Despite the Bay Area’s natural beauty and booming job market, nearly half of its residents now want to get out, citing a creeping disillusionment with the high cost of housing.
Forty-six percent of Bay Area residents surveyed said they are likely to move out of the region in the next few years — up from 40 percent last year and 34 percent in 2016, according to a poll released Sunday by business-backed public policy advocacy group the Bay Area Council.
The numbers show a disturbing trend in one of the nation’s most expensive housing markets: Workers desperate for a better quality of life and without housing options will go elsewhere, potentially plunging the region into a financial downturn.
“They couldn’t be more clear what the big problems are — and it is exclusively about the cost of housing,” said John Grubb, chief operating officer for the Bay Area Council. “They don’t see…enough action coming, and so they’re looking at taking matters into their own hands. And unfortunately, what they’re going to take into their hands is the steering wheel of a U-Haul to go somewhere else where there’s a better combination of salary and lower housing costs.”
Bay Area home prices have been climbing for six years, setting another record in April, when the median sale price hit $850,000 — up 13 percent from a year ago, according to real estate data firm CoreLogic. Rents are soaring too, and workers are forced to move farther away to find affordable housing and commute on already crowded Bay Area roads and freeways to get to their jobs.
Meanwhile, recent efforts by policy makers, affordable housing organizations, developers and others apparently have yet to make a dent in residents’ concerns.
The Bay Area Council has thrown its support behind several housing-focused bills that it says will help, including SB 831, which eliminates some fees for building in-law units; SB 1227, intended to increase the supply of affordable student housing; and SB 828, which would force cities to rezone land to allow more homes to be built.
Researchers have been worrying about the Bay Area exodus for some time. A recent report from Joint Venture Silicon Valley found more people left Silicon Valley in both 2016 and 2017 than in any year since 2006. Still, Silicon Valley is gaining more residents than it’s losing — the region welcomed 44,732 newcomers between July 2015 and July 2017, and lost 44,102. But the ominous new data from the Bay Area Council suggests that could change quickly, as the out-migration shows no sign of slowing down.
When asked to pinpoint the most important problem facing the Bay Area, 42 percent of those surveyed said housing — a dramatic jump from 28 percent last year. Meanwhile, 18 percent said traffic and congestion, 14 percent cited poverty and homelessness, and 12 percent said the cost of living.
Those problems spell serious disillusionment for Bay Area residents. Fifty-five percent of residents polled said they feel the Bay Area has “gotten pretty seriously off on the wrong track,” compared to 42 percent last year.
“It’s so expensive,” said 38-year-old software engineer Travis Dobbs, who moved his family from Berkeley to Portland last year. “My wife and I both make good money, relatively speaking, and we can’t afford a house there.”
VIDEO: A different poll conducted for the Silicon Valley Leadership Group and this news organization also found that more than one-third of Bay Area apartment renters and one-quarter of residents in their 20s and 30s say they are struggling to afford their housing.
Of those who are likely to move out in the near future, 24 percent of the 1,000 registered voters surveyed in the nine-county Bay Area said they plan to stay in California, including 5 percent who said they would head to Sacramento. Texas, Oregon and Nevada were the most popular out-of-state destinations, capturing 10 percent, 9 percent and 8 percent of potential movers, respectively.
Over the past two or three years, Sacramento-based real estate agent Craig Diez has been flooded with Bay Area residents interested in relocating to his town. He estimates they now make up a quarter of his clients. They’re drawn by significantly cheaper prices, he said. Homes are selling for a median price of $867,000 in the Bay Area, compared to $300,000 in Sacramento, according to Zillow.
Diez remembers one client whose house burned down in the wine country wildfires.
“He couldn’t rebuild even half of his house in the lot he has now in Santa Rosa, so he came to Sacramento looking at larger properties,” Diez said, “and he just can’t believe what he can get for his money.”
Another client sold the house she’d been renting out in Fremont for just over $1 million and used the money to buy two much-larger homes for $500,000 each in the Sacramento area — one of which has a koi pond.
“You can just step up your lifestyle drastically,” Diez said.
With such a large gap in prices, it’s no wonder Bay Area residents — particularly young people, who are less likely to have bought a home before prices spiked — want to leave. Fifty-two percent of millennials said they will be attempting to leave the region in the next few years, up from 46 percent in 2017. That’s particularly troubling because it means the young people who should be driving the region’s workforce for decades to come instead are seeking opportunities elsewhere, said Grubb.
“Losing our youth is a very bad economic strategy,” Grubb said, adding that if housing prices continue to soar, the Bay Area could be in for a recession.
Just 16 percent of residents think there will be no downturn, with 35 percent expecting one in the next three years.
Already, the local businesses that back the Bay Area Council are struggling to recruit young people, Grubb said. The region has become a tough sell, and those who do want to work here demand high salaries to compensate for the exorbitant cost of living. As a result, companies increasingly are opening offices outside the Bay Area.
Of course if the economy tanks, housing prices will go down. But that, Grubb said, conjures up images of mass layoffs and families struggling to make ends meet — a sacrifice no one should want to make.
The 2018 Bay Area Council Poll was conducted online by Oakland-based public
opinion research firm EMC Research from March 20 through April 3.