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'We actually have the space to build out' | How Sacramento and the Bay Area are becoming a mega-region

Working from home means you can change where home is. Massive migration in Northern California has impacted housing prices, politics and more in the Sacramento area.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Sacramento is changing. 

People are moving here as well as away. It's indicative of what researchers found and what residents here are seeing -- a massive amount of migration is happening in Northern California, especially from the Bay Area to Sacramento.

"We had a decade of change in two years, essentially," Bernadette Austin, the Executive Director at the UC Davis for Regional Change told ABC10. "And an easy thing to point to is flexible work schedules."

Austin is part of a multi-year-long study conducted between UC Davis, the University of Southern California and Occidental College that has been researching migration in Northern California.

What they found is the ability to work from home also brought the freedom to change where home is.

In 2018 and 2019, pre-COVID, about 150,000 people left the Bay Area. When the pandemic hit, that number doubled with nearly 305,000 leaving.

It's just one of the shocking discoveries their research unveiled when they looked specifically at migration from the Bay Area to the Central Valley during the pandemic.

"That includes communities throughout the Sacramento region, San Joaquin Valley and Sierra Foothills," Austin said.

Their interest in this research came after finding that the Sacramento region is melding together more than anywhere else in California.

"[It's] growing into one large mega-region," said Seva Rodnyansky, Assistant Professor of Urban and Environmental Policy and Occidental College.

What they found is where people move depends on having easy access to where they need to go.

Over time, whether it be a lifetime or between multiple generations of families, people relocate further and further down highways, or what researchers call "transit corridors."

"For example along Highway 80, people may be living in San Francisco but then move to Vacaville or West Sacramento or continuing down Highway 80," said Austin. "People [are] increasingly moving inland, often looking for lower costs of living."

With the ability to work from home, their research found rather than relocating gradually along highways, many made a leap -- moving to their end-goal-location.

"Whereas someone might've moved from San Francisco to Sacramento to Roseville to El Dorado Hills... people were moving straight to Truckee," Austin said.

That final destination where folks move to always depends on their income.

"Higher income households [have a] likelihood of moving to a place like Roseville or Folsom or the Sacramento area," said Rodnyansky. "Lower income households (have a) much higher density to move to Stockton or Los Banos or Patterson."

Bay Area residents are taking advantage of the Sacramento and San Joaquin valley's affordability.

"So when you're talking about (Bay Area) housing prices, the average housing price in 20 years going from $600,000 to $1.5 million. That is a completely unsustainable rate of housing increase," said Austin. "People that're moving from the Bay Area are, in a sense, being displaced themselves."

And the cities people are moving from, others are not moving to. Their research names San Jose, San Francisco, San Mateo County, Alameda County and Contra Costa County as places without lots of people moving to.

"None of those places are gaining," said Rodnyansky. "They're all losing."

Meanwhile, online real estate broker RedFin found in January 2022, the Sacramento metropolitan region was the fourth most popular destination in the nation for people looking to relocate.

"One of the reasons people do move to this area is because we have growing neighborhoods,"  Austin said. "We actually have the space to build out."

Obvious examples of areas being "built out" and a mega-region forming are along Highway 50 as Folsom and El Dorado Hills slowly merge closer and closer together.

"The more multi-family, more townhomes, more condos of various sizes is going to be necessary," Rodnyansky said.

We've already seen developers try to answer the demand; investment buyers and developers bought 56.3-percent more homes in Sacramento in 2021 than 2020, a RedFin study showed.

But a state audit report released in 2022 and based on data from 2019 said there's still not enough housing for the demand. In the Sacramento region, the report found a shortage of over 153,000 homes, driving up the cost of housing in the area.

According to Zillow's home value index, the typical home in Sacramento costs about $500,000, an increase in price from last year by over 21%, Austin said, impacting mostly people of color, families needing more space and lower wage workers -- forcing many to move away.

"We are seeing more people forced out, whether it's out of state or out of where they were living," said Austin. "So Bay Area to Central Valley, Central Valley and beyond."

But another reason folks are moving away is because of politics.

"You see more liberal, progressive or Democratic voters on the coast - Silicon Valley, San Francisco, Marin - not as a rule, but more Conservative/Republican voters as you continue to move inland," said Austin. "So, when you see a demographic shift, we anticipate we are going to see a shift in change of votership. So, more purple rather than red and blue."

It's one of the reasons Brigette Bayne and her husband left Pollock Pines.

"We're avid shooters. We like our firearms," Bayne told ABC10. "But the laws were getting stricter and stricter and stricter... it started getting a little bit suffocating."

She said along with California's rising homeless problem, high taxes and price of living, it sealed the deal on their decision to move out of state.

"My husband and I are an interracial couple, so I had to go online and do research on which states and areas specifically in those states were welcoming to interracial couples," Bayne said.

They landed outside Charleston in Orangeburg County, South Carolina.

"It's gorgeous. The cost of living is low, the taxes are low and you have so many more freedoms as an American," said Bayne.

She's not alone. An exit of residents over the last decade resulted in California losing a Congressional seat in 2021, the first time this has occurred in the state's history.

The U.S. Census Bureau found while more people left California than came here, other places like Texas, Florida and Colorado gained Congressional seats with more people moving there.

It's evident in "Life After California," a Facebook group dedicated to those who've moved or are dabbling with the idea. The group created just two years ago now has around 128,000 members, with thousands of new members joining each week.

"I've been contemplating for the last three years," Miguel Frias said.

Frias owns of the auto-mechanic business John Ellis & Sons in the Midtown neighborhood of Sacramento. He has been considering a move out of California.

"I'm a Sacramento native," said Frias. "Born and raised."

But with the pandemic came a change in the wind for him.

"The last straw for me (was) just the way the whole pandemic was handled," said Frias. "Unfortunately, a lot of small businesses suffered ultimate closure, heavy restrictions and mandates."

Now with gas prices on the rise, he continues to feel the impact of these aspects on his business.

Others that are moving away didn't necessarily have a say in the matter.

"It's easy to point to climate refugees in California who are being displaced by fire," said Austin. "We already don't have enough housing, we have no place for folks to go and due to climate change patterns that are really exacerbating our wildfire seasons making them more intense [and] more frequent, that's really contributing to people that have no place to go."

Overall, Austin said she and the other researchers are working with city and county municipalities to recommend certain changes following the many findings their research is unveiling. 

She said one of the most prevalent things they're recommending is more connectivity between the Bay Area and Sacramento -- of which all is a part of Northern California's forming mega-region.

"The more we acknowledge we are all connected -- economically, socially, politically -- the better the outcomes we can plan moving forward," said Austin.

More from ABC10 Originals: Squatters move into empty homes amid Sacramento's booming housing market

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