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Most SF millennials still can’t afford to buy a home

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Despite region’s wealth, younger homeownership rate is a fraction of what it is elsewhere

An aerial photo of rooftops in SF, with a line of trees visible in the foreground and a forested hilltop in the distance. Via Shutterstock

Millennials largely got dealt a bad hand in America’s economic game, but San Francisco is supposed to be the big exception, the Silicon Valley mecca where twenty- and thirtysomething tech sets can pull down six figures and a trendy condo.

It turns out that younger people are significantly less likely to own a home in SF than elsewhere, at least according to Apartment List data, which compiled figures about generational homeownership potentially busted a few myths about being a Bay Area Millennial.

Sorting through census estimates, Apartment List singled out households headed by millennials and calculated the percentage that are owner-occupied compared to previous generations. For these purposes, millennials are people born between 1981 and 1996, Generation X born between 1965 and 1980, and baby boomers born between 1946 and 1964.

Nationally, millennials are the least likely to own homes right now. However, the study notes that millennial homeownership is growing and increases reliably every year.

The study is not granular enough to single out individual regions, so Curbed SF asked Apartment List’s blogger Rob Warnock what the figures look like for San Francisco. Here are some of the regional findings he reported.

  • The contrast in SF is stark compared to national trends: In 2019, 43 percent of millennials owned a home in the U.S., but in SF it’s just 25 percent. This despite the Bay Area’s reputation as a hub for high-paying jobs aimed at often younger workers.
  • In SF, at least 60 percent of the population as a whole rent rather than own (it varies from year to year), but millennial homeowner numbers are low even by SF standards. For comparison, 55 percent of Generation X hold a deed in the city, and so do 80 percent of baby boomers.
  • It’s not a question of age: 31 percent of SF millennials ages thirty and up own a home, while 41 percent of Generation X bought a home in their thirties, and 44 percent of baby boomers at the same age.
  • Although homeownership is comparably rare in SF versus the U.S. average, it becomes more common in older generations. Nationally, 80 percent of baby boomers owned a home in their seventies and in SF the rate is exactly the same and slightly higher (82 percent) in the wider Bay Area. In their fifties, 71 percent of Generation X own a home in the U.S., but in SF that number dips to 63 percent. And millennials in their thirties have a 48 percent homeowner rate nationally, versus just 31 percent in the city.

What the census figures do not reveal is why younger people are less likely to own homes in SF compared to their forebears. Though the fact that a “starter home” is San Francisco is still astronomically priced might have something to do with it.