Bay Area Housing: Will Remote Work and COVID-19 Affect SF Rent?

“Having made this move, at least for now, we’re in a better financial situation,” she said.

Despite the recent outflow of high-salaried, telecommuting workers from the Bay Area, local housing economist Issi Romem is quick to deflate the idea that the San Francisco residential rental market is likely to soften in the long term.

“There could be a temporary short-term exodus,” Romem said. “But things will revert.”

Romem said it’s only a matter of time before bustling urban centers like San Francisco become attractive to workers once again, and those workers will want to have in-person meetings — at least occasionally.

But the economist does see a longer-term trend — driven by the ongoing shift towards telecommuting — of people migrating to the suburbs.

“If you’re only getting into the office once or twice a week, you have much more tolerance for long commutes,” he said. “And that means that it’s easier for people to live in far-flung suburbs, where there’s more space to be had more cheaply.”

Not everyone gets to be picky about where they live, though. In rent-controlled San Francisco, hanging on to a longtime apartment may still be many residents’ best, and only, option.

But even that’s getting tougher, with the pandemic wiping out more than 100,000 Bay Area jobs. Romem said living conditions for the city’s poorer citizens are likely to get worse until employment bounces back.

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