I've been hunting for a two-bedroom apartment in Oakland. I might as well be searching for some exotic species.
On Sunday, I went to check out a two-bedroom, one-bath off Harrison Street. This is what $1,950 gets you these days: a shabby-looking building smack dab next to a freeway overpass. As I approached the entrance I looked up and saw someone's bras hanging in full view on a second-floor patio. I didn't call back to view the interior.
Rental prices in Oakland have soared and inventory has dried up. It's not much better in neighboring cities like Alameda or Berkeley. Forget about Emeryville. San Leandro offers more affordable housing, but it's far from cheap.
Pickings are slimmer if, like me, you have a dog. A lot of landlords won't accept pets. If they do, they often only take cats. To add insult to injury, a number of owners will sock you with "pet rent." This monthly charge of typically $40 is in addition to the pet deposit, which can run upwards of $500. Depending on how long you rent, that can run into some real change.
I start out my mornings scanning the listings on Craigslist. Here is a recent sampling: $3,008 for "location and luxury" downtown. Or, $2,695 for a "beautiful apartment, really nice" in Temescal. Not to be outdone, $2,700 for a "Hip/Modern Townhouse" in the Dogtown section of West Oakland. In order to find a more moderately priced apartment in Oakland you pretty much have to go out to Deep East Oakland where gentrification is just beginning and has yet to drive up rents.
Every time there is another article about high rents in Oakland -- there have been a few in recent months -- we are told that Oakland rents are more affordable than in San Francisco. Given that San Francisco has some of the highest rents in the world, I'm not sure why that fact would be a source of consolation to the many people whose incomes have not only not risen to keep pace with rents -- but in some instances have declined.
"Wages are higher in the San Francisco area than in Oakland," says Jed Kolko, chief economist for Trulia, the online real estate marketplace. "So when you look at rents relative to wages, Oakland is a little bit more affordable but not significantly."
According to Trulia, the rent on a two-bedroom apartment in Oakland was $2,350 per month in April 2014 -- up 11 percent compared to April 2013. That amount was 46 percent of the average wage. So much for the old rule of thumb that housing shouldn't cost more than 30 percent of gross income.
Kolko says one reason for the high rents is that young people are moving out of their parents' homes and entering the rental market. The Oakland area has also experienced job growth. There are a number of other theories about what is driving rent prices.
People who can't afford to live in San Francisco are moving to Oakland in increasing numbers. Many of those who lost their homes during the foreclosure crisis are renting. All-cash investors have snatched up a lot of those foreclosed homes which shut out ordinary prospective homebuyers who needed a bank mortgage. So they're renting. There's not enough new construction to accommodate demand.
So where are teachers, people who work in retail, food service workers, security guards and people who work at nonprofits and others who aren't making the big bucks in high tech to live?
My rental agent said she headed for Pleasanton because she couldn't afford Oakland rents. People are doubling and tripling up.
"One of our own employees has three children and his rent kept going up. He had to move to Antioch and now commutes," says Adam Gold, communications director at Causa Justa :: Just Cause, an Oakland nonprofit tenant rights advocacy organization. In April, the organization issued a report on the effects of gentrification on the Bay Area, which you can read at http://cjjc.org/images/development-without-displacement.pdf.
"We pay what we like to think is a living wage," he said, "but not in Oakland apparently."