The Price We Pay: How rising housing costs are changing the Bay Area

In July, the family loaded up their belongings and drove away from the iconic and jarringly unequal city that had priced them out. Like so many before them, they steered their car toward the eastern reaches of Contra Costa County. There by the delta, where the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers meet, is Oakley, a 20-year-old city of 42,000 with signs inviting you to tour new houses packaged as lifestyle brands: Bordeaux at Duarte Ranch Estates, Laurel at Emerson Ranch.

The spacious home the family bought in July for $640,000 brims with amenities, including the kids’ favorite: a whirlpool bathtub. Most important, it has room for a family of 13: Bolling-Tosuner, her husband, Mustafa Tosuner, and their three children, her mother, her sister and her sister’s six sons.

Bolling-Tosuner’s mother, Martha Simmons, said her own parents lost their San Francisco house to foreclosure in the 1980s and that it was her late mother’s dream for the family to own property again. Simmons, now 65, worked double shifts for years to save up for a down payment.

The family never imagined the dream would take shape amid the tumbleweeds, 50 miles from where they were born and raised.

Early one afternoon, Tosuner came downstairs, already dressed for his night shift as a security guard in a condominium building. He wasn’t in the mood to grumble about his four-hour daily commute, but he had the unfocused gaze of someone in need of a good night’s sleep. He had gotten home around 2 a.m, and his little girls, 1 and 3, were eager to see him when they woke up about four hours later.

“The commute is hard,” he said, “but other than that, I like the area. I’m happy in a quiet place.”

There is little use in looking back. The ex-San Franciscans have embraced their new life in the country. They also know it wasn’t a choice.

“We literally were forced to leave the city,” Bolling-Tosuner said. “There were no other options.”


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