Written by: Justin Mutch (California State University, East Bay)
Faculty Evaluator: Nolan Higdon (California State University, East Bay)
Admit it, you’ve thought about leaving the San Francisco Bay Area.
Chances are if you live here, you have. There is no shame in that. Many of us even have our minds set on leaving this seemingly forsaken metropolis. I personally plan on moving to Seattle within the next few years – I am sick of paying $2200 a month for my shoebox-sized San Jose apartment. In fact, a recent survey by the Bay Area Council, a local policy advocacy organization, revealed that 40 percent of the residents here want to leave as soon as possible.
According to the survey’s results, which the Bay Area Council made public in March of this year, the main reasons are (unsurprisingly) the insane cost of living, the horrendous traffic, and the seemingly endless housing crisis. People have had enough, and the only way to escape the stress of living here is to pack up and leave.
So where are the legions of disillusioned Bay Area residents flocking to? The two most popular cities are Portland and Seattle. It makes sense why so many Northern Californians are choosing these areas: many of us want more affordable housing without sacrificing the West Coast culture we have know and love. I visited Seattle twice last year, and made the decision to move there after my first trip. It was very clean and surprisingly modern; it had all the charm of San Francisco or Downtown Oakland, minus the thick layer of grime that is perpetually caked on the pavement. Also, Seattle’s weather is awesome – stop lying to yourselves.
Greg Kogura, a business major at Seattle University who was born and raised in San Jose, plans on staying there once he graduates. “Why wouldn’t people want to live in Seattle?” he stated. “It’s infinitely better than any city in the Bay. It’s a smaller, cleaner version of San Francisco for a third of the cost.”
Seattle, often referred to as the “Emerald City” due to its year-round greenery, is experiencing massive growth in both population and economy, and it is taking the necessary steps to alleviate overcrowding. The Seattle Times reports that in 2017 alone, nearly 10,000 apartments are scheduled to open – and a whopping 12,500 will be up for grabs in 2018. Clearly, Seattle is prepared for the coming exodus.
So how do locals feel about this? Well, it depends on who you ask.
“I think most [Seattle residents] don’t really mind,” Kogura said. “Sure, some people are blaming us for their rents increasing, but most of them are pretty chill about it.”
I personally had a different experience when I visited last year. Almost every time I told someone I was from California, I was met with an incredulous eye roll and a smug, “let me guess, you work for Amazon?” That did not alter my plans of moving there, however. Locals who are not accustomed to outsiders will always be wary.
In Portland, however, people are a bit more confrontational. Stephanie Chavez, a former Union City resident now living in the Portland suburb of Milwaukie, has experienced more than her fair share of animosity. “A lot of Oregonians talk about how we’re ruining their state,” she said. “They constantly complain about how the traffic is just the Californians, nevermind the fact that they’re the ones crashing into trees every time it snows here.”
Chavez mentioned that Oregonians are also fed up with recent rent hikes. “People are being priced out [of Portland] much like San Francisco, but there is the overwhelming belief that this would not be possible without Californian ‘transplants’ looking for a cheaper place to live.”
So what about the 60 percent of the Bay Area Council survey respondents who said said they’d prefer to stay in the Bay Area? The cost of living here is higher than anywhere else in the United States. Local governments cannot remain complacent while poverty and homelessness threaten to destroy the region, right?
“We’ve been growing our economy, but we haven’t grown our housing alongside it,” Jim Wunderman of the Bay Area Council said in an interview with KTVU. “It’s put tremendous pressure on the existing housing stock.”
Steps are being taken to tackle the Bay Area’s housing crisis. For example, most of San Jose’s apartments are under rent control, meaning that complexes are not allowed to raise rent prices more than five percent annually. However, since the average monthly rent for a one-bedroom apartment in San Jose is a staggering $2,477, five percent is a substantial increase – and there are also certain exceptions that allow complexes to jack up prices, such as evictions or tenants voluntarily breaking their lease.
San Francisco claims to currently have over 1,200 affordable housing units built by local nonprofits. The City’s median income is just under $78,000, and these special units can go for as low as 20 percent of that. The problem is, demand for affordable housing is extremely high, therefore San Francisco has resorted to holding a lottery for potential tenants.
There is no clear solution to the Bay Area’s current problem. Is it really hard to blame people like myself for seeking refuge in more affordable communities up North? Until a solution is found, however, residents here will remain on edge, and the good people of the Pacific Northwest will just have to accept that Californians are going to keep migrating there in droves.