The Washington Post is running a series on the “Divided American Dream” which should be a familiar refrain if you’ve been keeping up with national election rhetoric. But first in the series is about Stockton, CA. Now you might be saying, “what does Stockton have to do with Alameda?”
Well, a lot in that Stockton is the suburb to the San Francisco Bay Area as a whole because actual suburbs and exurbs like Alameda throw up barriers to building its fair share of housing at every turn. (Ex. see Call for Review on Webster Street mixed use project. If a project on a street that has services and retail, easy public transportation links, and is imminently walkable — and will bring two affordable housing units on line — cannot be built without running 1000 gauntlets because it has asked for a reduction in the parking minimums then what can get built?)
But I digress.
Anyway, read the whole article, but here are some highlights.
Referencing the last housing bubble:
In San Francisco and Silicon Valley, incomes were rising during the bubble years. And the growing demand to live in the Bay Area was outstripping the supply of homes, pushing up prices. But the longtime agricultural economy in the Central Valley wasn’t taking off. Incomes weren’t rising as home prices were. And there wasn’t a shortage of housing.
“Speculative bubbles are social epidemics,” Shiller says, “It’s just a thing that spreads from person to person. It’s a thought virus.”
But when the bubble burst — and it burst in the Bay Area, too — places such as San Francisco and Palo Alto were much better prepared to weather the downturn. Stockton was left with bad mortgages, few high-skilled jobs and public debt that would eventually push the city into bankruptcy.
The Bay Area still had Apple and Intel and Stanford and tourists and those spectacular views of the ocean. Those communities hadn’t overbuilt because they hadn’t actually built much new housing in decades; instead, they had let places like Stockton absorb the demand.
On who lives in the far flung suburb of the San Francisco Bay Area region:
This is what [Eric] Totman could afford — with space for fruit trees and a chicken coop out back — on a middle-class job 80 miles away. He is one of the fortunate ones in Stockton, in that he bought just after the bust. But he still grapples with the region’s other stark reality, because when he bought this home, he couldn’t afford to buy one anywhere closer to his job. Five days a week, he drives to Redwood City on the San Francisco Peninsula, where he owns a business coaching men’s gymnastics.
And home values in Redwood City are moving even farther out of reach by the moment. They’re up 55 to 75 percent since 2004. In some Zip codes, that’s the equivalent of more than half a million dollars in a decade. It’s the same story all around the Bay: In San Francisco Zip codes, already high home values are up 84 percent, 96 percent, and 97 percent. In Oakland Zip codes, they’re up as much as 76 percent. In Palo Alto, 155 percent.
So gymnastics coaches can’t live there. Or firefighters, teachers, nurses, cops, chefs, clerks or day-care workers. And because they can’t head west (thanks to the ocean) or north or south (where other coastal properties are pricey, too) everyone pushes inland. It’s not high-skilled tech workers moving over here; it’s the construction workers who build their offices, or the coaches who instruct their children.
And the price of being the bedroom community for jobs more than 80 miles, one way, away:
“At some point, Stockton stopped growing in its own right and became part of something else,” says Hannah Harrison, a schoolteacher and Stockton native who moved back here after college at Berkeley when she and her husband realized that their careers would never allow them to afford the Bay Area. Now she and her husband worry about what it means for a city to become a bedroom community to someplace else very far away, to have so many children whose parents return home late every night, so many community members whose lives are fundamentally oriented elsewhere.
We, in the immediate Bay Area of the loudest voices and the most political clout, worry so much about our own quality of life, the “character” of our buildings, the “character” of the city at a fixed moment in time that it becomes difficult for us to recognize what happens when we stop considering what happens when we stop evolving, particularly for future workers and those that will never have salaries that can withstand any housing shortage price leaps.
Is the “character” of a city better when only those that have the monetary means (or those with longevity who purchased homes decades ago) can live here and have the moral authority to simply tell others to “work harder and save up”?
Is it better for our middle class teachers, day care workers, service workers etc be forced to live 80 miles +, each way, in order to afford a decent place to live. At what point do we realize that a city cannot function or provide proper services for its own moneyed citizens if it consistently pushes out those that simply don’t have enough because of artificial supply constraints.