Tyra Green and Ayaana Williams | Special to The OBSERVER

As California gas prices continue to edge upwards, Sacramento NAACP President Betty Williams cites the rising costs of day-to-day essentials as why more people appear to be leaving the Golden State. (photos by Louis Bryant III)

Amid the California housing crisis and rising cost of living, the Sacramento region has witnessed a disproportionate surge in Black residents leaving for other states over the last decade.

Approximately 25,000 Black residents left the Sacramento region from 2012 to 2019, while only about 20,000 arrived from other states. The largest disparity was seen among those who left the region for Texas, Arizona and Nevada.

Sacramento’s cost of living is currently 17% higher than the national average and its housing is 37% higher than the national average. According to Zillow, the current median home price stands at $717,854 in California as of September 2021.

The higher cost of homes and living has been experienced by lower-income California residents of all races as people living in Sacramento county need to make nearly $27 an hour to afford the average rent. However, a disparity exists among Black residents in the Sacramento region who hold the second-highest rent burden in the U.S., based on a study by Zillow.

Black households spend 52.2% of their income on rent compared to 37.4% for Hispanic renters, 32.5% for Asian renters and 30.5% for White renters.

Local housing market professionals said they have witnessed the rising cost of homes run people out of the state first-hand.

“Within my book of business, the clients that have moved out of California did so because the cost of living in other states is much lower and they can acquire properties [for] much cheaper,” said Sacramento realtor, Zoritha Thompson. “I just had a client sell here and move to Alabama, where they took their equity and could almost pay cash for their new home.”

With Black homeownership dropping at increasing rates, real estate agent Zoritha Thompson has witnessed first hand Black Sacramentans opting to buy homes in less expensive states. (photos by Louis Bryant III)

In addition to the cost of living, there are a range of factors responsible for this glaring disparity in Black residents leaving and coming to the area. 

“There’s a huge gap in the city of Sacramento of a skill set with African Americans compared to everyone else; so as the city is growing in rent, and mortgages on houses are increasing, you need the skill set to get the job to maintain even living in the city,” said Betty Williams, Sacramento NAACP Branch President. “So you find a lot of the migration, leaving, because our folks don’t have the skill set to have the wages needed in order to obtain or maintain their homes, so they go elsewhere where they have more flexibility and ability to live comfortably outside of Sacramento.”

Besides housing prices, the cost of living includes prices for gas, groceries, public transport and overall inflation seen statewide.

“Let’s take gas for example, we have the highest gas prices in the nation,” Williams said. “What used to cost someone $100 is now costing them probably closer to $150 or $160 that they don’t have, and what used to fill up your tank in regular gas was $30, now I’m being told, is close to $60 and $70 and so you can’t even maintain your day-to-day when you’re looking at essentials.”

Although some businesses will raise wages in an attempt to meet the rising cost of inflation in the region, the United States has seen a huge disparity between wages and inflation over the years.

Workers got a 3.4% wage increase over the last year, but have seen a 2% pay cut due to the rapid increase in inflation, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics

There is also a race pay gap that exists just as there is a gender pay gap in the U.S. In 2019, Payscale.com analyzed that Black men on average make 87 cents for every 91 cents earned by White men.

“You used to get into a place anywhere from $900-$1,400. Now, it’s starting at $1,750 and above just to rent a place,” Williams said. “You have to make either two or three times the amount of rent per month in order to qualify. So if you’re making minimum wage of $15 you will not be able to rent a house at $1,750 a month, because you don’t qualify.”

Black residents who moved to the Sacramento region between 2012 and 2019 tended to be wealthier than those who arrived. Of those who left Sacramento, 46% earned incomes below the poverty line the year before leaving, census data show. By comparison, 29% of those who moved to the area during that period earned incomes above the poverty line the year before arriving.

As a business consultant and respected leader in talent development, Mark Freeman has worked to bridge the knowledge and skills gap in Sacramento’s workforce for over 15 years. (photos by Louis Bryant III)

Business Consultant and President of Freeman Consulting & Development Mark Freeman believes Black residents may specifically be leaving the region due to the job market. Despite being a large Metropolitan city, Sacramento has fewer opportunities for income when considering people that aim to work in certain industries.

“Income plays a big role, that may be one reason where Sacramento falls apart because we don’t have many headquarters here, we do have satellite offices, but that limits your upward mobility,” Freeman said. “So if you have someone who has the potential for upward mobility, many times you have to move out of the city or the state to find those opportunities, I think that’s changing though and Sacramento is growing.” 

The cost of living in Texas is one of the lowest among all coastal states, therefore many who live below the poverty line in any state tend to move there. In Dallas, Texas the median home price is $282,195 up 18.9% over the past year, compared to Sacramento where the median home price is $468,036 up 25.6% in the last year, according to Zillow estimates as of September 2021.

When Black residents who can’t afford to live in Sacramento flee the region, it can create less incentive for the city to plan more low-income housing. It can also mean fewer Black voices in local government and education.

“We are trying to uplift all of our communities in the city of Sacramento, and particularly those that have historically been disadvantaged,” said Mary Lynne Vellinga, Communications Director for the Sacramento Mayor’s office. 

In light of the ongoing trend, the city of Sacramento has made tremendous efforts to assist Black households in low-income neighborhoods, Vellinga said.

“We recently worked with UC Davis and the group Sacramento Investment Without Displacement to craft an agreement for the new Aggie Square innovation district on Stockton Boulevard to prevent displacement in the surrounding neighborhoods,” she continued. “The agreement includes a $50 million commitment to build affordable housing in the Stockton Boulevard corridor along with programs that will help fund repairs and offer other assistance for existing residents.”