The Bay Area has historically been an expensive place to rent.
Between 2000 and 2010, the median rent payment for the nine-county region was relatively stable, with inflation adjusted rent payments increasing by 6% during the decade. However, starting in 2012, inflation-adjusted rents rose each year to record highs, reaching over $2,000 per month in 2019. Between 2010 and 2019, inflation-adjusted median rent payments in the Bay Area increased by 24%. Rents declined in 2020 due to the immense changes in the housing market and economy created by the COVID-19 pandemic. However, that decrease was short lived, and rents started increasing again in 2021.
The Bay Area continues to be one of the nation’s most expensive rental market. One factor contributing to increasingly expensive rents in the region in the past decade is the inadequate supply of rental housing compared to the demand. Demand has been high in recent years with significant growth in high-paying jobs, especially in the technology sector, which enables large numbers of renters to afford higher prices.
Between 2010 and 2021, inflation-adjusted rent payments in both San Mateo and Santa Clara Counties increased by more than 27%
From 1970 to 2021, inflation-adjusted rent payments in the Bay Area increased by 96%, while inflation-adjusted median income only increased by 25%
Historical Trend for Rent Payments
Counties that once were relatively affordable have become less so over time, including highly populated Alameda County.
While high-rent cities have remained expensive, some places previously considered affordable have grown significantly more expensive over time. While many cities in Marin, San Mateo and Santa Clara counties have had the highest rents in the region for decades, most cities in Alameda County have historically had median monthly rent payments that are less than or comparable to the regional median. However, several Alameda County cities experienced among the highest rent increases in the region between 2010 and 2021, with Union City, Livermore, Fremont, Newark and Emeryville seeing growth in rent payments well above 30%. These growth rates are similar to the rapid rent increases seen in Silicon Valley and nearly double the rent increases in San Francisco, though the latter could be due in part to local rent stabilization policies.
In the North Bay, Sonoma and Solano counties are relatively affordable options for Bay Area renters, at about two-thirds of Silicon Valley median rent payments. Although Solano and Sonoma counties continue to be more affordable than other parts of the region, rents began increasing after 2015 after a period of relative stability. Like the rest of the Bay Area, the median monthly rent in both counties decreased in 2020 and went up again in 2021 during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In 2021, San Mateo County had the highest median rent of all Bay Area counties at more than $2,400 per month
In 2021, Solano County had the lowest median rent of all Bay Area counties at close to $1,700 per month
Rent Payments by City and Neighborhood (2021)
The Bay Area remains the nation’s most expensive major metro area for renters.
According to 2021 data, the Bay Area has had the highest median rent payments among major metro areas in the United States since data first became available in the 1970s. Moreover, the gap is widening, with median rent payments growing faster in the Bay Area than in other major metro areas over the last half century. High demand for rental housing, limited supply of rental properties, and gentrification of historically low-income communities has all contributed to higher rents throughout the region, particularly in the urban core.
Rent payments in large metro areas nationwide all followed a similar trend during the COVID-19 pandemic. From 2019 to 2020, rent payments generally decreased, although to varying degrees. During this period, rents in the Bay Area decreased more than they did in other large metro areas. From 2020 to 2021, rent payments generally increased nationwide, again to varying degrees. During this period, rents in the Bay Area increased less than they did in other large metro areas.
In 2021, the San Diego metropolitan area had median rent payment of just over $1,800 per month
Metro Comparison for Rent Payments
Sources & Methodology
Rent data reflects median rent payments rather than list rents (refer to measure definition above). American Community Survey 1-year data is used for larger geographies – Bay counties and most metropolitan area counties – while smaller geographies rely upon 5-year rolling average data due to their smaller sample sizes. Note that 2020 data uses the 5-year estimates because the ACS did not collect 1-year data for 2020.
1970 Census data for median rent payments has been imputed from quintiles using methodology from California Department of Finance as the source data only provided the mean, rather than the median, monthly rent. Metro area boundaries reflects today’s metro area definitions by county for consistency, rather than historical metro area boundaries.
Inflation-adjusted data are presented to illustrate how rent payments have grown relative to overall price increases; that said, the use of the Consumer Price Index (CPI) does create some challenges given the fact that housing represents a major chunk of consumer goods bundle used to calculate CPI. This reflects a methodological tradeoff between precision and accuracy and is a common concern when working with any commodity that is a major component of CPI itself.