For renters, the new normal: lower expectations and shrinking apartments

Gabriel Rodarte grew up in San Jose and has worked there for 30 years as a mailman for the U.S. Postal Service.

Making his rounds, he says, “I see it all. I see three families living inside one small apartment, or total strangers who share a room. None of them stay very long; they can’t afford it.”

Neither can Rodarte. He earns nearly $60,000 a year, but his apartments keep getting smaller. Dodging the region’s skyrocketing rents for the last five years, he now rents a room from a friend for $400 a month and feels “trapped. That’s where I’m at — I feel like I’m the working poor. It’s just ridiculous when you can’t afford to live in the place where you grew up.”

A generation of tenants now sees itself as rent-poor, with every last dime doled out for gas, groceries and the landlord. Renters struggle throughout the Bay Area.  In San Jose, the median monthly rent for a two-bedroom apartment is now $2,550, far above the national average of $1,560.  A similar two-bedroom flat can cost even more elsewhere: $3,080 in Walnut Creek and $4,910 in Cupertino, according to a recent report.

As the Bay Area’s economy booms, and as the tech sector continues to expand, this is the new normal for those on the margins: shrinking expectations and shrinking apartments. Nearly 40 percent of working adults in the Bay Area are now “doubled up” with roommates in order to afford rent, according to a study from Zillow.

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