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Notoriously high San Francisco rents are down 25% since the start of the pandemic in March

Average apartment rents in San Francisco have fallen even further, and are now down more than 25 percent since the start of the pandemic, as residents continue to flee large cities.

In November, median rents in San Francisco stood at $2,054 for a one-bedroom apartment and $2,377 for a two-bedroom – down 3.4 percent for the month and 24.5 percent since March, according to data from ApartmentList

It comes as fears of density in the pandemic, harsh lockdown policies, and sharply rising violent crime all contribute to a mass exodus from expensive coastal cities, hollowing out rents. 

Meanwhile, more affordable mid-size cities have seen rental markets heat up, with Boise, Idaho leading the pack with median rents up 9 percent since March – though they are still less than half of the prices in San Francisco.

This chart shows the decline in median rents in San Francisco, California, and the whole country from November of 2019. San Francisco leads the nation in rent declines

Median rent and one-year change in rents for San Francisco are compared to other cities

Median rent and one-year change in rents for San Francisco are compared to other cities

Average apartment rents in San Francisco have fallen even further, and are now down more than 25 percent since the start of the pandemic

Average apartment rents in San Francisco have fallen even further, and are now down more than 25 percent since the start of the pandemic

San Francisco, which saw the earliest city-wide lockdown in the nation and has remained under harsh restrictions, has long been among the most expensive rental markets in the country.

The popularity of widespread remote working policies with the Bay Area’s tech workers, combined with skyrocketing crime and exorbitant rents, has led many to flee the city.

For the year through November, murder in San Francisco is up 43 percent and burglary is up 46 percent compared to the same time last year, according to SFPD data.

The trends in San Francisco have played out in other major cities as well.

In New York, median rents for a two-bedroom apartment have dropped 18 percent since March, to $1,649.

In Seattle, rents were down 19.1 percent and in Boston they dropped 18.2 percent.

Other cities that saw the steepest declines included Chicago, Minneapolis, Washington DC, San Jose and Oakland in California, and Arlington, Virginia.

Median rents are compared with change in rents since the start of the pandemic, showing that the cities with the highest rents have seen the steepest declines

Median rents are compared with change in rents since the start of the pandemic, showing that the cities with the highest rents have seen the steepest declines

The ten cities with the steepest decline in rents since the pandemic began are listed

The ten cities with the steepest decline in rents since the pandemic began are listed

Trends in rental growth this year are compared with the prior two years in this chart

Trends in rental growth this year are compared with the prior two years in this chart

Meanwhile, the rental market continues to heat up in more affordable mid-sized cities in the Midwest and South, as workers with the option to work from home seek more space in safer, less dense environments.

‘As many of us continue to spend the majority of our time at home, it is unsurprising that some are now seeking out new locations where they can afford more space,’ ApartmentList’s analysts write.

Following Boise, Chesapeake in Virginia saw median two-bedroom rents rise the most since March, up 8.4 percent to $1,371.

Other cities that saw the sharpest growth in rents included Greensboro, North Carolina; Toledo, Ohio; Albuquerque, New Mexico; Memphis, Tennessee; Chula Vista, California and Reno, Nevada.

‘While we may be seeing the early signs of renters making housing choices independent of where their jobs are located, many of the cities with the fastest rent growth are still within commuting distance of larger job centers,’ the analysts wrote.

For example, Greensboro is within a 90 minute commute of Charlotte and Chula Vista is a nearby suburb of San Diego.

Suburban cities have seen modest increases in rents while they declined in major cities

Suburban cities have seen modest increases in rents while they declined in major cities

The ten cities with the largest increase in rents since March are seen above

The ten cities with the largest increase in rents since March are seen above

‘This trend may indicate that even workers who are planning for a permanent shift toward remote work still value the option to go into the office when needed,’ the analysts write. 

Many of the shifts in housing patterns may also have been out of necessity, as workers laid off in the pandemic were forced to downgrade their living arrangements.

As the economy slowly recovers and vaccines eventually put an end to the pandemic, some of the trends may reverse. 

‘At the same, there is evidence that a growing embrace of remote work will outlast the pandemic, which could significantly alter the housing choices of workers in these flexible arrangements,’ the analysts note. 

‘Amid this backdrop, we’re seeing a sharp dropoff in demand for expensive rental units in cities like San Francisco and New York, while more affordable midsize cities such as Boise are continuing to heat up.’


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