Bay Area workers priced out of housing market, opt for hours-long commutes

Kristy Ross leaves her apartment in Tracy every day before dawn to get to her job at the Alameda County Office of Education in Hayward. The 25-year-old Bay Area native says she spends anywhere from three to four hours in her car commuting. She says if she leaves late her whole day could be thrown off.

“If I leave at 6 then there's a good chance I'll be early and not stuck in traffic,” say Ross of her 40-mile commute. “But if I push it past 6:15 then there's a good chance I'll be late and I'm going to be sitting in more traffic.

Regional transportation officials say rising housing prices are forcing more people to seek relief by living in less expensive areas just outside the nine county Bay Area. The Metropolitan Transportation Commission says since 2000, daily congestion per commuter has increased by 65 percent while the population has increased 15 percent. It says employment during that period is up 12 percent. Analysts say while some are choosing to live farther away, others are choosing to leave the area completely.

Ross said it was a wakeup call for her realizing she would not be able to afford to live in the city where she grew up.

“I definitely didn't think when growing up that I would have to move out of Fremont and have never been given the chance to live there,” Ross said.

Ross said she and her boyfriend, who live together, tried finding places in Fremont, Livermore, Newark, and other cities closer to her job with no luck.

“It just kind of felt like waves,” Ross said. “Oh I can’t be in Fremont? OK that's weird’ and then ‘Oh I can't be in Union City or Newark or Hayward?’ Then I just felt lost in trying to find a place.”

To make matters worse, transportation planners say most people who commute from farther distances drive to and from work which makes their commutes particularly crowded.

Ross and her boyfriend said they have considered leaving the state in hope of finding a more sustainable lifestyle but are staying put for now. Relocating may only offer partial relief though. According to new census data, the problem isn’t confined to the Bay Area. Commute times were up across the country in 2017 when compared to 2016 commutes.