Information on Finding Housing

How to Find Affordable Housing in San Mateo County

The Department of Housing does not provide emergency housing services.

*** If you need emergency housing assistance, please dial 2-1-1 for a 24-hr helpline. ***

Affordable housing in the County primarily serves households that are low income.

The Department of Housing (DOH) administers and funds a variety of affordable housing programs.  One of the programs funded by DOH is a home-sharing program through HIP Housing that matches home providers that have an extra room or a separate unit available to a home seeker who is looking for a place to live. Click here for more information on the home sharing program. 

Step 1: Know what you are eligible for, and what you’re looking for. 

Before you begin your search, try to answer these questions for yourself first: 

  1. What is your approximate annual household income? How many people are there in your household? 

  2. In which cities or areas in the County would you like to live? 

  3. Are you eligible for senior housing? 

  4. Do you need to be near public transit? Do you need services on-site? Do you need an accessible unit? 

Step 2: Apply for County Housing Authority Programs & Shared Housing

The Department of Housing home page contains the most up to date information. The Waiting List page has Project-Based wait list information for the County.  Visit the Department of Housing website page often to find out waiting list information or other housing opportunities.The Housing Authority also has an On-Line Application Site accepting pre-applications for the Moving-To-Work (MTW) program. 

Step 3: Apply for Affordable Rental Housing (Subsidized Apartments)

       1.      Go to SMC Housing Search which is a free resource to help you find housing in San Mateo County that fits your needs and budget.

       2.      Call individual housing developments that you are interested in. Each affordable housing development has its own eligibility requirements, so it is important to call the development directly to find out if you are eligible, whether the waiting list is open or not, and how to get on the waiting list.  (Please note that waiting lists can be as long as 1 to 5 years, and that some properties charge a fee to submit an application.)

       3.      Call affordable housing developers and city housing staff to ask if they have any open waiting lists, or if they know of any new projects that will be accepting applications in the near future. Ask them if they have “keep informed” lists you could join, which notify you if they have any openings.

       4.      If you have any special needs or requirements, make sure to ask about that when making your calls.  

Step 4: Apply for Downpayment Assistance or to Purchase an Affordable Home

If you are low or moderate income, have some savings, and want to purchase a home and stay long-term in the County, you may want to consider these resources:

  • The Housing Endowment and Regional Trust (HEART) of San Mateo County  provides downpayment assistance loans for first-time home buyers meeting certain qualifications.  The HEART program offers fast and personal response with our credit union partner to help you bid successfully on condos, townhouses or homes in the regular housing market. Contact a good real estate agent to help you find and bid on homes in this price range. Please note, there are very few discount properties to buy. Contact HEART at (650) 872-4444 ext. 4# or email

  • You can check with the housing staff in your local city or town to find out about any homebuyer assistance programs and waiting lists they may have. 

  • Also, some cities offer Below Market Rate (BMR) homes available for purchase. You will still need to qualify for a mortgage in order to purchase a home. In addition, some of these programs have restrictions attached to them which require you to occupy the home and may limit the resale price of the home. 

  • You can also contact Habitat for Humanity Greater San Francisco at (415) 625-1000 to ask about their sweat-equity homeowner program.



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