:



About Natalie McHugh

Natalie McHugh is an urban planner and graphic designer. Working on large master planned communities and small infill sites, Natalie strives to blend the client’s needs and site specific design. With strong graphic skills, Natalie has also helped create a Graphic Team in WHA's Northern California office. Natalie graduated from Cal Poly Pomona with a bachelors degree in Landscape Architecture.
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