It’s been seven months since Austin Gunter packed his life into an overnight bag and four UPS boxes, following his startup career from the heart of Austin, Texas, all the way to the city of San Francisco.
The 26-year-old digital and content marketer settled in the startup district – better known as South of Market – with his employers promising better pay and better opportunity in the city many are calling the next Silicon Valley.
And while Gunter’s salary nearly doubled during his drive to the city, so did his expenses – the bulk coming from the steep price of housing in San Francisco.
“I had this cab driver in Austin after flying back from a trip and he said, ‘Oh, you moved to San Francisco, isn’t it really expensive there?’ ” Gunter said, laughing. “And I said, ‘Yeah, but I’m more expensive there.’ ”
That’s the mind set that continues to sell young people on the move to the golden city, sacrificing square footage for extra hours in the office and a pace that separates those who want it from those who don’t.
With more and more startup companies moving to the area for up-and-coming talent and less commute, the demand for housing continues to rise, taking with it the average price of a one to two bedroom apartment.
Though the prices vary from neighborhood to neighborhood, the saying “you get what you pay for” isn’t quite accurate, said real estate expert Brendon DeSimone.
After working for more than 10 years in the San Francisco area and renting properties of his own, DeSimone said even he is shocked that some newcomers to the city willingly choose to pay the high cost of living for the downtown locations. Â
According to 2010 U.S. Census data, more than 58 percent of San Franciscans live in rental properties and more individuals choose renter-occupied units than permanent housing.
“It’s a very transient city,” DeSimone said. “They go, they check it out, and they leave. It’s not uncommon to be in jobs for two years or so… so there are more renters out there.”
Some companies are doing what they can to help new recruits find housing in the Bay Area. After all, if they want the talent, employers have to pay for it, Gunter said.
And they do.
Gunter said he remembers an ad promising a junior engineer a six-figure salary, along with a relocation reimbursement, housing stipend, maid service, personal trainer and travel allowance for making the move to San Francisco.
“They were asking for a badass engineer, but that’s what they have to do,” he said. “If you’re an engineer, you’re the hot girl in the room.”
But for those without the engineering degree or the promise of a reimbursement for making the move, the housing market continues to be a growing challenge.
Bay Area native Rebekah Moan hasn’t had a permanent place to live since January 2012, moving more than 10 times during the year and a half time span.
At 28 years old, she’s continually frustrated that her friends in Washington, D.C., can afford to own their own homes when she can’t even find a property to rent.
Moan’s circumstances aren’t for lack of trying, either. She said she’s been called on the way to visit rental properties, only to be told they were gone less than 24 hours after the original Craigslist postings.
“I cried,” she said. “I thought, ‘I don’t think I can do this right now.’ But I love San Francisco and the Bay Area too much [to move].”
The city is trying to help people like Moan, but restrictions on building heights and specific housing limits keep the market tight.
The skyline of South Beach, which boasts views of the Bay Bridge and the home of the San Francisco Giants, is currently obstructed by cranes almost as tall as the high-rises themselves in an attempt to give newcomers – and current residents – a place to call home.
But keeping up with the influx of employees is harder than it looks and the views of South Beach come with a price.
“There are thousands of units being built and they’re getting smaller and smaller and smaller, and the skyline is getting bigger and bigger,” said Scott Upper, an account executive at Fashion Furniture Housing, which helps to furnish new apartments. “The whole city is a construction site.”
And while those raking in the money from startup businesses and larger companies can afford the hefty price tag that accompanies these closet-sized apartments, individuals like Moan are left on the outside of a city they love.
After seven months, Gunter is on the move again, too, this time to the Tenderloin neighborhood of San Francisco. Though unplanned, Gunter said he was more prepared this time around for the fight for affordable housing.
Armed with a “rental resume” – a tactic DeSimone said renters can’t be without – along with glowing recommendations from former roommates and landlords, the process only took Gunter one week.
“If you hustle and you’re focused and you’re willing to learn quickly and work a little too much, it’s absolutely worth it,” he said of living in the growing city.
But simply put, “affordable housing in San Francisco isn’t.”