For decades the San Francisco Bay Area has drawn young people from around the world to its mix of industry, culture and environment. Now almost half of the region’s millennials, the generation aged 18-39, are considering leaving because of the high cost of living and traffic, according to a new poll.
Forty percent of all Bay Area adults — and 46 percent of millennials — are considering relocating to more affordable regions in the next few years, according to a survey by the Bay Area Council, a business-sponsored advocacy organization.
Uncertainty about the future has eroded economic confidence. The Bay Area Council study found that only 42 percent of people think the economy is “headed in the right direction” today, as opposed to 57 percent in 2014.
This sentiment rings true for 27-year-old Dan Norton, who earns around $50,000 a year ferrying passengers from Sebastopol and Santa Rosa for Sonoma County Transit’s route 22 bus line. Norton, a Rohnert Park resident, likes his job but finds housing costs in the county prohibitively expensive for his family.
He’s considering taking his two young children, fiancee and mother with him to Oregon, where he believes rents and property values are more in line with what people earn.
“Things are just a little wacky here right now,” said Norton, who pays $1,725 a month for a “not so nice” two-bedroom apartment.
While some are contemplating leaving an area that saw average rent prices increase by 7.6 percent from 2015 to 2016, according to Novato-based analytics firm Real Answers, others have already left.
In the summer of 2016, Kristy Lindley and her husband moved to southern Oregon after spending the better part of a decade in Sonoma County. They left because neither could see themselves being able to purchase a house in the area.
“I miss Sonoma County, and would move back in a heartbeat if the real estate market was such that we had increased access, or even just more affordable rent,” Lindley wrote in an email.
For Ben Stone, executive director of the Sonoma County Economic Development Board, the sentiment expressed by people in surveys and their later actions don’t always match.
Stone points out that people are still coming to Sonoma County. In 2015, there was a net migration of 1,121 people into the county, but that is down significantly from 3,594 in 2014, according to an economic report issued by the board this winter.
“We’re still gaining people because we are so affordable relative to the rest of the Bay Area in our housing,” Stone said. “But some of what millennials are saying is true. Many are moving to places like Salt Lake City.”
High housing costs and the desire of many millennials to move to cheaper regions has others concerned.
“I do take the survey seriously and there is some evidence that this is a trend,” said Cynthia Murray, president and CEO of the North Bay Leadership Council.
“There has been a push to go where pastures are greener.”
Millennials and older generations are at odds over what to do about steadily increasing rents — up 50 percent in Sonoma County since 2011 — and property values. The Bay Area Council survey of 1,000 registered voters from nine Bay Area counties found 70 percent of the younger generation support housing projects in their neighborhoods, while roughly 57 percent of those 40 and older support housing projects near their residences.
“We failed for decades to keep building enough to match the jobs,” Murray said. “If the workforce leaves, then the companies leave too.”