The rent chart below is a project I began several years ago — and was an amateur effort based on day-by-day news headlines. As of May 2016, Eric Fischer has done a much more comprehensive and professional job of tabulating historical San Francisco rents in his recent data essay on the relation between rents and incomes. He went all the way back to 1948, and even found numbers from 1920. Eric Fischer is a respected guy. I’m sure his underlying data are good, and he has important insights about the way rents and incomes change together in the city.
At the interpretive level I don’t agree with his assumptions. He’s accepting a couple of supply-side oversimplifications: first, that all new units, whatever their initial cost to builders or occupants, have equal effects on the housing economy — and, second, that advocates for constructing subsidized affordable housing are “really” opposed to all new construction.
Richard Walker’s recent demand-side essay on housing prices provides some counterpoint to that. So does a comment in the thread under the data essay pointing out that eviction data is missing from the picture. And especially, so does the report by Miriam Zuk and Karren Chapple on housing production, with its findings on the extreme slowness of “filtering” for luxury construction — on that aspect see this statement from SFCCHO.
But I don’t have to agree with Mr. Fischer’s politics to respect his data sets. Those can be appreciated as a technical achievement regardless of what political gloss you put on them.
It will be interesting to see what else he or others may do with his data set, which he has kindly posted on GitHub.
And here’s what I posted a while back:
Begun in an attempt to make some kind of point on Twitter, here’s a list of claims published over the years about “the” average San Francisco rent. Many reports linked and quoted here give neighborhood-specific as well as citywide data. For the sake of apples-to-apples comparison I’m presenting only basics: report source (with date of report), date of data, type of apartment, and area covered.
Please send links if you have additions to suggest. Reports mentioned here are the property of their respective authors. No endorsements intended as to the accuracy of claims quoted. The point of this page is just to report who was saying what, when.
Click here for clarifying notes on the differences among asking rents, average rents and “Fair Market Rents”.
|Report source||Date of data
||SF or region?||Studio||1BR||2BR||All apts
|Zumper, nat’l report, via SacBee on 082615||August 2015||SF||$3,500||No||See also CA & national data in rept|
|REIS via Curbed on 7-6-15 (h/t @srslynow)||Unclear – current as of Jul 2015||SF metro area||$2,316||Yes||Ave. (not median) current (not asking) rents, 20+ units|
|Priceonomics on 8-12-15||June 2015||SF||$2,722||$3,452||$4,400||$3,880||Yes||Asking rents via crawler|
|RentJungle||May 2015||10mi of SF||$3,213||$4,385||$3,803||No|
|SFGate 7-25-15*||May 2015||SF||$3,200||$4,400||Includes nostalgia tour of 1895-1985 classifieds|
|Zillow via SF Curbed and cf this followup from Curbed
and this from SFBT (h/t @srslynow)
Bay Area 5 counties
|$4,225 SF only
|RealFacts via SFGate on 5-7-15||1Q 2015||SF||$3,458||No||Asking rents, bldgs of ≥50 units|
|Zumper via SFGate on 3-9-15 and UpOut on 3-5-15||February 2015||$3,460||Yes|
|HUD 2015 FMR data||October 2014||SF County only (This changed.)||$1,256||$1,635||$2,062||No||Laughably tragically lowball|
|Priceonomics on 8-13-14 via Curbed & @tmccormick||June 2014||SF||$2,300||$3,120||$4,000||$3,600||Yes||Asking rents via crawler|
|RealFacts survey via SFGate on 7-16-14||2Q 2014||Bay Area||$2,583 in SF||$3,042 in SF||$4,248 in SF||$2,158 overall, $3,229 in SF||No||Asking rents, bldgs of ≥50 units|
|Zumper via Curbed SF 2-13-14||January 2014||SF||$2,813||$3,925||Yes|
|HUD 2014 FMR data||For 2014||SF, Marin, SMateoCo||$1,956||No||Lowball|
|RealFacts via SJMerc-News 12-29-13||3d Q 2013||SF||$3,096 average||No|
|Trulia via Forbes of 11-5-13||October 2013||SF||$3,250||No|
|Cassidy Turley via SocketSite 10-30-13||October 2013||SF||$2,434||$2,980||$3,266||No||Asking rents.|
|Rentmetrics: 1BR, 2BR||Collected 10-15-13||Within 5mi of SF ctr.||$2,750||$3,887||Yes|
|Apartmentratings.com||Collected 10-14-13||SF||$2,576||$3,079||No||Small samples|
|Zumper via Curbed SF||Posted 09-23-13||SF||$2,713||$4,075||Yes|
quoting Cassidy Turley
|Posted 08-01-13||SF||$2,312||$2,782||“up to” $3,791||$2,899||No||Stunning comments thread re: wealth|
|Priceonomics via SFist||Posted 07-19-13||SF||$2,800||$3,875||Yes|
|City analyst report via SFGate 11-5-13||June 2013||SF citywide||$3,414|
|Zumper via Curbed SF||Posted 03-07-13||SF||$2,700||Yes|
|HUD 2013 FMR data||For 2013||SF, Marin, SMateoCo||$1,795||No||Lowball|
|Census Bureau via SocketSite and SF Examiner 11-14-13||as of 2012||SF||$1,463||No||Rents paid (not asking prices).|
|RealFacts via SFGate||05-09-12||SF||$2,611||$2,663||No|
|City analyst report via SFGate 11-5-13||2012||SF citywide||$3,156|
|HUD 2012 FMR data||For 2012||SF, Marin, SMateoCo||$1,905||No||Lowball|
|SFGate of 8-11-11 quoting RealFacts||2011||SF||$1,801 in bldgs of 50+ units||$2,361 in bldgs of 50+ units||No|
|HUD 2011 FMR data||For 2011||SF, Marin, SMateoCo||$1,833||No||Lowball|
|SFGate of 11-13-10 quoting RealFacts + Marcus & Millichap||3d Q 2010||SF||$2,282 in bldgs of 50+ units; $1,782 in bldgs of 15+ units||No|
|SFGate of 8-11-11 quoting RealFacts||2010||SF||$1,595 in bldgs of 50+ units||No|
|HUD 2010 FMR data||For 2010||SF, Marin, SMateoCo||$1,760||No||Lowball|
|HUD 2009 FMR data||For 2009||SF, Marin, SMateoCo||$1,658||No||Lowball|
|SFGate of 11-13-10 quoting RealFacts||3d Q 2008||SF||Appx. $2,400 in bldgs of 50+ units||No|
|SFBG “Shelter Shuffle” feature||2-12-08||SF||$1,114||No|
|HUD 2008 FMR data||For 2008||SF, Marin, SMateoCo||$1,592||No||Lowball|
|HUD 2007 FMR data||For 2007||SF, Marin, SMateoCo||$1,551||No||Lowball|
|HUD 2006 FMR data||For 2006||SF, Marin, SMateoCo||$1,536||No||Lowball|
|HUD 2005 FMR data||For 2005||SF, Marin, SMateoCo||$1,539||No||Lowball|
|HUD 2000-05 FMR history data||For 2004||SF, Marin, SMateoCo||$1,775||No||Lowball|
|SFBG quoting SF Housing Element||10-22-03||SF||$2,057||No|
|HUD 2000-05 FMR history data||For 2003||SF, Marin, SMateoCo||$1,940||No||Lowball|
|HUD 2000-05 FMR history data||For 2002||SF, Marin, SMateoCo||$1,747||No||Lowball|
|SFRB Affordable Housing Data Book Cost & Affordability Sec., p.4 (“SFRB”)*||2001||SF||$2,400||No||Derived from SF Chron classifieds|
|HUD 2000-05 FMR history data||For 2001||SF, Marin, SMateoCo||$1,459||No||Lowball|
|HUD 2000-05 FMR history data||For 2000||SF, Marin, SMateoCo||$1,362||No||Lowball|
|SFRB (SFChron ads)||1999||SF||$1,995||No|
|SFRB (SFChron ads)||1998||SF||$2,000||No|
|SFRB (SFChron ads)||1997||SF||$1,600||No|
|SFRB (SFChron ads)||1996||SF||$1,350||No|
|SFRB (SFChron ads)||1995||SF||$1,100||No|
|SFRB (SFChron ads)||1994||SF||$1,050||No|
|SFRB (SFChron ads)||1993||SF||$965||No|
|SFRB (SFChron ads)||1992||SF||$990||No|
|SFRB (SFChron ads)||1991||SF||$1,000||No|
|SFRB (SFChron ads)||1990||SF||$975||No|
|SFRB (SFChron ads)||1989||SF||$895||No|
|SFRB (SFChron ads)||1988||SF||$850||No|
|SFBG 2008 “Shelter Shuffle” feature||1988||SF||$450||No|
|SFRB (SFChron ads)||1987||SF||$900||No|
|SFRB (SFChron ads)||1986||SF||$850||No|
|SFRB (SFChron ads)||1985||SF||$750||No|
|SFRB (SFChron ads)||1984||SF||$650||No|
|SFRB (SFChron ads)||1983||SF||$595||No|
|SFRB (SFChron ads)||1982||SF||$595||No|
|SFRB (SFChron ads)||1981||SF||$525||No|
|SFRB (SFChron ads)||1980||SF||$475||No|
|SFRB (SFChron ads)||1979||SF||$435||No|
|SFBG 2008 “Shelter Shuffle” feature||1978||SF||$159||No|
|*Peter Hartlaub’s July 25, 2015 tour of SF Chronicle classifieds has a few sample rents 1895-1985. The 1935 example says “Child welcome.” The 1985 one says “Cat ok”.|
Notes and comments on sources:
– For the run of SFRB data from 1979 through 2001, a lot of that sharp increase in annual rents does make sense because of the Web 1.0 boom. On the other hand, maybe the history of advertising should be considered since these figures were based on SF Chronicle classifieds. Somewhere around the late 1990s wouldn’t the lower-priced, scrappier landlords have been the first to move over to Craigslist, the Bay Guardian, or other cheaper advertising outlets?
Added note 2/13/14: a Twitter exchange with @MarketUrbanism suggests a need to clarify that many (not all) of the commercial/journalistic sources cited below are talking about average asking rents for new tenancies, not average rents paid by ongoing tenants citywide. Calculation methods for different claims about rental rates vary substantially, however, so it’s best to check each cited article for its description of methods. The SFRB study cited for many earlier years’ rent rates was also based on studies of asking rents, though in earlier years there was likely less difference between asking and ongoing rates.
Rent control is only available to tenants in older buildings and our vacancy decontrol system means a private landlord can charge market rate for almost any new tenancy. Accordingly, San Francisco has a two-tier rental economy, with established tenants often paying much less than new ones. Every eviction from a rent-controlled unit moves that unit from the lower tier to the upper one.
Regarding the very different premises that keep the HUD “Fair Market Rents” too low to attract Section 8 landlords easily, I wrote a note on the indignant side that’s linked here from the heading “Lowball“. However, @DPelletiere cautions that the FMRs are not an average of San Francisco rents either. They are “based off of American Community Survey data of units rented in recent years, not all tenancies and not [Section 8] tenancies.” Fair enough. Housing advocates do complain that the FMRs are too low in SF but that’s not the same as saying they reflect a true average.
Further added note 3/14/15: HUD used to issue FMRs for the San Francisco region but the 2015 FMRs are specific to San Francisco County. That means they apply only to the selectively rent-controlled seven-by-seven-mile city itself. They don’t reflect conditions in the surrounding towns, which have neither San Francisco’s rent control laws nor its density.