Monday, September 27News That Matters

House Hunters Are Leaving the City, and Builders Can’t Keep Up

River Islands, the development where the Namayans hoped to live, is in Lathrop, Calif., which has a population of 25,000. It sits about a half-hour beyond Altamont Pass, whose rolling hills and windmills mark the border between Alameda and San Joaquin Counties. Though technically outside the Bay Area region, Lathrop’s farms and open fields have been steadily supplanted by warehouses and subdivisions as it and nearby cities have become bedroom communities for priced-out workers who commute to the Silicon Valley and San Francisco.

In Livermore, on the eastern side of Alameda County, the typical home value is nearing $1 million, according to Zillow. That falls to $500,000 to $600,000 over the hill in places like Tracy, Manteca and Lathrop. The catch, of course, is that many residents endure draining, multihour commutes.

The pandemic may have upended that economic order, in California and elsewhere. Thousands of families that could afford to do so fled cities last spring, and while some will return, others will not — particularly if they are able to continue to work remotely at least part of the time. One recent study estimated that after the pandemic, one-fifth of workdays would be “supplied remotely” — down from half during the height of the pandemic but far above the 5 percent before it.

If those trends hold, it will make it easier for many workers to live not just in farther-out towns like Lathrop but to abandon high-cost regions like the Bay Area altogether. Midsize cities that for years have tried — usually in vain — to recruit large employers through tax breaks can now attract workers directly.

“If Google moves to Cleveland, that’s great, but if one Googler moves to Cleveland, that’s also great,” said Adam Ozimek, chief economist of Upwork, a freelancing platform.

To some extent, the pandemic accelerated a shift that was already taking place. When the housing bubble burst, members of the millennial generation were in their teens and 20s. Now the oldest of them are turning 40, and about half are married. They are hitting the milestones when Americans have traditionally moved to the suburbs.