Erika D. Smith

The Legislature did its part to fix Sacramento’s housing crisis. Now it’s your turn, Bay Area refugees

Looking back, I’m not exactly sure when I became the grouchy old lady who tells the proverbial neighborhood kids to get off of her proverbial lawn. But just last week, there I was walking through midtown Sacramento when I actually heard myself grumble: “Damn Bay Area people. Why are they here? I hope they’re just visiting!”


I looked around, as if someone else had said it. But it was only me and a trio of what I suspected were millennials from San Francisco. Because, seriously, who else wears head-to-toe black in 95-degree heat, drinking hot coffee, and complaining about being “hella hot” and “hella thirsty”?

I remember the days – you know, back in July – when I was truly grateful we had so many transplants here. Without them, the capital city wouldn’t have such a demand for – and, therefore, such a supply of – excellent restaurants, excellent coffee and excellent bars.

But now, it seems Sacramento is cruising at top-speed toward peak San Franciscification.

What’s that, you ask? It’s the point at which gentrification becomes so advanced and so unavoidable that it will completely change the way we lowly Sacramentans live. Those of us who haven’t bought homes will have no choice but to move to Fresno – or Texas, which is pretty much the same thing. The only way any of us will be able to find an affordable apartment to rent here is if we know someone who knows someone who can give us the hookup.

Think of it like “technological singularity,” the point at which computing advances so far that Elon Musk’s worst fears come true and we all get booted from the planet by artificially intelligent machines.

I got a glimpse of Sacramento’s dystopian future during a recent conversation with my landlord’s right-hand man about renting a one-car garage and an adjoining parking space. Three months ago, it was $295. My neighbor moved out, vacating her spot and so I jumped at the opportunity.

The response? “Parking is expensive now.”

“How much is ‘expensive’?” I texted back.

Four hundred ninety-five dollars. Not even two years ago, it was $200. Meanwhile, he’s renting another garage and parking spot for $695, which, not so long ago, was the price of studio apartment with parking in parts of Sacramento.

This could be just the beginning. And just as tidal waves couldn’t save the world from Californication, Gov. Jerry Brown and the Legislature won’t be able to save Sacramento from San Franciscification. Only the Bay Area refugees who brought us this dual plague of out-of-control housing prices and homelessness can do that.

California needs to build about 180,000 new housing units every year, and we’re consistently about 80,000 housing units behind schedule. No matter how many new apartment complexes get the green light or can get slapped together faster by avoiding red tape thanks to recently passed legislation, it’s going to take a lot of time and lot of money to catch up.

Meanwhile, the median price for a home in this state is now $505,800, which is about 2.5 times higher than the median nationally. The median rental price is $2,695, among the highest in the country, according to Zillow.

Already, more than half of California’s voters say housing is so unaffordable that they’ve considered moving, with one in four saying if they did move, it would probably be out of state, according to a new poll from UC Berkeley’s Institute of Governmental Studies.

It’s no wonder when one in five Californians are now living in poverty, the most of any state, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. And, by The San Francisco Chronicle’s estimate, we have a total homeless population of 135,139, also the most of any state.

But as victims go, Sacramentans get no respect.

We complain about spending more than half our paychecks on rent and, increasingly, about being on the verge of homelessness. We gripe, somewhat ignorantly, about the need for rent control – just like 60 percent of voters statewide, according to the UC Berkeley poll. We point out that Sacramento continues to lead the nation – the nation – in annual rent growth, with Seattle nipping at our heels, according to YardMatrix.

Young Sacramentans, the millennials and youthful Generation Xers who have degrees, a career and a side hustle, can barely afford rent. And some have put their lives on hold, weighing whether to buy a house or have a kid because they know they can’t afford both. We’ve got more than 2,000 homeless people sleeping outside every night and a suburb, Arden Arcade, that recorded the largest one-year jump in poverty in the state between 2015 and 2016.

But no one in California takes us seriously. And why should they?

The median rent for an apartment in Sacramento was $1,625 in July, give or take depending on the neighborhood. And while the most expensive home in Sacramento County went for a cool $1.695 million in July, the median price for a single-family home is only about $300,000.

Compare that to the median rent in San Francisco, which was $4,450 in July. Meanwhile, the median price for a home in the city was $1.2 million, $619,800 in Oakland, and $585,100 in Los Angeles, according to Zillow.

Some Bay Area refugees come to the capital city, drawn by lower prices and steady job growth (we won’t talk about Tesla and SolarCity), and they act like act like drunk millionaires in a dollar store.

“A 754-square-foot studio apartment for $2,020? Sure! That’s affordable!” Said no one who already lives in Sacramento, ever.

My landlord, like so many other landlords and property managers across the city and the county, are clearly testing the upper end of the market, trying to find the ceiling. The problem is, they’re not finding one.

For this, I blame the Bay Area transplants who haven’t done any research. Get it together. Ask questions. There are neighborhoods other than midtown – and the prices are very different. Stop paying thousands upon thousands of dollars for rent just because you think it’s a bargain.

If not, you’ll just keep making Sacramento more untenable for all of us. And, more importantly, you’ll be moving us closer to San Franciscification and recreating the situation you just left in the Bay Area. Do better.

Now get off my overpriced, rented lawn!

Erika D. Smith: 916-321-1185, @Erika_D_Smith