One of the things Stockton has that other larger cities in the state do not is relatively affordable housing. You can buy a good sized three bedroom house for the amount it costs to pay rent in a studio basement apartment in San Francisco. Our lower cost of living is one of the big reasons why bay area commuters flocked to our sparkling new subdivisions; they got more bang for their buck. But just because housing is cheaper here than the Bay Area overall does not necessarily mean that living in Stockton is cheaper for its residents.
In fact, San Francisco turns out to be a more affordable place to live than Stockton.
I realize that this is a counterintuitive statement, but hear me out. According to data from the American Communities Survey (ACS), the average Stockton household commits a higher percentage of their annual income to housing and transportation costs than their counterparts in San Francisco and the Bay Area. While housing in Stockton is very reasonable compared to other cities, our single-zoned and sprawling growth creates extra costs that largely neutralize any financial savings accrued from cheaper housing. Sure, the average Stocktonian’s rent might be much less compared to someone in the bay area, but the fact that we have to drive far and often means that we spend a greater percentage of our income overall on housing and transportation than the average Bay Area resident.
Here’s how we know this is true. Take a look at these maps below provided by the Center for Neighborhood Technology (CNT).
The map above breaks down Stockton into two areas: neighborhoods where households spend less than 30% of their income on housing (yellow) and those where households spend over 30% (blue). According to CNT, 30% of a household’s annual income spent on housing is the threshold that is considered “affordable.” You can see that there are several neighborhoods in Stockton where housing costs are relatively affordable for the average Stockton household. In fact, as a whole, Stockton residents spend about 28% of their income on housing, not a bad number, especially for California.
Unfortunately, once you consider transportation costs, living in Stockton becomes much less affordable. Take a look
As you can see, Stocktonians commit a huge chunk of their annual income to driving. The blue areas (pretty much everywhere) indicate where residents spend over 15% of their annual income on transportation, which includes commuting as well as day-to-day expenses. According to CNT, 15% of annual household income is the threshold for affordable transportation expenses. Shockingly, Stocktonians on average spend a whopping 26% of their income on transportation, nearly as much as is spent on housing. By comparison, Bay Area residents spend about 18% of their income on transportation, and San Franciscans spend just 12%. This disproportionate spending on transportation appears to be a problem throughout the Central Valley. In Modesto, residents spend 27% of their income on transportation. In Fresno, it’s 29%. In Bakersfield, it’s 30%.
When transportation costs are combined with housing costs, you can see that Stockton turns out to be less affordable thanks to the amount of time spent driving.
When these two expenses are added together, Stocktonians spend about 54% of their income on housing and transportation. Bay area residents as a whole spend 48%. Oakland residents spend 41%. San Franciscans spend 40%. It is important to keep in mind that these comparisons are made based on a percentage of each city’s average annual household income, not the total actually spent. Still, it’s pretty remarkable that the average Central Valley household spends a significantly higher percentage of their income on housing and transportation than those living in the Bay Area.
Why is this important? Because the more money we spend on gas, the less disposable income we have to spend on groceries, movie tickets, restaurants, shopping, sporting events, etc. The money spent filling our tanks and repairing our cars could be better spent on local goods and services. Instead, money that could have gone to a few extra nights out with friends or a day at the mall is spent on gas that probably came from overseas.
Stocktonians will probably always spend a larger than normal amount of income on transportation as our city has been built around the automobile for the last 60 years. However, this doesn’t mean that moving forward our planning decisions need to maintain this pattern of forced car dependency. We already know that the city of Stockton can’t afford more sprawl, and it turns out Stocktonians can’t afford it either.