SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX) -- New data released from the U.S. Census Bureau reports San Francisco had the largest percentage drop in population in the U.S. from early on in the pandemic to last summer.
Workers and experts say the appeal outside the city is only increasing for current residents.
"When the pandemic happened, I was just really focused on living in my shoebox environment. And COVID gave me a chance to look for a bit more space," said Tim Wong, who works in the tech industry. "I definitely think we're missing a bit of culture and things to do, but there's some pretty darn good food here in the South Bay."
From April 1, 2020 to July, 2021, San Francisco saw its population drop by 6.7%. That's compared to 3.8% for New York and 2.8% for Washington, D.C. over the same time period. While other cities in the Bay Area saw decreases as well, none reached the same level as San Francisco.
"At the end of my time living in San Francisco, I kind of felt like the city was kind of chasing me out," Wong told KPIX 5. "I definitely got quite a bit more space, I like three or four times the amount of livable space I have. I now have a garage, which is also really helpful. No more parking tickets."
Daly City was the next Bay Area city with a significant drop on the U.S. Census list at 3.5%. Others like Redwood City, San Leandro, and San Jose all had a 3.1% drop over the same timeframe.
"The Bay Area's population growth has been slowing for decades. So from the 1980 census to the 2020 census," said Abby Raisz, a research manager for the Bay Area Council Economic Institute. "That's the big question. We don't really know what the new normal is going to look like."
Housing affordability is the root cause in San Francisco and beyond, but there's a larger impact in the city because of the number of workers who can stay remote. Some remained in the Bay Area like Wong, with most choosing the East Bay. Others have left the region for counties just south of the Bay Area and the Central Valley.
"Is this just a pandemic related blip or this is a broader move away from high-cost areas?" Raisz asked.
Wong says that San Francisco became less walkable during the pandemic, and he ran into issues having a car in the city as more people returned. He appreciates having more space and the ease of running everyday errands like groceries now that he lives in the suburbs.
"I will always love San Francisco," he said. "I think that it would be pretty tough to move back because you know I've gotten a taste of the size, the convenience, the comfort around a lot of these things."
While he doesn't plan to move back, he loves having the chance to drive up into the city whenever he wants with some planning. He is working on convincing others to make the move like he did.
"This experience has kind of shrunken the Bay for me," he said. "If anything, it made my hometown a lot bigger."
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