LA during the pandemic: Who’s moving in, who’s moving out, and why

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The pandemic has forced creativity in the way businesses are run. You could be on a Zoom meeting thousands of miles away from corporate headquarters, or you could broadcast a radio show from the corner of your living room. 

What does that freedom mean to the job market or housing market? Who’s leaving LA because they can live more affordably elsewhere while doing the same job? Who’s coming to LA because they can now live and work here? 

KCRW speaks with Ben Bergman, senior reporter for dot.LA

KCRW: Why are some Angelenos leaving LA right now? Is it too expensive? Are there too many fires? Is it climate change?  

Ben Bergman: It's really all of the above. But it's mostly that it's too expensive. I talked to a lot of people who, by a lot of standards, are making a lot of money. They're in tech, and they're making well above the median income for LA. 

In one person's case, she had recently moved to Venice Beach to an apartment where she was paying over $3,000 a month for a one bedroom apartment. She could walk to the beach, she could walk to her tech company office on Abbot Kinney. But then the pandemic struck and she was stuck at home. So she moved for what she thought would be a temporary stay with her family in Las Vegas. But she ended up liking it so much that she bought a house there. And now she's paying a mortgage of $2,000 a month. She has a pool, a hot tub, a half acre of land. She has enough room for her own dance room. Suddenly, she doesn't need to be in California, so she's able to buy a big house in Las Vegas. And for the first time in a long time, she doesn't feel financially stretched. And that means much less stress for her.”

People leaving LA because of rising housing prices or long commutes isn’t new, right? 

“This has been a trend for a couple years. There has been a net outflow of residents from California, going to cheaper cities like Las Vegas, like Phoenix, like Sacramento, where they can buy a house, which they can't do here. But what COVID has done is accelerated these trends because people aren't tethered to their jobs anymore. So they've been thinking about it for a while. And they say, ‘Well, if I can work from anywhere, why am I living in a tiny, expensive apartment in LA when I can buy a house in Las Vegas or Phoenix?’” 

But some workers are leaving cities like San Francisco or New York and moving to LA. What is attracting them here?

“I talked to a lot of people who are fleeing LA because of the housing prices. More people are leaving LA. Over 10,000 people left in July alone. 

But there's also people from New York or San Francisco who see LA as a big bargain in terms of housing prices. And I think we could certainly argue it also offers a better standard of living. 

 So I talked to a CFO from New York, and he's always wanted to trade Manhattan for Manhattan Beach. But he couldn't because his wife works in advertising and she had to go into the office every day. But now that she doesn't have to go in everyday, they finally were able to realize the dream they've had for 20 years and move to California. So people say, ‘If I can work from anywhere, I might as well have the beach and the sunshine of LA. And if I'm coming from those expensive cities, I'm probably paying less for rent.’”

Housing prices in LA have been rising. So most of the workers who are migrating here are in a higher socioeconomic bracket, right? 

“There's less houses being sold in Southern California, and so there's so little inventory that what is on the market is very expensive. I talked to a real estate agent who said that when COVID first happened, she said, ‘Oh, no, my business is done. This is going to be horrible for real estate.’ But she's actually the busiest she's been in 16 years. She's seen bidding wars and all sorts of crazy stuff happen that she hasn't seen happen for a long time. And she says a lot of people calling her are from New York. She used to get maybe one call a month from New York. Now it's every week, and she's having to turn down clients. But this is only in a certain part of the market. And it's especially concentrated on the Westside. For all these people I talked to, they're all kind of moving to the same places, like Manhattan Beach, Venice, Santa Monica, and Marina Del Rey.”  

How will this migration affect LA as a whole? 

“I think, unfortunately, it does make LA more bifurcated, by increasing the gulf between the haves and the have-nots that was already very substantial. I would also say that there has been this net outflow of residents from LA for quite some time, but that's been offset to a certain extent by immigration. And right now you're seeing barely any immigration. So that is also having a big effect.”