A new study says there's no more affordable place to live in the entire country than Bakersfield, though another report out Wednesday shows a different side of the picture: The poorest local residents are seeing their housing costs rise as the wealthiest watch theirs fall.
Bakersfield residents earning the minimum wage of $11 per hour need to work just 20 hours per week to pay the $725 average monthly rent for a one-bedroom apartment plus utilities averaging $208.18, according to a study released Wednesday by professional-moving website Move.org.
By that same measure, Fresno is the second-most affordable city in the country, followed by No. 3 Toledo, Ohio.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, San Francisco came in as the least affordable city in the United States, where minimum-wage-earning residents must work 56 hours per week to make rent and utilities totaling $2,647.31 per month.
Disparity between rich and poor
But the image of Bakersfield as an especially affordable place to live was complicated by another study released Wednesday concluding housing cost trends are very different for wealthy as compared with the poor.
The report by online rental marketplace ApartmentList.com found housing costs for Bakersfield residents earning more than the national median income have fallen 11 percent between 2008 and 2017. But it said local residents making less than that median wage have seen their housing costs rise 4 percent during the same period.
It went on to say the poorest one-quarter of Bakersfield residents make 72 percent less than the local median, defined as the point at which half make more and half earn less. But despite that sizable difference in income, housing costs paid by that same share of the local population are just 18 percent lower than the median.
The explanation offered by the company was that homeownership has become more affordable while the cost of renting has increased.
Bakersfield real estate investor and broker Frank St. Clair noted other parts of the country actually offer less expensive housing — rents in the South and the Midwest are generally much lower. But because California has a higher minimum wage, the study's methodology favors Bakersfield's affordability.
He estimated lower-echelon rent prices in Bakersfield increased 20 percent or more during ApartmentList.com's study period, accounting for some of the website's conclusions.
St. Clair also pointed out that the median price of local single-family homes was still falling in 2008 during the aftermath of the housing crash, when the website's study period began. They still haven't fully recovered, which would explain why the report states upper-income families' housing costs are down, he said.
Bakersfield real estate agent Mark A. Thurston, senior vice president of ASU Commercial, said local affordability is evident in rents as low as $425 in some parts of town. Even the city's most expensive apartments go for no more than $1,750 per month, he said.
As for why rent prices have risen in recent years, he blamed high apartment-development costs. Land is expensive, construction costs are up and increasingly demand regulations make multi-family an unattractive option for developers, he said.
It comes down to supply and demand, he said.
"The supply has not increased and yet the demand for housing continues to grow and grow," he said.
Here's a link to the affordability report's findings: https://www.move.org/least-livable-us-cities-for-minimum-wage-earners/
The study on the disparity in housing costs between rich and poor can be found here: https://www.apartmentlist.com/rentonomics/housing-markets-and-income-inequality/