In LA, we talked about traffic. How bad it was today, the tricks we used to avoid it, that one time it took us 4 hours to get home. The highways weren’t I-405 and I-110; they were “the 405” and “the 110,” a phenomenon I haven’t heard anywhere else, so much were they a part of our daily lives. I never tired of “The Californians,” the recurring Saturday Night Live sketch, because it wasn’t as much a spoof as it was a documentary. (“At this time of day? It’s gonna be jammed!”)
In the Bay Area, we talk about housing. How much rent has gone up in the last year or five, how much so-and-so spent on a 2-bedroom house in San Mateo (the answer: 2 million dollars), how the combination of tech money, foreign investors, and limited supply are driving up prices at an astronomical rate. Last month, Forbes released its list of worst cities for renters, and the three top spots were all in the Bay Area. (Manhattan? Merely fourth place.) Even upwardly mobile, dual-income families that would be well-off in any other part of the country can’t afford rent in many places, let alone the cost of buying a house.
My husband and I fall into this category. Our combined income does not make us poor by any stretch of the imagination — but when we recently had to look for a new place north of Oakland, we found ourselves overwhelmed on multiple fronts. Overwhelmed by how expensive everything was, compared to even a year ago; places that rented for $2000 a month last year were now listing for $3000 and $3200. Overwhelmed at how stiff the competition was when we showed up at open houses and found ourselves surrounded by overzealous applicants with cover letters and headshots. Overwhelmed by the possibility, as the days on our current lease wound down, that we might not find a place at all, that we would keep losing out to the many other applicants who aren’t carrying the amount of student debt that we are.
This harrowing process raised two questions for me: Is it financially responsible for us to keep living here? And if this is what it’s like for us — two highly privileged, well-educated people — then what is it like for people without these privileges?
Image courtesy of Radpad