Next great *affordable* city/town/neighborhood?

Hello BPN Community,

I'm in a situation that I'm guessing many of us are finding ourselves in.  I and my 4-year old son currently live in Oakland but the cost of living/housing in the area is so daunting that I am thinking of moving in the next year to be able to put down some roots in a more economically feasible area and avoid changing schools down the road. I'm wistful for the days when Oakland was the hidden gem of the Bay Area. Does anyone know of any up-and-coming places to live? I would love to find a place where rent isn't so insane that I could eventually save enough to purchase a house in the same area, but I'm not sure that place exists. Off the top of my head I'm wondering about San Leandro and El Cerrito (rents there seem a little less than what I'm seeing in Alameda/Berkeley/Oakland right now).  Any feedback would be greatly appreciated!

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El Cerrito for sure in my mind. Much more affordable but still close to all the great things in the area. Also check out the Richmond Annex area-it is pretty small but because of the Richmond address the prices are lower but very little crime and still close to all that is great about the Bay Area. Also the Richmond Annex area goes to El Cerrito schools which are rated middle of the road but I have friends that have kids in the schools there and love it. 

The answer is Richmond! 

We've lived in the Richmond Annex for almost ten years, and own a house there that is much more affordable than similar places in the East Bay.  And we love it.  Richmond has a reputation of being dangerous, but crime has gone way down in the last decade -- I personally had more problems when we lived in Temescal.  Our neighborhood is very friendly, progressive, and truly diverse (including economically diverse).  The shopping isn't great, and there's not much fine-dining (amazing casual Latin American and Asian places though), but as long as you have a car or live close to one of the three Bart stations in the area (EC Plaza, EC Del Norte, Richmond), you'll be fine.  Richmond is also amazingly progressive: we're a sanctuary city, elected a Green mayor, had the first openly gay police chief, pioneered community policing programs, and so on. 

Check out Point Richmond (though that part is quite expensive), the Annex, the North and East neighborhood, and the Marina (lots of rental housing there).  Message me if you have questions!

I am a homeowner in El Cerrito, and what I hear from my local renter friends is that it is not affordable (any more). I'd suggest looking to Richmond (maybe Marina Bay), Pinole, or Hercules. Also investigate if you qualify for affordable housing developments in the various cities you're considering (income limits vary by county). Some of them are very nice and well situated.

I would check out San Ramon.  The community is diverse, the public schools are fantastic, it is safe and a family oriented community.  San Ramon has apartments but they also have very affordable townhouses and free standing homes.  The town houses are much less expensive than the free standing homes.  El Cerrito and San Leandro do not have as good public schools and are not as safe as San Ramon.  San Ramon is only 25 minutes from Oakland.

Dear JC5,

My husband and I were in the same boat as you about a year ago. We had been living in the Gold Coast neighborhood of Oakland's Lake Merritt and loved it, but was not affordable for us to grow our family there. We ended up moving to San Leandro's Old Downtown neighborhood which is definitely more affordable than our old Oakland neighborhood and still has a lot of charm.  I really feel like this is the next hidden spot that is still affordable. We live walking distance to the downtown shops, restaurants and a weekly farmers market.  We have met several of our neighbors that have moved into this area from Oakland in the past 5 years on average. So, I get the feeling that it is slowly becoming discovered.  By writing this post I risk making it more discoverable, but at the same time we are always excited to meet new neighbors here that are like minded. One word of caution would be to avoid the Bayfair District of San Leandro which tends to be the sketchier part of town. Good luck!

We live in Pinole after ten years in Oakland and are very happy here.  It was a big culture shock at first, we accidentally called the police on the paper boy because a decade in Oakland told us that a man going slowly from house to house at 4 am was up to no good.  I don't know about your price point, but I think you can rent a nice 3 bedroom house around here for $2600 and a 2 bedroom apartment for around $1900.  Small houses like ours seem to be selling for around $500-550k.  It's cheaper because the commute to the city is awful, but my husband commutes to Berkeley and it's not bad.  I have a reverse commute to Solano County and that is smooth as butter.  Pinole is a great place for kids.  There are awesome parks and a lot of nature and in general it's just very chill and safe.  We have a newly built Sprouts, a Trader Joe's, a third wave coffee place, a weekly farmer's market, and a bunch of mom and pop restaurants.  There are not a lot of cultural opportunities though, and we still head into Berkeley/Oakland at least once a week.  As far as schools, I toured Ellerhorst Elementary (a 7 on Great Schools) and talked to a lot of people in the neighborhood and people raved about it.  I have no idea what we'll do for middle/high school since their reputations aren't great, but they are both newly rebuilt and who knows what they will be like by then.  In general, I think that Pinole is a "hidden gem" in the Bay Area because driving through on the freeway makes it look like just a bunch of big-box stores, but it's so much more. When we wanted to buy we just kept driving up 80 until we could afford something, but now that we're here I've turned into a Pinole booster! Good luck with your search!    

We love El Cerrito and there are definitely many young families moving here from Berkeley and Oakland in order to get larger homes and access to the public schools. However housing inventory is low and prices have gone up as a result so affordable is relative. Our neighbors across the street just sold their home for $140k over list price! If you get the right location you have access to some great public schools and the town is small enough that it has a community feel - my kids are always running into kids they know at classes and summer camps. 

One hidden gem if you are willing to go further North is Hercules. We just bought a relatively affordable condo out there for my mother-in-law and they are adjacent to   a highly ranked elementary school (both her neighbors have young children and moved out there for affordable housing and decent schools). They feel very safe and find the area beautiful and friendly. Our next door neighbors in El Cerrito who had been renting their home but just had a baby also elected to leave and buy a place in Hercules, and I have heard of others doing the same. So I think that is a city that is up and coming for families. 

West Contra Costa County! We moved to Pinole in 2013 and are now very happily settled in with our 8-month-old daughter, planning to stay here for a long while. We feel like it's perfectly situated on the line between semi-rural (we have hiking trails in the hills behind our development, and neighbors with horses) and semi-urban (there's an independent coffeeshop downtown, a commuter bus that runs to Del Norte BART, a Saturday farmer's market, and very talented community theater). My husband commutes to Berkeley for work, which has good days and bad days, but is generally manageable. And when we are craving more culture, Berkeley and San Francisco are easy to get to. I can definitely feel the place shifting as more young professionals get priced out of Berkeley/Oakland -- the elementary schools are OK, middle and high school are by report not-so-great, but I would not be surprised if they look very different in 10 years.

Hope this helps. Happy to answer any more questions if you've got them!

I wanted to chime in and give my vote for Hercules too. We moved here from Albany and have been extremely happy. We have a five year old and have met other young families. We've done lots of classes at the Park and Rec and there are wonderful programs at the library. It is peaceful and pretty. Having grown up in the inner Bay Area it was hard for us to accept being priced out of everything from Oakland to Richmond Annex but now I'm glad: Hercules has turned it to be a real gem. Pinole is lovely too.