While the housing crisis scares potential homebuyers and renters nationwide, it’s particularly acute in the Bay Area.
The decades-long Silicon Valley boom, coupled with an infamous state housing shortage and a pandemic housing rush, have combined to make the region one of the least economically accessible in the U.S.
Greg Magofña, 38, the director of development for a housing justice nonprofit, hoped to help change that by running for Berkeley City Council on a platform that prioritized innovative housing solutions.
This week, he withdrew from the race, not because he gave up on his ideals, but because he couldn’t afford to stay in the city.
“It is with a very heavy heart that I announce that I am ending my campaign for Berkeley City Council,” he wrote on his campaign site on Thursday. “My roommate is moving within the year and I am now priced out.”
Magofña says that his roommate decided to move out after realizing he would never be able to buy a house in their downtown neighborhood. Using a home price tracker feature in the San Francisco Chronicle, he plugged in their address and saw the app spit out $1.5 million as the average home price in the area.
“We both just had a realization that we have professional jobs, we’re both working hard, but there’s no way either of us will afford to stay,” he told Fortune.
The anxiety spread after he saw another statistic online attributed to a local real estate firm showing the median home sale price in Berkeley increased 19% over the past year, to $1.9 million. Online real estate marketplace Zillow reports that the average home price in Berkeley is around—$1.7 million, representing a 15% increase since last year.
“It sends a message to people who don't have that much money that you're not welcome here,” he says.
Magofña says he lived alone for a decade before moving in with his roommate, a close friend from college, to combat loneliness at the start of the pandemic. With the friend leaving, he wanted to live alone again, but found that he couldn’t locate a single one bedroom in Berkeley that fit his $1,500 budget.
“I’ve explored options and none make sense,” he wrote on his campaign site. “As a 38 y.o. director at a nonprofit, I don’t want a random roommate in an overpriced rental. I also cannot afford a 1 bd in the district, let alone in the entire city, without struggling and, at this point in my life, I will not.”
Though he spent his childhood in Hawaii, Magofña moved to the Bay Area in high school when his father, then an active member of the military, was stationed there. He says that his interest in housing justice began after college at UC Berkeley with a stint as an AmeriCorps volunteer in San Francisco’s Mission district. The organization provided him with a stipend that placed him right above the poverty line—an experience he says wiped out the little savings he had.
Observing the ways the city fails its residents that live both below and right above the poverty line, Magofña found himself wondering: “What kind of housing are we trying to build for the future?” The question has been his guiding star throughout his career.
One of his proposals, which he didn’t have the chance to formally publish to his site before dropping out, was to promote partnerships with senior homeowners to create affordable housing. The model has been instituted elsewhere in the Bay, recently in Marin County, where an elderly resident sold her $1 million property to a community land trust at half market price so that it can be converted into affordable housing once she dies.
Magofña says that though he’s worried that he’s disappointed supporters by dropping out, he believes he will be able to contribute more to the community after he settles into a new city that he can afford to live in.
He doesn’t know where he’ll end up yet, and says he might leave California altogether. His roommate is going back to where he grew up, in San Bernardino, something that Magofña can’t do because his family moved back to Hawaii when his father retired and the military stopped providing housing.
“My parents don't live here because it was too expensive for them to buy a house,” he says. “And this was 13 years ago.”
This story was originally featured on Fortune.com