Is tech to blame for the West Coast housing crisis? The cost of living near tech hubs is so high some workers live in a Winnebago right on the company lot.
What happens when people can’t afford to live near where they work?
Americans in 19 out of 20 cities consider their cost of living to be high, according to research by YouGov. The Bay Area is the location where residents are most likely to report a high cost of living, specifically San Francisco, where more than 60 percent of residents characterized cost of living as ‘very high.’
The average rent for a two-bedroom apartment in San Francisco is $4,181 and the median sale price for a two-bedroom home is slightly over $1.3 million. In comparison, surrounding cities like Oakland and San Jose have significantly lower rental housing costs: $2,945 for a two-bedroom in Oakland and $2,914 for a similar set up in San Jose.
The West Coast Affordable Housing Crisis
The affordable housing crisis in San Francisco and the greater Bay Area is so bad that people who relocate from out of state to start a career in tech, earning an average starting salary of $91,738, live in communal housing, or, at the more extreme end, resort to living in a Winnebago on the company lot.
“I know several twenty-somethings who put in a six-month stretch living in “hack houses,” homes where a handful of cots or twin-size beds are set up in each bedroom, and as many as 10 or 20 people live together, sharing rent and bathrooms, and sometimes even start-up projects,” says Ilyce Glink, Founder + CEO of Best Money Moves and publisher of ThinkGlink.com.
Residents in major cities in the Pacific Northwest like Portland and Seattle are also likely to say the cost of living is high. Seattle needs 156,000 more affordable housing units now and 88,000 more by 2040 to meet continued growth. Last year, Amazon (and other local businesses) blocked a new local tax that would have made large businesses pay a per-employee tax to fund homeless services and the construction of affordable housing.
This January, Microsoft, a Seattle based tech giant, pledged $500 million to help address the affordable housing crisis the city is experiencing, but the move was met with some criticism because $225 million is in the form of loans at subsidized rates (with the goal to preserve and build middle-income housing near headquarters, presumably people Microsoft already employs or would like to employ). The remaining $250 million will go towards supporting developers building low-income housing across the region.
Tech Hubs Respond to the Affordable Housing Crisis
YouGov’s research underscores a problematic pattern that’s been emerging. In areas that have become giant tech hubs, like the Bay Area and major cities in the Pacific Northwest, affordable housing is scarce. In response to the affordable housing crisis in these areas, residents are turning to temporary solutions like communal living and tiny houses to offset housing expenses but this isn’t a problem residents can wait out.
Facebook is planning to build 1,500 apartments and offer 225 of them at below-market rates, but it’s a move that, like Microsoft’s, appears to be a bit self-serving. Independent efforts from tech companies might mitigate the affordable housing problem, but until there are collaborative efforts with local government and real estate experts where long term solutions (that serve all residents) can be discussed, residents will continue to struggle to live near where they work.
New Yorkers Are Anxious About Amazon’s HQ2
Of course, it isn’t just the West Coast that’s up in arms over affordable housing. New Yorkers, too, are anxious about sky-high rents and housing
Tech companies seem to be trying to learn from their mistakes, or rather, are learning how to avoid blame. In its hunt for its HQ2, Amazon considered cities where the cost of living is high and affordable housing is already a struggle before settling on Long Island City in New York. Residents of New York are worried about how an influx of 25,000 (Amazon wound up splitting the 50,000 new hires between New York and Washington, D.C. rather than concentrating its HQ2 in one city) highly compensated Amazon employees will change their city. Given the tech hub track record on affordable housing, they have fair reason to be concerned.
“Remember, the problem with affordable housing isn’t just finding the people who get those coveted jobs affordable places to live. It’s displacing current residents – some of them long-term – who can no longer afford to live in a neighborhood where the median rent on a two-bedroom apartment costs more than they earn in a month,” Glink adds.