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'It's so much better here': Tenants who followed Bay Area landlord to Colorado aren't looking back

Louis Hansen, The Mercury News on

Published in Business News

The first snow dusted Colorado Springs in late October.

Tony Hicks -- San Jose resident for 37 years, Colorado Springs landlord for 4 months -- didn't take it as a sign he made the wrong move.

"It's so much better here. It is nicer, cleaner," said Hicks, a 58-year-old retired engineer and landlord. He sold his three San Jose rental homes this year, bought a half-dozen houses in Colorado Springs, and moved his family, along with several willing and eager tenants, to the Rockies.

"I've moved out of Hades and moved into heaven," said Mike Leyva, a retired Santa Clara County employee who rented from Hicks and moved with him.

About 70,000 residents have left Santa Clara County, Calif., over the last five years -- making it one of the more popular spots in the country to flee. The relentless job growth of the region's tech sector has driven a net population gain. But the longing to leave is pushing young professionals seeking to buy a home, start a family, shorten their commutes and drink cheaper cups of coffee to other parts of California and western states like Colorado.

And for those on fixed incomes or in low-paid jobs, moving can be a financial necessity. The median rent in November for a two-bedroom apartment in San Jose was $2,630, according to Apartment List.

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Hicks and his tenants took the unusual step of moving together. This news organization profiled the group in February as they prepared for the big departure. One reader, Jeff Heuser, was inspired to meet Hicks and join the exodus.

Hicks had had enough of the Bay Area -- growing traffic, the homeless population, liberal politics and high prices -- and looked for an out. He broke the news to his tenants, expecting them to be upset. Instead, about 10 men and women asked to come along.

"Tony asked me and I said, 'Let's go!' " said Dan Harvey, 60, a long-time tenant who was tired of the Bay Area's high prices and frustrated by the traffic.

They left Santa Clara County -- median home price $1.2 million -- for Colorado Springs -- median home price $284,000. The cost of living is roughly half of what the tenants, many of whom are on fixed incomes, faced in the Bay Area.

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