Why this Texan is Sad About News of San Francisco’s Housing Struggles

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The view from Liberty Street in San Francisco. (facebook.com/MichaelDuncanPhoto)

The San Francisco Chronicle recently posted a sobering story that we all expected: The devastating realities of this pandemic have put the Bay Area housing industry in a world of hurt.

Headlined, “Yes, people are leaving San Francisco. After decades of growth, is the city on the decline?”, the story spelled out the economic hardships faced by this jewel of a city. Rents are on the decline. Inventory of for-sale homes and condos are at a 15-year high.

The story made me sad.

I’m now a resident of North Texas, but I crossed one off the bucket list by working at the Chronicle in the early 2000s. To complete the dream, the Chronicle would hire my wife, Brigitte, also an editor.

As journalists in the middle of the country go, a rite of passage is having a job at a coastal news outlet, get a few years under your belt and return to reality, back in the middle, maybe with better pay and appreciation.

The early 2000s were an exciting and dynamic time for the San Francisco area. Dot-coms were about midway through their heyday, but the tech energy was still there and abundant. It was a happening place.

Hand-in-hand with that atmosphere was the housing market. People wanted into the San Francisco scene – and were willing to pay to live there. And, as stressful as it was, it’s one of my positive memories of San Francisco.

You see, we’d just bought a nice 2,000-something-square-foot, suburban, Texas-style home in a growing part of Arlington. Was this purchase going to stop our California adventure?

“Well,” my wife, Brigitte, told me, “we’re not going to let a house keep us from living a dream.”

We began the housing search online. Obviously naive, we entered the price we paid for the Arlington home. Up popped a mobile home in Antioch, about 40 miles from San Francisco. More searches resulted in prices we did not want to pay.

So, we went the rental route.

We cut out newspaper ads and resumed our search for a place to rent in Contra Costa County, perhaps a more affordable locale beyond Oakland and Berkeley and Orinda in the East Bay.

We set a $2,500 monthly rental threshold. We discovered we had set ourselves up on a tour of rentals in the county. The same people with the same ads were showing up and paying $50 just to file an application.

A few days into this, we found something within our budget. We arrived with some of the same crowd. Each of us brought a checkbook at the ready to write checks for last month and the first month’s rent and a deposit. We all seemed optimistic until a guy plopped down a $40,000 cashier’s check, good for a year’s rental and deposit. We groaned and left.

Back in Texas while packing up, a few more cold calls finally resulted in a hit: a garden home in Pleasant Hill near a BART station. And it was a new build.

Our garden home in Pleasant Hill, Calif., a heckuva find during the NorCal housing boom.

We moved in and made at least a couple years of memories before deciding to return to the land of affordable housing.

But the job and the people made for a wonderful experience. And the house hunt, as harrowing an experience as it was, also was a fond memory.

Again, I hate to see the San Francisco area suffer like this. But I’m sure it will be back. The area is resilient and has gone through cycles like this before.

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Tommy Cummings

Tommy Cummings covers the North Texas housing market for CandysDirt.com. Tommy moved to Texas from Oklahoma in 1992 and has lived in Mansfield with his wife, Brigitte, and son, Beaumont, since 2002 (after a two-year adventure in California as a tech columnist/editor at the San Francisco Chronicle). Tommy started his media career at newspapers in Oklahoma before becoming an editor in many capacities at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and The Dallas Morning News, where he wrapped up his newsroom career as a digital editor. His work has appeared in news outlets throughout the U.S.

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  1. Barbara Rogers says

    As a former Oakland resident of 17 years, it is not just the pandemic that is causing the exodus from SF. The yearly fall fires, the cost of living, taxes, and state mismanagement have all sent NorCal down this road.

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