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For some Oakland tenants, San Francisco is extra inexpensive now

Even on a foggy San Francisco morning, Scott Simmons apartment on the 25th floor has a view of downtown and Golden Gate Park. The 42-year-old technician’s home is also spacious, with a bedroom with hardwood floors, new appliances, and granite countertops.

A year ago, when he shared a two-bedroom house with his brother, Simmons couldn’t imagine living in an apartment like this. When Simmons heard of sharp rents drops during the COVID-19 pandemic last fall, Simmons found he could get a lot more bang for his buck in the heart of San Francisco than the neighborhood where he doubled in Oakland.

“It’s bananas,” said Simmons. “I never thought that I would be someone with a beautiful view. It’s a luxury. “

Since March, when government home stay orders began to empty downtown workers and buyers, the average one-bedroom apartment rental in San Francisco has fallen nearly 30%, the biggest drop in the country. Tech capital has and they have hundreds of thousands of employees well positioned to work remotely. Outside the city.

The aftermath of the San Francisco pandemic created a scenario that has long been unthinkable in the Bay Area. For some renters – mostly middle and higher income people – the famously expensive city is now cheaper to live in than its blue collar neighbor, Oakland.

Information Technology Security Manager Scott Simmons in his one bedroom high-rise apartment on Fox Plaza, San Francisco. Simmons moved from Oakland to the skyscraper in November, where he pays $ 2,800 a month in rent. The town hall can be seen in the background.

(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

“If you had told the 15-year-old that Oakland was going to get more expensive 15, 16 years later, that would have been literally shocking,” said Amar Saini, 32, an Oakland-born man who moved into a 12-story apartment building in close to the Bay Bridge this month to save money. “I just don’t believe it.”

Despite falling rents, San Francisco remains the most expensive city in the country. A one-bedroom apartment typically still costs nearly $ 2,000 a month, which is way out of reach for many residents. However, the sharp drop in prices has surprised real estate watchers in terms of both its depth and its scope. Even Tony Neighborhood landlords like Pacific Heights and Russian Hill, who once charged $ 4,000 a month for one-bedroom apartments, are cutting their rates and offering incentives like months of free rent to get renters in the door.

The rent drops are a direct result of the pandemic. According to the Bay Area Council Economic Institute, more than half of the city’s workforce can work remotely, and technology firms like Twitter and Salesforce – the city’s largest private employer with more than 9,000 employees – have stated that employees can even stay away from the office after the End of the pandemic.

In addition, the pandemic has closed restaurants, bars and museums, while places that offer people more space to work or their children to go to school virtually are a high priority. For San Francisco, a dense city that has long had some of the highest rents in the country, all of the changes have taken away many of the conveniences that make city life come alive. Data from the U.S. Postal Service shows that in 2020, 56,000 more people requested changes of address in San Francisco than those moving in.

“Every man, woman, and dog say there is no point living in downtown San Francisco if you are not going to work,” said Nicholas Bloom, a Stanford University economics professor who worked remotely during the pandemic educated.

California Street in downtown San Francisco with buildings and cars but no cable cars on the tracks.

The San Francisco cable car system shown in February is out of service on downtown California Street.

(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

The quiet of the once bustling neighborhoods of San Francisco can be harrowing. In Union Square on a weekday, a handful of masked pedestrians and homeless residents roamed silently between hotel lobbies, restaurants, and luxury shops that were mostly empty of customers. Closed shops along Market Street, one of the city’s main commercial boulevards, have been clad in plywood. Shops that stayed open had signs with reduced opening hours.

A year ago, only about 1% of the units managed by members of the San Francisco Apartment Assn., The city’s largest rental group, were vacant, said Janan New, its general manager. Now, she said, almost a quarter is empty.

In a new, upscale apartment building across from Twitter’s headquarters on Market Street, the sales office is offering up to three months of free rent. If that’s not enough incentive, newcomers can also get a year of free cable and internet, multiple personal exercise and massage sessions, or have the landlord donate $ 1,000 to a local charity on behalf of the renter.

Such efforts to attract middle- and higher-income residents reflect the uneven economic impact of the pandemic. Employees who can work from home were far less affected than lower-income workers in the service and hospitality industries.

Maria Marin and her family are sitting on a bed.

Maria Marin (35) and husband Francisco Rodriguez with their daughters Vanessa Rodriguez (9), Tiffany Rodriguez (11) and Keily Rodriguez (30 months) in an apartment they shared with an extended family in February near the Portero Hill district of San Francisco share.

(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

Maria Marin and her husband Francisco Rodriguez were once able to huddle in a one-bedroom apartment near Bayview with their three young daughters. But after the pandemic, Marin lost her house cleaning job, and then her husband got COVID-19 and lost his warehouse job.

The family could not pay the monthly rent of $ 2,000 and moved in with Marin’s mother near Potrero Hill. Ten people now share the three-bedroom house while Marin and her husband look for work.

“In my situation, it’s not true that the rent has gone down,” said Marin, 35. “They’re asking you to make two or three times the rent to qualify for an apartment. And if you don’t have it , Put down the phone. “

Rents have also fallen in Oakland. According to Apartment List, the average one-bedroom is now $ 1,625. However, the 18% gap between Oakland and San Francisco prices is the narrowest since the real estate company’s property tracking began in 2017.

Before moving, Simmons liked to live in Oaklands Uptown, a walk-in parish not far from the Fox Theater, and began looking for a new location there.

But he found nicer apartments in San Francisco, and living there meant he could drop his car. Simmons signed a $ 2,800 a month lease in a 29-story building across from Twitter. The landlord gave him $ 2,000 worth of debit cards as a bonus.

“I like walks. I like to meet people. I like the hustle and bustle, ”said Simmons. “This is the life I want.”

Shortly after the home stay orders went into effect last spring, Armand Domalewski and his girlfriend decided to leave their roommates and look for an apartment together. They searched on Lake Merritt, Oakland, hoping to live near open space.

“Then we took a look around San Francisco,” said Domalewski, 31, a data analyst. “Not only were the prices lower than I ever expected, they kept getting lower.”

The couple found a bright, second-floor apartment on a narrow red-brick street near the Duboce Triangle for just under $ 3,000. “I went in and said, ‘There’s a dishwasher, my god,” he said.

A few months after their lease, another tenant moved out of their building and they got a call from their landlord. Domalewski feared the worst.

“You’re so conditioned to think, ‘Oh my god, am I being evicted?'” He said. “And then she said, ‘I’m going to lower your rent unilaterally.’ And we say, “This is crazy.”

Rents have even become affordable for young university graduates.

Sarah Abdeshahian is sitting on the windowsill of her apartment.

Sarah Abdeshahian, 22, a UC Berkeley graduate, in her one bedroom apartment in the Nob Hill neighborhood of San Francisco in February.

(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

A few months after graduating from UC Berkeley, Sarah Abdeshahian got a job organizing the Tenderloin Housing Clinic in San Francisco. She was amazed to find her own one-bedroom apartment near the top of Nob Hill for $ 1,900 a month, a price that had been cut by $ 400.

“The idea of ​​an entire apartment for me is a crazy luxury to me,” said Abdeshahian, 22. “I thought of San Francisco as a place where only wealthy technicians could live, not someone who works in a nonprofit that does just graduated from college. ” ”

Although rents have fallen, they could recover. Renters with long memories plan ahead.

Simmons said he could have moved to a newer apartment complex for the same money.

But he chose an older building. It came with rent control.

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