Urban Renters Put Lives on Hold

Blame it on all the spins around the LIFE game board as kids, but for many millenials, life after college often means following a familiar road:

  1. Getting a grown-up apartment
  2. Moving in with a spouse or significant other
  3. Having a kid or two (fill the car with little pink and blue pegs)

Renters living in high-priced metros like San Francisco, New York and DC, are increasingly finding themselves idling in the same square, but instead of a biding their time in a little plastic car, they’re in a rent-controlled apartment – well, the lucky ones are at least.

Meet three sets of San Francisco renters and see how high rents are changing their course through the game of life.

Single and Searching

Marissa, 35, is a photo editor who is currently crashing in the dining room of a friend’s Noe Valley apartment while looking for a rental in the city she can afford.

“My ideal situation would be to find a studio or one bedroom,” she said. “I don’t even have a preferred neighborhood anymore, I’d take anything that fit my budget in the city.”

Her ideal budget is between $1,400 and $1,600. Unfortunately, recent data from HotPads shows the median price of a studio apartment in San Francisco at $2,700, while a one bedroom comes in at $3,500.

“I’m just hoping to find something that is good enough for now without going broke,” she said.

Marissa said if it doesn’t end up finding something, she’ll have to find roommates to share a place with in the city and forego her longstanding desire to have her own place. The only other option is to leave San Francisco, where her job is, and move to the East Bay to find a more affordable place without roommates.

“Overall, the rent and housing situation makes living in San Francisco feel like a temporary home instead of a place I could settle down and make a life,” she said.

Screen Shot 2014-10-21 at 12.03.31 PMPhoto credit: Lee S

The Couple on Hold

Rob, 39, and Nina, 30, have been dating for nearly 2 years and are ready to take the next step and move in together.

They each currently rent separate apartments in the city’s Mission District. He’s in one bedroom and pays $2,300 with parking. She’s been in the same studio for 6 years and pays $1,400 a month.

They’d like to not have to pay more than their current cumulative rent of $3,700.

“Ideally … we’re looking for a two bedroom to have space for family, guests, use as an office since Rob works from home a lot,” Nina said. “A two bedroom in the mission would cost us at least $4,500 without parking.”

So they are playing the waiting game to see if prices will go down.

They’ve also toyed with the idea of keeping her studio as glorified storage unit and landing pad for guests and making his one bedroom their shared home, despite it being a bit small for two.

Since neither is ready to move out of the city yet, if push comes to shove they just might have to grit their teeth and pick the less appealing option, “find a place together and deal with the higher rent, which means we’d have to watch our budgets more closely,” Nina said.

With the median price of 2 bedrooms in San Francisco currently at $4,700, (or $2,350 apiece), that’s a big jump from the $1,850-each they could be spending by keeping both places.

The Expecting Couple

Jon, 28, and Selby, 26, are married and have a one-bedroom apartment in the Sunset District about a block away from the beach, which they pay $1,691 a month to rent.

“That’s a spanking awesome deal,” Jon admits.

But their family of two will soon grow to three in December when they have their first child (someone hand them a blue peg please).

Along with space being an issue, Jon works at a church in San Mateo and Selby drives about 40 minutes to Marin for her job as a hairstylist so they need somewhere central to both locations.

Once their son is born, they are planning to look for a two bedroom near San Mateo or Daly City. But they are worried about the jump in rent.

“I haven’t done the research yet we but we are looking at around the $2500 range I’m thinking,” Jon said.

With a new baby, he admits that it’s going to be a stretch budget-wise.

“It would be nice to stick around because its so cheap, but it is so small…”

Photo credit: Raan Castillo

Staying Put

It would seem that the renter’s circle of life described above would work itself out. Couples have babies and move out of the city, people move for jobs, or they move in together and their old places get put back on the market.

If Nina and Rob decided to bite the bullet and pay more for a place together, or found a good deal, it could free up Nina’s studio for Marissa or another renter.

The problem is, rental rates keep going up. In San Francisco in particular, rents have been steadily rising each year. In the Mission neighborhood alone, rents rose 71 percent between 2011 and 2014, shooting up from $1,900 to $3,250 in the three-year span, according to data from Priceonomics.

And once a tenant moves out, the rent can be legally raised to market value, which means that Nina’s $1,400 rent from 2008 is now probably worth at least $2,394, accounting for a 71 percent increase.

Sadly for Marissa, that means her next spin might land her and her little plastic car on the square that says, “Take an immediate detour across the Bay Bridge.”

Check out the cheapest places we’ve found for rent  in San Francisco.

351 Turk Street
Specs: $1,150 | studio
Post Street
Specs: $1,525| studio
1267 Sunnydale Avenue
Specs: $1,200 | 1 beds 1 bath

Lead photo credit: Flickr, Will Folsom