I Stayed In the Bay Area During the Pandemic: Here’s What’s Changed In the Last Year

This past year has changed life as we knew it pre pandemic. Globally, we’ve learned and adapted to new terms along the way including what it meant to do the following: ‘shelter in place’, ‘quarantine’ , ‘wearing a mask’, and ‘standing 6ft apart’.

While the bay area remains known for its extreme housing prices, there’s been headlines stating there was an exodus of those leaving for Texas and other states. Did this happen? Was this true?

I’ll write out notable changes from my experience. For context, I’ve lived in the bay area for over 10 years. I am in my 20s. 2020 was the one year that stood out for drastic changes through the course of the last 5 years. 2019 will be the benchmark for the changes.

What has changed:

Traffic: Traffic in 2019 was terrible. If you asked anybody who commuted more than 10 miles in any direction from the bay area (east bay, north bay, south bay, San Francisco or the peninsula) they would agree this was a pain point. During peak traffic hours the travel time would be 2x-3x on average what the travel time would be without traffic. For example, if you were to live in SF and commute to Palo Alto for work, you could be looking at an hour and a half of driving (35 minutes is non traffic travel time). The actual time it takes would also be dependent on which neighborhood you chose to live in in SF. If you lived in North Beach, good luck.

During 2020, traffic was absolutely amazing. There was none.

This article is being written in April 2021 — As California resumes plans to open up, traffic has increased noticeably, though not reaching the levels it had been at previously.

Sunrise: The time I would leave for work

Housing — I’ll break this category into Rent and Buying

Rent: Rent has drastically decreased during the pandemic. Okay, let me actually correct this.

San Francisco rent has drastically decreased during the pandemic.

All other areas have not seen as significant changes. Why is this?

During COVID, people moved out of densely populated areas (cities, apartments) to areas with space (homes, suburbs). It’s hard to shelter in place confined in a 160 square foot room with 5 other roommates. Having a backyard, several rooms, and sidewalks allows tease to stay 6 feet apart by choice.

San Francisco for a city that offers quite the package for safety, transportation and century past homes (being a bit sarcastic here) has extravagant rent. With numbers comparable and exceeding Manhattan rents, roommates were usually the only option to afford rent. I’ve lived in a 2bd/1bath with four others and most recently in a 6 bedroom home with 5 others.

While affording rent was one issue, another was lack of supply to match demand. Housing was competitive — While looking for housing, it was common practice for prospective tenants to determine on the spot to rent a unit. Vacancies were rare.

Around June, rents started to decrease in SF. First it was a mediocre 10%. By the end of the year, rents had dropped 25%-30%. While walking through the city, it’s common to see a ‘For Rent’ sign every 2 blocks.

SF has lost its status of being the most expensive city.

Friends: I lived in the city at the start of 2020. I met friends through friends of friends and coworkers . On weekends pre-pandemic, my schedule would be packed. I would either be traveling or have an event whether it be a house-warming party, birthday celebration or Super Bowl gathering with friends and acquaintances.

In 2021, all friends who had lived in the city have moved out, back home. While some of my old roommates have stayed behind, the majority of people who I have known in the city have left.

On the bright side, this is a new start, an opportunity to rebuild a community that has since left.

Climate: One word: wildfires. While wildfires aren’t unique to the pandemic, it reached a new level in 2020. Between August and October, ash filled the air while the sky turned orange. There was a day where we all woke up to dark skies; As the day resumed, the sky turned progressively darker. I had all lights inside the house on at 11 AM. Meanwhile, work remained as is.

View from my house at 10 AM on that one orange day

Temperature: During the summer of 2020, San Francisco hit record high temperatures. Keep in mind most San Francisco units do not have air conditioning, as the average temperature is ~65 degrees. My 100 year old apartment in SF was not a comfortable living area when the temperature hit 90s. Luckily I survived off of knowing one trick to withstand the heat — close all windows and blinds to maintain a cooler space inside.

While the wildfires are a one off instance, I am a bit nervous to say the least for how 2021 wildfires will be. In the past few years, the wildfires have ranged closely to the bay area. Prior to 2016, I have no recollection of checking AQI and wearing a N95 before stepping outside.

Crime: This is one category that increases in the time of a recession, never mind a pandemic. The pandemic has brought forced businesses to close including restaurants, bars, and retail. With closures, unemployment has followed.

During the first few months of the pandemic, it crime wasn’t noticeable as everyone was forced inside. Counties enforced a 8 AM to 10 PM curfew. The policy allowed people to travel only for essential services outside of these hours.

In April 2021, San Francisco feels tense. If you have the citizen app, you’ll be able to check on status of how things remain in the city.

What hasn’t changed:

People: One noticeable change is less people staring down at phones to avoid conversation. While this is a change in behavior, day to day, the people feel relatively the same in terms of density. There is around the same amount of people who were present pre-pandemic.

Housing —

Buying: Home prices in the suburb has increased during this time. While rent has decreased significantly in SF, housing prices has followed at a relatively lower rate.

In 2020, the sale of units declined. In one particular instance, a friend walked out of a Safeway and was approached by a man selling his apartment. Desperate times call for measure.

Coworkers: When remote working was first introduced, my coworkers were on the edge of the seat for moving elsewhere. While a handful have moved since, the majority have remained in the bay area. Smart decision, as companies have opened since and are rolling out reopening plans.

I’ve considered working remotely. My decision to stay put were heavily weighed by factors including: transportation accessibility, proximity to a medical facility, predictability in travel.

Gas Prices: This hasn’t changed. Roadtrips are expensive — We’re at $4 a gallon…

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