Six-hour round-trip commutes for Frisco woman priced out of affordable housing

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jserraglio
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Six-hour round-trip commutes for Frisco woman priced out of affordable housing

Post by jserraglio » Sun Aug 20, 2017 6:43 pm

The New York Times

STOCKTON, Calif. — Sheila James starts her Monday, and the workweek, at 2:15 a.m. This might be normal for a baker or a morning radio host, but Ms. James is a standard American office worker.
She is 62 and makes $81,000 a year as a public health adviser for the United States Department of Health and Human Services in San Francisco. Her early start comes because San Francisco is one of the country’s most expensive metropolitan areas. Ms. James lives about 80 miles away in Stockton, which has cheaper homes but requires her to commute on two trains and a bus, leaving at 4 a.m.
Plenty of office workers get up at 5 a.m. or a bit before, but 2:15 is highly unusual.
“Two-fifteen is early enough that some people are still having their evening,” she said on a (very) early morning. But she likes to take her time and have coffee. She keeps the lights low and the house quiet and Zen-like. “I just can’t rush like that,” she said.
When the second alarm goes off at 3:45 — a reminder to leave for the train in 15 minutes — her morning shifts from leisure to precision.
It is a seven-minute drive to the station, where she catches the Altamont Corridor Express train.
It takes her four minutes to find parking and walk to the platform, where she waits for the train on the same rectangle each day with her roller bag and floral print lunch bag. When the 4:20 train pulls in, she is in front of her preferred door, and she walks to the rear-facing seat that she favors.
“It’s like school,” she said.
ACE ridership has doubled over the past decade, to about 2,500 people a day, though the figure is still dwarfed by the number who commute by car from San Joaquin County to the Bay Area. On that recent early morning, as the train wound toward the Altamont Pass, traffic was already forming on the freeway outside the window.
While drivers sat alert and watched the road, the train looked more like a red-eye flight. Blankets, pillows, earplugs, eyeshades. The few people who were not sleeping distracted themselves with smartphones, laptops and the occasional printed book.
One thing people did not do was talk. Even outside the quiet car, there were few audible conversations.
That was starting to change by the time the train pulled into the Pleasanton station. The sun was rising over a bus that waited on the other side of the station’s parking lot.
Ms. James and a crowd of other commuters crossed the parking lot to the bus, which was headed to the Bay Area Rapid Transit station. As the bus idled and waited for stragglers, a woman urged the driver to get going so she could make her next train.
“It’s amazing how this commute makes infants of adults,” Ms. James said.
Ms. James used to live closer, in Alameda, Calif., about 15 miles across San Francisco Bay from her work. But three years ago, after a developer bought her building and evicted Ms. James and her neighbors, she moved to Stockton.
Stockton has more for the money: Ms. James pays $1,000 a month in rent for her three-bedroom house, compared with $1,600 for the one-bedroom apartment she had in Alameda. She can work from home some of the time, so she now has a home office with a desk and a computer, as opposed to the “home corner” she had in her apartment.
The trade-off is a brutal commute.
Long commutes are a byproduct of the region’s tech boom, which has given rise to a full-blown housing crisis. As home prices have escalated beyond middle-class reach, areas far inland have become an oasis of (relative) affordability. Ms. James wakes up in a city where the median home price is below $300,000, according to the online real estate database company Zillow. Prices rise steadily along her commute until she gets off her last train in San Francisco, where a typical home costs more than $1 million.
As more people move inland, home prices are rising faster in the Central Valley than anywhere else in the state: In San Joaquin County (which includes Stockton) and neighboring Merced County, prices are up about 12 percent in the last year.
Prices are so high, and people are commuting so far, that gentrification has moved well beyond prime city neighborhoods to secondary cities and even far-reaching suburbs. “Oakland used to be a relatively affordable city where homes were $500,000 three years ago,” said Svenja Gudell, chief economist at Zillow. “Now, it’s almost $700,000, and I can guarantee you incomes have not kept up with that.”
This is already hurting the economy, according to Christopher Thornberg, founding partner of Beacon Economics, a consulting firm. California job growth has slowed considerably over the past year, in part because high housing costs have made it harder for employers to fill jobs. “You can’t have more jobs than bodies,” Mr. Thornberg said.
When Ms. James’s bus arrived at the BART stop, people ran and scootered across an overpass to the station. But Ms. James was not one of them: Just as with her morning routine, she took her time and walked slowly.
About 50,000 commuters leave San Joaquin County each day for jobs in the Bay Area, a figure that has rebounded to its pre-recession peak, according to Jeffrey Michael, director of the Center for Business and Policy Research at the University of the Pacific in Stockton. And that has given Stockton one of the nation’s highest concentrations of “extreme commuters” who travel 90 or more minutes to work.
Long commutes are, of course, not unique to Northern California. The number of commuters who travel 90 or more minutes to work is almost 3 percent nationwide. But the phenomenon is even more evident in the Bay Area, where the numbers rose to nearly 5 percent from 3 percent in just three years, according to an analysis of census data by the Brookings Institution. In Stockton, 8 percent of commuters travel 90 minutes or more.
Ms. James could get up at 3:50 and bolt out the door. But she likes having a leisurely morning of the sort she had in Alameda, and she clings to that routine by getting up extra early.
Sometimes she gets off the BART train before her usual stop so she can walk a few more blocks to work, though not this day. Just before 7 a.m., when the train arrived at her final stop at San Francisco’s Civic Center, Ms. James allowed herself an indulgence. She skipped the stairs and took the escalator.
“It’s these little things you have to give yourself,” she said.
Ms. James then began the last leg of her journey: a three-minute walk from the station to her job at the Federal Building.
Facing the day ahead, she was mindful that it would end with another three-hour commute that would deliver her home 12 hours later.
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lennygoran
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Joined: Tue Mar 27, 2007 9:28 pm
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Re: Six-hour round-trip commutes for Frisco woman priced out of affordable housing

Post by lennygoran » Sun Aug 20, 2017 8:48 pm

I'll have to show this to my wife-her commute when she taught was from Maplewood NJ to Brooklyn--I think she'd have to admit this Frisco woman's is worse. Regards, Len

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