More tech workers can’t afford to live where they work — and neither can teachers and first responders

A group of millennial-age technology workers stand near signage for Google at the Googleplex, the Silicon Valley headquarters of search engine and technology company Google Inc, Mountain View, California.

Smith Collection | Gado | Getty Images
A group of millennial-age technology workers stand near signage for Google at the Googleplex, the Silicon Valley headquarters of search engine and technology company Google Inc, Mountain View, California.

Barely a decade after the worst housing crash in history, home prices are soaring, and fewer buyers are able to afford the homes they want. In fact, a growing number of Americans, including tech workers who are paid relatively well, are unable to live in the same communities where they work.

Teachers, first responders, restaurant workers and, surprisingly, computer programmers have the hardest time affording a home near their jobs. This is according to a new study by Trulia, a real estate listing company.

Researchers there used the latest median wage data for each occupation group from the Labor Department’s employment report, and then calculated the share of homes for sale in each market that are affordable to each category of worker. They define affordability as one’s monthly payment on housing taking up no more than 31 percent of one’s paycheck. They included homeowners’ association fees on the property, property tax and insurance into the affordability.

In tech-heavy California, where workers in the sector make six-figure salaries, very few can afford to buy a home. In San Francisco, programmers can afford just 5 percent of the homes for sale, and in San Jose barely 12 percent, according to Trulia. These workers earned a median wage of $122,993 in San Francisco and $115,660 in San Jose, but median home prices in both cities are well over a million dollars.

But it’s not just in California, where home prices are highest. Barely half of programmers in Chicago; Charleston, South Carolina; Minneapolis; and Newark, New Jersey, can afford to buy the median-priced home. The numbers are even lower in Portland, Oregon, and Miami.

James Heller works in health-care technology and has lived in Burbank, California, all of his life. Recently divorced, he had to sell his old home but found he could not afford to buy something else in the same area. He ended up moving about a half-hour outside of Burbank to Valencia.

“I’ve lived in Burbank all my life, and I love it, but housing has gone through the roof there,” Heller said. “The basic thing was the amount of money in my budget, and I wasn’t going to spend 12 percent more for 25 percent less space.”

Heller doesn’t actually mind his new hometown, but he is now a half-hour away from his daughter and his mother, who both still live in Burbank.

“It has separated me from my hometown. I would prefer to live in Burbank,” Heller said.

Even worse for teachers and emergency workers

The situation is more dire for teachers and first responders, who make lower salaries and have seen very little wage growth.

“Teachers are worse off in nearly all metros covered in this study,” noted Cheryl Young, Trulia’s senior economist. “More than one-quarter of the 93 metros saw a double-digit decrease in the share of homes affordable to teachers, led by Tacoma, WA (-24.4 percentage points), Colorado Springs, CO (-21.7 p.p.) and Indianapolis, IN (-17.3 p.p.).”

While all real estate is local, the same phenomenon is occurring in almost all major metropolitan markets. Demand is high and supply is low, especially at the lower end of the housing scale. Prices have been rising for years, but after a pullback in the gains last year, they are accelerating again. Rising mortgage rates only make matters worse.

“School teachers, police and fireman and so many hard-working folks all have to move much farther out of the midtown areas just to get a home they can afford,” said David Fogg, a real estate agent in Burbank. “Many people commute one to two hours to work these days because of the costs of housing.”

Fogg said he has to do considerable work trimming down his clients’ expectations to better fit what they can afford. Often that means giving up prime locations and setting their sights a little farther out from metropolitan areas.

“Moving into less desirable neighborhoods, considering homes under flight patterns or power lines — all of these and more become necessary considerations for buyers as they try to get into a home anywhere they can afford,” Fogg said.

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