Listening to people in Seattle complain about rents reminds me of the chatter around San Francisco. But to my mind, the prices here aren’t in the same ballpark yet.
When my girlfriend and I first moved from the San Francisco Bay Area to Seattle last year and told people we had been priced out of California, I got the same response, over and over.
“Then why’d you come here?” a Seattleite would respond. “Don’t you know we’re going to be just as bad soon?”
I’ll admit it: At first, I rolled my eyes — the Bay Area is about two to three times as expensive as Seattle and nearby cities.
But the more I talked to people about the rising prices here, the more I started to get worried. I quickly learned to rephrase my introduction: “I’m from the Bay Area, one of the only places that makes Seattle look affordable.”
My initial confidence that we had left the land of the luxury and escaped to a middle-class haven has begun to waver as the rents and home prices here soar. I’m a little scared that we left one San Francisco only to find another; what I see going on in Seattle is eerily reminiscent of the themes I saw across Silicon Valley.
Local mom-and-pop shops are closing down. Trendy new restaurants charging $15 for a cocktail and $25 for a burger are opening up. Older, unique buildings are being torn down and replaced with sterile, boxlike structures that all seem to look the same. Street poles are being plastered with signs complaining that the city has been taken over by yuppies. Huge tech companies are getting the blame for gentrification. Priced-out workers are moving to the suburbs and lengthening their commutes.
Walking through Seattle today does remind me of living in the Bay Area a few years ago. But the truth is, what’s happening here isn’t even in the same ballpark.
I see people here with middle-class jobs buying houses, which isn’t an option in San Francisco. I see people here complaining about rents that San Franciscans would line up around the block to secure. I see people driving a half-hour from the city to find an affordable home, where in the Bay Area it’d be an hour commute or longer.
When I wrote recently about a dangerously rundown Seattle home that sold for $427,000 after an intense bidding war, I got a flood of outraged responses from readers here shocked at how crazy the market is. But my friends from California were unimpressed, pointing me to Bay Area homes in even worse condition that had sold recently for more than $1 million.
I point this out not to dismiss what’s happening here but because it’s important for people in Seattle to realize that other places — not just the Bay Area, but also New York, Los Angeles and Vancouver, B.C., among others — have it much worse. Those regions are proof of how much pricier it can get for Seattle if we’re not careful.
If Seattle were to jump into that upper-crust of cities with sky-high property values, the change would be devastating and transformative for the entire region.
Take it from me — I lived through it.
I never expected to leave the Bay Area, the place where I went to college, met my girlfriend and launched a career as a journalist.
But as prices there soared into the stratosphere — we paid nearly $2,600 to rent a one-bedroom — it became clear we had no future there. We eventually wanted to start a family, but even on two decent incomes, there was no chance of getting a house within an hour’s drive of our jobs. And we certainly didn’t want to live in our little apartment forever, barely able to sock away any savings because of the astronomical rent.
When I wrote a letter online about our decision to leave, I got an outpouring of response that continues to this day from Bay Area locals who say their longtime home no longer has a place for them. Indeed, a recent poll found more than one-third of Bay Area residents are planning to leave soon, largely because it’s not affordable.
So now here we are, living in Seattle. We’re talking about marriage, kids and the whole American dream thing — and doing so here seems difficult but reasonable.
Yeah, we’re worried that if we wait two more years, prices will be up another 20 percent. We’re worried we’ll have to leave our one-bedroom in Ballard if the rent goes up. We’re worried we’ll have to make another move to an even more affordable place to ever settle down.
I don’t know if Seattle will devolve into a playground for the rich, though I’m optimistic it won’t. But if we get another couple years of skyrocketing housing costs, I just might have to admit that all of those Seattle residents telling me not to move here for cheaper housing might have been right.