San Francisco has noticed a trend over the past couple of years: its population is shrinking. In both 2019 and 2020 more people left the city than moved into the city. This isn’t exclusive to San Francisco. The entire Bay Area has been impacted by population movement.
Recent news stories like to paint a picture of a California exodus. Likely, this is influenced by the number of people leaving San Francisco. The one city doesn’t represent the whole state, and those who leave the Bay Area don’t always go too far. Other parts of the state are now home to thousands of ex-San Franciscans.
Living in San Diego, I’ve noticed an increase in people moving south from San Francisco. As we see changes across multiple facets of life, San Francisco and the Bay Area may be impacted by some of these changes more than other parts of the country. Work structures and personal priorities are adapting to modern demands, and people are realizing San Francisco may not have what they need.
San Francisco: Making Everything Look Affordable
By most standards, cities like San Diego are on the pricier side. It’s over 60% more expensive than the national average. It usually costs over $600,000 to buy a home, meaning rental prices will also be expensive. If you’re moving to San Diego from a less expensive part of the country, this can be a hard adjustment. Even if you’re coming from Los Angeles, the adjustment won’t be that great. Prices in San Diego are only slightly lower than LA.
If you’re from San Francisco, the cost of living in a place like San Diego is drastically lower. The cost of living in San Francisco is so high and disproportionate to the rest of the country that San Diego becomes affordable. For reference, a studio apartment in San Francisco is higher than a 2-bedroom in San Diego.
Now, we’re in a time when working from home is required. Many people assumed the initiative to be temporary, but major Bay Area companies are making the shift permanent. Tech giants like Facebook, Twitter, Salesforce, and Dropbox are allowing employees to choose where they want to work. A lot of them see this as an opportunity to try something new. They’re going to different parts of the country but keeping San Francisco pay.
The price to live in a Southern California city makes it unobtainable for most people. For people who live in the Bay Area, these prices are a bargain.
Why People Want to Leave San Francisco
Numbers say a lot, but they don’t tell the full story. When you ask former San Francisco residents their motives for leaving, a lot of recurring themes will pop up. Cost is certainly a factor, but not the only one. People also want to live in a place where they can grow, enjoy their free time, and be proud of their city.
People want to be able to afford housing and they want it to actually be available. Remote workers see themselves spending a lot of time indoors, and a tiny San Francisco apartment isn’t going to cut it. Especially when their office is going to be part of their home, being able to divide the two is a matter of the amount of room in the household. Leaving the state will give families an opportunity to buy land and a bigger house. Even if they’re looking in places like Orange County or San Diego, a larger home can be purchased in a desirable location for half of its price in San Francisco.
While San Francisco offers many of the perks of a major city, a lot of those are minimized when a pandemic strikes. People are unable to enjoy restaurants, arts, theatre, or shopping. Most public activities take place in an outdoor setting, and San Francisco’s climate is not ideal for everyone. When a job isn’t dependent on physical location, the idea of being close to the beach or enjoying four seasons becomes a possibility.
San Franciscans have also noted a decline in the city’s quality. Pollution, crime, and homelessness have been on the rise. This can deter people from taking advantage of the amenities the city has to offer. It’s discouraging when people spend large portions of their incomes to live in a city only to receive overrun sidewalks covered in filth. Over time, these burdens wear on people and their eyes shift to greener pastures.
San Diego: The New San Francisco?
According to U-Haul, San Diego is one of the top destinations for people leaving San Francisco during the pandemic. While it is only one of the cities San Franciscans are flocking to, their presence is certainly noticeable. This especially holds true when people are looking to purchase housing or rent an apartment. During my apartment search in 2020, I encountered numerous people from San Francisco. They wanted to live in a warmer climate that’s closer to the beach and has more outdoor space. So, they landed on San Diego.
While San Diego residents are starting to notice the rise of San Francisco migrants, they’re not the only city. Other Southern California cities like Los Angeles and Riverside are gaining San Fran expats. Cities outside of California are also feeling the impact such as Austin and Miami. The major issue arises when locals see the cost of living rise just so others can have their cost of living decrease. Nobody blames the San Franciscans for making the most of their situation, but they grow frustrated when their opportunities are compromised.
San Diego is not going to absorb all of San Francisco’s culture, just like Austin and Los Angeles won’t lose their identities. Nobody expects these cities to transform; people left San Francisco wanting a change. The real concern comes from the price tag on living in San Francisco. Landlords will raise rent if they can still find renters, just like homes will sell at higher prices if people will pay them. This is why people are reluctant to accept San Franciscans. Their lifestyle comes with a hefty price tag that others just can’t afford.
The Future of San Francisco
I don’t think anyone will be surprised to see many tech companies adding more remote work. Pandemic or not, many roles were becoming remote. The high housing costs in San Francisco were a result of overpopulation. Sooner or later these costs would force companies to move elsewhere, and cyberspace has the cheapest rent.
The net migration in San Francisco between 2019 and 2020 amounts to roughly 75,000 leaving. This increases to about 175,000 if you look at the whole Bay Area. This isn’t going to transform the way the city operates, but it may provide a little relief. Overcrowding and a lack of available housing has made it hard for those in the Bay Area, and now some people aren’t geographically restricted by their job.
Other cities are going to have to adapt to the bumps in population. While all of the people leaving the Bay Area have a common starting point, their endpoints vary. No one city will absorb the entire burden, but many cities will get a couple thousand new residents. Soon, remote work will be ingrained in tech culture. Companies will realize how many opportunities people have once they receive San Francisco pay outside of the Bay Area. This means San Francisco companies will learn to adjust pay rates to the varied costs of living.