One in three Americans spend more than 30% of their monthly income on housing, as of 2013. This has jumped from twenty years ago when only one in five Americans devoted more than 30% of their income on housing. A recent report by rental listing site, Hotpads, details the top ten metro areas where the highest percent of income is spent on rent.
The bad news for Californians: six of these areas are in the Golden State. Californians’ average housing expenses equaled:
- 47% in Los Angeles;
- 41% in San Francisco;
- 40% in San Diego
- 36% in Riverside;
- 33% in San Jose; and
- 32% in Sacramento.
Spending nearly half your already depressed income on housing in Los Angeles translates to an average cost of $1,500 for a studio and $2,000 for a one-bedroom. In San Francisco, the average studio rent is $2,700 and $3,500 for a one-bedroom.
While San Francisco’s tech boom has brought high-paying, quality jobs to the area, the side effects have been less than widespread in the population. The city has the second-highest level of income inequality in the country (behind Atlanta, Georgia — Los Angeles is number nine on the list of income inequality). The top 5% of San Francisco’s population earns $350,000+ a year, while the bottom 20% make about $20,000 a year, according to the Brookings Institution. It’s impossible to imagine an individual acting alone to qualify for even a studio in San Francisco on $20,000 a year.
This dichotomy is explored in a recent piece by Vox:
“The key difference between a tech hub like San Francisco compared to Seattle, Austin, and Raleigh — the first of which has a greater share of its economy rooted in tech — is housing supply. Other tech hubs around the country build more, which alleviates demand. San Francisco is one of the most regulated cities in America when it comes to urban development, which heavily restricts how much can be built.”
Better zoning laws for growth
Seattle — home to tech giants Microsoft and Amazon — has sustained relatively affordable rents for its growing population by building more housing to meet increased demand. However, San Francisco’s ridiculous zoning laws prohibit any real local growth. Thus, in competition for housing, highly paid tech employees outbid those in low-paid support industries. In turn, those who can’t afford the rent are forced onto the streets (often through eviction) or out to the suburbs, a quality of life issue.
This harms turnover and stifles economic growth, and ought to be a chief concern for real estate professionals, planners and authorities.
The rent is too high because of an excess of demand. Thus, the clearest answer to skyrocketing rents is to meet demand. That means allowing builders to build up. Too often, a small but vocal minority of residents — “not in my backyard” (NIMBY) proponents — drown out sensible attempts by lawmakers to adjusting zoning for future growth.
Instead, try becoming a “yes, please in my backyard” advocate. There’s enough room in our cities for sustained growth. We just have to help make rents a little less colossal, and a little more realistic for its residents, those here and to come. Businesses beneficial to a community will remain only so long as their employees have housing that accommodates a productive workforce. Travel time in commute reduces that productivity. Businesses then respond, either politically for change or by relocating to more employee-friendly digs. Brokers and builders have a need to be concerned.