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KQED Launches ‘Priced Out: The Bay Area’s High Cost of Living’

| October 30, 2013
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File photo of San Francisco. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

File photo of San Francisco. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Detroit would love to be in the Bay Area’s shoes. According to the San Jose Mercury News, Bay Area job growth has reached a five-year high, recovering almost all of the jobs lost in the Great Recession. But all those jobs come with a need for workers… and a place to put them. Enter the region’s housing crisis.

It seems that almost everyone in the Bay Area has a housing horror story to tell. Anecdotes abound of renters spending months looking for a new place, and the pound of flesh extracted when they do find one. Equally scary are the stories from aspiring, seemingly qualified homeowners who are turned away by banks. And I’m betting most of us know someone who has thrown in the towel and left the region entirely for less expensive pastures.

Over the coming months KQED will bring you the facts and stories of the Bay Area housing crisis as part of a new series we’re calling ‘Priced Out.’ We’ll tell the stories of people struggling and surviving amidst the increasing cost of living. We’ll take you into changing neighborhoods and cities, look at who is getting evicted and why, as well as show you what possible solutions look like.

And, of course, we want to hear from you: Why do you stay in the Bay Area? What makes it worth the high cost? At what point will you say ‘uncle’ and leave? We’ll ask you to take photos of your home, to tell us the moment you realized your neighborhood was changing, and how you are, or aren’t, managing to stay afloat.

The series launches Thursday at 10 a.m., when Forum sets the stage with an update on the housing market: Where are we actually at and where are we going? KQED’s Newsroom will host a roundtable on Friday at 8 p.m. Next, Forum and KQED’s education blog, The Lowdown, will look at the Ellis Act — what it is and whether evictions are on the rise. From there, coverage will continue across KQED: on the recently re-launched Newsroom on KQED 9, The California Report and KQED’s news blog, News Fix.

You can follow along with the series at kqed.org/pricedout and follow the hashtag #pricedout on social media.

If you have suggestions for what you would like to see included in this series, please feel free to post it below or email forum@kqed.org.

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Category: Economy, Housing

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About the Author ()

Amanda Stupi is the Engagement Producer for KQED’s daily public affairs program Forum. In that role she turns the information shared during the hour-long call-in show into web-friendly content. Her writing has been featured throughout KQED.org, including on KQED Arts and News Fix as well as on MLB.com, Hyphen Magazine and the San Francisco Examiner. Her radio work has aired on The California Report and Talk of the Nation. Stupi runs the @KQEDForum Twitter account and Forum Facebook account. Her personal Twitter account is @FiftyCentHotdog. She believes that Hostess products get a bad rap and that cereal can save the world. Reach Amanda Stupi at astupi@kqed.org.
  • movintobcn

    Here is my story of being priced-out of SF here.
    For the past 12 years, my boyfriend who is 40, has been living in San Francisco. Back when rents were cheaper, he managed to raise 3 kids with his ex-wife on his salary of around $130,000 (w/out taxes) and his wife’s salary of around $100,000 (w/out taxes). They moved around various neighborhoods, and life was not exactly comfortable for them. Their daughters attending public school were moved around often from Bay View to Excelsior etc which was a hard commute and hard on the kids who experienced a lot of bullying from the other kids at the schools. They had enough to live on, but didn’t have spending money for vacations of good health care and spent all their money on just getting my and paying off debts.

    When they divorced, his ex struggled to raise the kids in San Francisco on her salary and eventually moved out to Santa Rosa and lived with his mom.

    I graduated from UC Berkeley in 2012 and dreamed of moving to San Francisco my whole life because of the open and accepting atmosphere and the sheer beauty of it. I struggled to find a one bedroom apartment in SF after college that I could share with my best friend, but we couldn’t find anywhere in our budget to share, and decided to stay in a 4 bedroom house we lived in in Berkeley, which we shared with 5 other people. We were both struggling to find jobs in the competitive Bay Area, where unpaid internships for college grads reign. We were both making under $16/hr and struggling.

    I met my boyfriend a year and a half ago after he divorced and his kids moved out, and we now live in the Outer Richmond for 1,300/month (rent controlled for past 3 yrs, without utilities) and he works from home. It is beautiful out here, a block away from the Land’s End Trail and breath-taking views of the Golden Gate, but the commute downtown on the 1 Bus is an hour each way, which is a significant chunk of time to go to work each day. On the way home there is nowhere to sit on the bus (if it even stops to pick up passengers at all) and I stand for the next hour, bumping into people the whole way. We got a car, which we will be paying off for the next 30 years, and parking in our tight garage for our building is $100/month. We get very frequent parking tickets, pay steep meter fees and parking costs (around $25 downtown).

    My boyfriend and I want to settle down and buy a house, and it is out of question for us to buy the pretty Victorian of our dreams for around $1.3 million. So we took a vacation to Barcelona this past Summer (which we charged mostly on the VISA and will have to pay $500/month to pay off), with the intention of seeing whether we want to move there. We decided it was like the San Francisco of Europe, only with rents around $500 euros to live Downtown in a 400-year old stone building. Four bedroom apartments in Downtown (El Gotic, El Born) are available to buy for under $200,000. We can ride a scooter there everywhere (and fairly safely since it is the preferred method of travel) and the tank is 4 euros to fill up.

    I am happy to say that we will be moving to Barcelona this Winter and plan to buy a house when we get there. The downpayment will be around 10.000 euros and is negotiable (though we are saving up for it) and the mortgage payment each month will be around 600 euros a month. Our dream of buying a beautiful home in a beautiful city is finally coming true! I have a job lined up teaching English there, and my boyfriend plans to work his same job programming from home. I do not remorse about being priced out from my dream city, because it pushed us to explore new territory and find something we are even more passionate about :)

    -Ruby

    • sfosaurus

      Oh jeez- sorry, but I feel no sympathy for your first-world struggles in SF. It all sounds like a whiny brat who doesn’t want/know how to sacrifice a bit of comfort and “good times” now in order to plan for a better future.
      I am happy that Barcelona is a good fit and can cater to all your needs. Best of luck to you!

  • Eileen Hunter

    Hello Amanda, Glad to see this program focusing on this critical issue. Will you be focusing on Affordable Housing? There is an important vote coming up in San Jose to raise replacement funds for lost Redevelopment Agency funds.

  • Jack

    It was a nice story, but I was very disappointed with the ‘result’ (i.e., that we need to channel more money into affordable housing). There is another, better, solution to the problem. The reason we have a housing problem is that the rents are going up. The rents are going up because many of the people living in San Francisco have a LOT of money. They have a lot of money because our society rewards greedy people who care about money and power more than anything else. So change the system so that people cannot make that kind of money and everything will eventually right itself. Put a cap on salaries and lifetime assets. Don’t want to do that? Then resign yourselves to abandon anyone who doesn’t play, or cannot play that game.

    • Vince

      How about “if you can’t afford to live somewhere, then live somewhere else”, instead of “If you can’t afford to live somewhere, then everyone else should be paid less, so that you can live there”.

    • Diane McKee

      It’s no secret that the ratio between high-level corporate salaries and “entry-level” (in quotes because for many people there is no hope for advancement NO MATTER HOW HARD YOU TRY) has changed dramatically over the past 25 – 30 years. The “me-first” attitudes in corporate America have weakened the economy, regardless of jobs figures. The mid-level and low-level workers have not had raises or cost of living increases in years, while the upper levels are doing just fine, thank you very much. The recession is over for the greedy and privileged, but biases in the job market against older (like 35+ !) workers, and increasing costs for internet (AT&T and Comcast are screwing us all!), rent, and transportation ($4 a day for the county bus that takes my son to the high school in our district) keep the gap between the haves and have nots widening. A cap on salaries may never happen, but coming up with a generally accepted “fairness ratio” between top and lowest salaries, with greater transparency on where top employers fair on those ratios would be very enlightening. In 70′s people boycotted companies who had unfair practices… we should bring that back, and boycott those which have astronomically bad “fairness ratios”. Those who choose to see their success as tied to their “hard work” are in serious denial. I know many people who work their asses off and don’t have a chance in hell to advance in their positions.

  • Amy

    We are a family of three living in Marin. We pay $1800 for a small 2 bedroom apartment. Rents keep going up and up in our apartment complex. They are now renting a 3 bdr for $2600 and a 1bdrm for $1800. The bulk of our income goes to rent and of course, health insurance. We struggle every month to get rent together. Its a constant stressor. We think about moving a lot lately. But where will we go? Vallejo? Benicia? Oakland? Maybe.
    I wonder where all the low- to- middle income people are going to go? Is Marin just going to be a county of rich people? Where will the teachers, public service workers, restaurant workers and others who make modest incomes go? Its very frustrating.

    • Diane McKee

      Amen, Amy!!! Same goes for us, here in Lafayette, where my kids have roots in the community and their schools. Where do we go from here? Unsafe neighborhoods? Poor schools? I guess we just don’t deserve better…???

  • Destination Home

    We’d love to talk about the housing challenges homeless folks are facing here in the South Bay. We’ll send an email as well.

  • Kendra

    I’ve lived here for 25 years, first in a dorm, then a studio, then a one bedroom. For a few years, my husband and I even lived in a terrible part of Oakland with a roommate and endured the pain in the behind commute across the bridge to work so that we could hopefully save enough money to someday buy a house. In 2010 we did it! We bought a home in the Excelsior. It’s very cozy, especially now that we have added two kids to the family, but it’s ours and we made a lot of sacrifices and worked hard to get it. I resent comments like the housing market only benefits the wealthy and greedy and the implication that somehow we must have done something wrong in order to be where we are today. I have even heard people say that property tax should be based on income rather than the purchase price of the property. Seriously? Where is the logic in that? The comment from the person who said her friends struggled to raise their family on $230,000 a year nearly blew my mind. What were they doing with their money that they were still struggling? I wish we had that much money! You aren’t owed a house. You aren’t entitled to a car and nice vacations. If it isn’t working for you to live in a particular place because you don’t make enough money, then maybe you shouldn’t live there. I am not trying to be cut throat, but it seems like people are losing site of the fact that sometimes you have to work hard in order to have the things that you want.

    • harrydevlin

      The Excelsior is the best kept secret in San Francisco. An easy commute to downtown, lots of inexpensive markets, close to 280 and 101, the least expensive gasoline in the city (Arco on Geneva & Naples), and solidly built older homes, many with in-law units. The only real issue is the schools but that will improve as the area becomes more gentrified.

      What needs to happen in terms of property tax is for proposition 13 to be modified to apply to only owner-occupied primary residences.

  • vilain

    I saw a studio near downtown Palo Alto for $2600. I can’t imagine what the house in front of it is going for. 2 bedroom/2 bath units in my condo complex are renting for $2100 or more. But there’s only guaranteed parking for 1 car. The other may end up on the street. One unit had 4 people with 4 cars occupying it. It’s not easy for renters here, especially with the Google and Facebook millionaires looking for anything “nice”. I’ve been here over 20 years and don’t know if I could still live here with prices the way they are.

  • Sufferin-succotash!

    Please tell me you are joking! This is the most delusional thing I’ve ever read! $230k and struggling to live? No vacations? Being pissed about making $16? You are so entitled.

  • A_NonnyMoose

    Here is my story of being priced *IN*: The article asks to learn why some are staying, and I wanted to share my story about how that decision was an **easy** one for my family to make.

    My fiancé and I have been living together and raising his biological son, who is now 15, for the past 11 years. We spent much of the last decade in downtown Denver, CO in a newly gentrified area enjoying our two-story loft and the city-vibe beautiful Denver offers. I am a California native, however, and a few years ago I began to miss my family and the ocean. The three of us moved to California three and a half years ago.

    Initially we settled in an expensive suburb just outside of Sacramento, where most of my family resides, because the schools were better and the area fit our dreams of giving our son a taste of suburb life — the usual things one might dream of living in an urban area: a backyard, a reliably safe neighborhood, walkability to local schools, a solid public education system which performed well above the levels of more urban school settings, etc. and the enclave-suburb we chose to move to had all of that in spades.

    Unfortunately, what we came to understand (and were admittedly quite naive not to have realized before moving) was this way of life is extremely attractive to *many* nuclear families, specifically to very conservative and very religious families. This environment was uniquely challenging for us because (in case you haven’t yet guessed) we are a same-sex parent household, and the staunchly conservative suburb we moved to was **extremely** unfriendly to our family.

    After years of not being able to make many friends (neither us nor our son), being surrounded by the environment unchecked religious conservatism tends to create (where even the public markets and store fronts sound like you’re in a monotheistic church-environment complete with people praying in public and telling each other ‘God bless you!’ as if that’s the only social norm conceivably possible), being stared at by all and sundry whenever we were out in public together (even though my fiancé and I were extremely careful to avoid **ALL** physically affectionate contact), and the rampant bullying our son suffered, we decided enough was enough.

    Prior to moving to California, our son had not yet learned to feel ashamed of his family. Moving to the more-affordable-than-your-average-urban-environment suburb changed all of that. Daily, and I am not exaggerating, he suffered through all levels of unkindness and social stigmatization, being told he was going to hell because his parents were two men, told he should just commit suicide, and the like. The worst of this was at the height of the Chick-fil-A debacle; as you might imagine, supporting this fast-food-chain because of the anti-gay statements made by its CEO Dan Cathy was an **EXTREMELY** popular thing to do, and our son had one of the worst months of his life during the fall-out from those events as our ” lifestyle ” became the center of a cruel and vicious social debate still raging across much of the country.

    We realized we absolutely did not belong in the expensive-though-more-affordable-than-a-thriving-city suburb, and as soon as our son finished out his final year of middle-school, we moved to the East Bay, returning to the city vibe we’d missed, and flat out *fleeing* to a far-more-accepting part of the state than we’d known since our move to California. Unfortunately for our pocketbooks, our housing costs doubled, but we were frankly *thrilled* to pay for the absolutely astronomical quality-of-life change we now enjoy — no one stares at us, no one bullies our son at his High School because of our family, no one preaches at us while we’re trying to do our shopping, we’ve all made several friends, and our years in suburb-hell are beginning to seem like a bad dream.

    Sure, I wish it was less expensive to live in such a wonderfully intellectually and culturally stimulating and socially accepting part of the state where *everyone* regardless of their religious beliefs (or lack thereof) are welcome and made to *feel* welcome, but as that’s just not the case, I’m **beyond grateful** my family can afford to stay here. Sure, I wish that wasn’t the price-tag for a ‘normal’ life for the three of us, but as that’s the going rate, we’re happy to pay because the rewards for the three of us are *completely* worth the cost and the decision was an easy one to make.

  • nicola graves

    My lease is up December 1. I’ve been looking for an apartment I can afford for three months straight… I have a couple weeks before I have to
    say goodbye to someone I love more than anything. I need to face the reality that I can’t keep up with the yearly rent increases. (About 3-500 a year) I tried. If I stayed here one or two more years I would use up my entire life savings. I spend about six hours a day looking for better jobs or cheaper apartments, crying. I should have never established a life in such an unstable city. If I could go back in time I would never have moved here. To have to say goodbye to all your friends and the love of your life is absolute hell. It is only weeks away but I can’t even imagine what it will be like to drive away in my uhaul. I can’t bear to think.

    • gail love

      I know the feeling. A year ago, after 20 years my husband accepted a position in Michigan (we are not from Michigan) It’s taken a year for that horrible empty feeling in my heart to go away. I left every thing I knew and loved for the security of being able to save for retirement, which was none existent a year ago.

      • nicola graves

        So sorry to hear that. It’s nice to know others have made the practical (and heartbreaking) decision to leave too- rather than the emotional decision of literally risking any chance of retirement, home ownership, or security in the future. I’ve come to the conclusion that being able to eek by and ‘pay’ for something is not the same as being able to actually AFFORD it.

        • nicola graves

          ‘The price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it.’

          Henry David Thoreau