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The California dream is tough to afford if you're under 40

Katy Murphy, The Mercury News on

Published in Home and Consumer News

Samantha Sprau rents a 450-square-foot studio north of downtown Oakland, Calif., with appliances and gold-speckled laminate that could be decades older than she is.

It costs $1,575 a month.

"It's a ton for one person to pay," said the 27-year-old battery engineer, relies on the grocery-skimping survival skills she learned as a broke undergraduate at San Jose State: snacks for lunch and "lentil soup for days."

"I feel like it shouldn't be so insane that a single professional should be able to afford a studio apartment," she said.

The Bay Area economy is booming, but if you're under 40 or a renter, chances are high that you don't travel or go out to eat much, and you might be cutting back on groceries. A five-county poll conducted for the Silicon Valley Leadership Group and the Mercury News also found that more than one-third of Bay Area apartment renters and one-quarter of residents in their 20s and 30s say they are struggling to afford their housing.

Overall, 19 percent of those surveyed said they were having trouble making their monthly housing payments or rent. But those renting apartments were nearly three times as likely as those living in condominiums to have that problem -- 34 percent compared to 13 percent, the survey found. Fifteen percent of people living in single-family homes, a figure likely to include some renters, were in the same position.

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Over half of the registered voters who responded reported cutting back "a great deal" or "some" on other expenses because of the cost of housing, the survey found. And that was far more common among younger residents and people living in apartments: 79 percent of the renters and the same percentage of residents under 40 reported some level of belt-tightening.

Bay Area residents under 40 were more than three times as likely to report they cut other expenses "a great deal" to cover their housing costs than those over 60, the survey found, and were twice as likely to say that they struggle to afford their housing situation. They also held a less favorable view of where they lived, with just 32 percent being "very satisfied," compared with 48 percent of everyone surveyed.

Among those who said they were dissatisfied, cost was the overwhelming reason for all age groups, followed by a lack of space.

That pattern is consistent with 30 years of survey and economic data that "tell the same story," said Paul Taylor, a former Pew Research Center vice president who explored the generational wealth gap in his new book, "The Next America."


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