Bay Area residents have formulated numerous responses to the urban housing crisis, such as rezoning, increasing construction and rewriting rental ordinances. However, a significant chunk of the area population thinks simply leaving might be the best bet.

Recently, 34% of local residents indicated they were considering abandoning the Bay Area in search of financially feasible prospects elsewhere, according to a Bay Area Council poll.

When asked which local issue is the most prevalent, residents chose:

  • the cost of living (64%);
  • housing (48%); and
  • traffic (39%).

The Bay Area Council organized the poll’s results by residents’ priorities as well as generational trends. When sorted by generation, the results indicate:

  • Millennials’ and Generation X’s (Gen X’s) greatest concern is the exorbitant cost of living;
  • Baby Boomers’ greatest concern is housing; and
  • residents aged 65 and older are most concerned about traffic.

Regardless of how the results are sorted, it’s clear that housing and high living expenses — and their myriad side effects, such as the inability to live near work and commuter traffic — are major issues among Bay Area residents.

But how many are really going to leave?

Editor’s note — See the full results of the poll here.

Prospects vs. pitfalls of Bay Area living

Although a first reading of the poll seems to suggest an impending mass exodus of Bay Area residents, specific circumstances are more likely to determine who will really leave. Those who felt most strongly about leaving the Bay Area were those who had been living there for the least amount of time — approximately five years or fewer, according to the Bay Area Council. Thus, it can be inferred those intending to leave are those who never got a foothold in the overwrought housing and rental market in the first place, and likely are not Bay Area natives. It’s easier to transplant when the root structure is shallow.

However, that doesn’t mean everyone is staying put. Low- and moderate-income residents are dispersing into neighboring cities and suburbs. Already, the Bay Area is suffering a shortage of educators who are unable to support themselves on an underwhelming teacher’s salary.

Alternatively, long-time residents and those who secured employment in the Bay Area’s lucrative tech industry are highly unlikely to abandon their posts. Homeowners and renters who have occupied their residences for several years are extremely reluctant to start over again and reenter such a competitive housing market. Further, tech employees have it too good to risk changing their jobs — hence, the poll’s indication that 54% of residents don’t plan on going anywhere.

Respondents to the poll also did not say they had actualized plans to leave the Bay Area; rather, they only indicated they “strongly agree” or “somewhat agree” with the statement they are “likely to leave the Bay Area in the next few years.” Thus, personal situations for these individuals may change and alter their opinions. For example, a resident currently considering moving may switch jobs, start earning a better income and become more comfortable with their housing costs. Also, market conditions have been shown to change rapidly, affecting respondents’ decisions.

Further, there is always a sizable disconnect between what respondents profess they intend to do on a survey, and what they ultimately end up doing — particularly regarding matters as fundamental as housing.

Agent reactions to Bay Area sentiment

Agents can use the poll’s results to tailor their efforts for different types of client preferences. Agents working with Millennial and Gen X clients may offer more guidance through balancing housing costs with other living expenses to assuage their clients’ worries about high costs of living in the Bay Area. For example, tools like the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s (CFPB’s) financial well-being scale can help an agent work with their client to determine their financial readiness to purchase a home, or rent as the best housing deal. [See RPI Forms 312 and 320-4]

On the other hand, agents working with Boomers and older clients ought to familiarize themselves with nearby suburbs and quiet neighborhoods, where housing costs and commuter traffic are less intimidating — and prohibitive— than deep in the city.