Amid Bay Area Exodus to Sacramento, Low-Income Families At Risk of Being Pushed Out, Study Finds

Wednesday, November 22, 2017
Katy Murphy
San Jose Mercury News

As Bay Area residents and others flock to Sacramento to escape the housing crisis, low-income renters in the capital find themselves on shaky ground.

In its first-ever analysis of gentrification in the city, UC Berkeley’s Urban Displacement Project found that an astonishing 95,000 low-income households live in Sacramento neighborhoods that “are already undergoing or are at risk of becoming hotbeds of displacement.

The project’s newly released maps shine a spotlight on the ripple effect of Bay Area’s upward-spiraling housing costs across 13 Northern California counties encompassing Silicon Valley, Santa Cruz and California’s capital.
“The crisis is touching the entire megaregion,” said Miriam Zuk, a senior researcher who directs UC Berkeley’s Center for Community Innovation. “I’m hopeful that these maps are helping people recognize we need to protect our residents in these neighborhoods.”

Across the 13 counties studied, 900,000 low-income households — 62 percent of the low-income population — lived in gentrifying neighborhoods, researchers found. Far-flung cities such as Antioch and Pittsburg were not immune. In eastern Contra Costa County, researchers noted, the ranks of the homeless grew by 30 percent between 2015 and 2016.

First launched in 2015, the Urban Displacement Project crunches publicly available data to reveal the degree to which low income families are disappearing from traditionally lower-income census tracts. This year, researchers added four counties to the Bay Area map: Yolo, San Joaquin, Santa Cruz and Sacramento.

The latest research didn’t examine what was causing the neighborhood instability. But Sacramento’s rising rents and home prices are widely believed to be fueled by the slow pace of housing development since the Great Recession, paired with an influx of newcomers.

Sacramento — the top destination for those looking to leave the costly, traffic-jammed Bay Area — was the fastest-growing big city in California last year. About 75 percent of Redfin users moving into the greater Sacramento region come from the Bay Area, according to the real estate site’s analysis.

“Blame it on the Bay Area,” said Sacramento City Councilman Jay Schenirer, whose district includes Oak Park, the poster child for the city’s gentrification challenges. “We have a lot of people moving up here who are paying cash for their homes.”

Unlike Oakland, San Francisco and San Jose, Sacramento does not have rent control ordinances. But as prices soar, a movement to adopt rent caps is building. Rents rose last year by 9.6 percent, one of the highest increases in the nation, and homelessness is on the rise. Schenirer said he generally opposes rent restrictions, but that city leaders were considering alternatives to protect renters.

Ava and Fernando Nadal, who moved from the East Bay to Sacramento decades ago, lost their home in the Great Recession. Now in their 60s, they are among a group of activists fighting for greater renter protections in Sacramento and statewide — even as they have struggled this year to keep a roof over their heads with rising prices and a low supply of available housing.

“This housing crisis is so real,” said Ava Nadal. “The homeless situation is getting worse, and average people like us can end up in that situation.”

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