Lots of Moves Both Inside, and Out Of, San Francisco in 2020

  • Data from the United States Postal Service shows that between March and November 2020, there were more than five times as many address change requests originating in San Francisco compared to a year earlier

  • Some folks did relocate to San Francisco during the pandemic, but they were outweighed by those moving out.

Plunging rents, a rise in housing inventory coupled with mandated business and school closures have created a perfect storm for migration both out of — and within — the City of San Francisco.

Between March and October of 2020, there were more than five times the number of address change requests compared to the same period in 2019.

Data provided by the United States Postal Service (USPS) recorded a mere 22,042 address change requests originating in San Francisco between March 1 and October 31 2019, compared to a whopping 124,131 over the same period in 2020.

Looking at both years, the busiest month for requests was August (3,065 in 2019 and 19,538 in 2020) followed closely by July (3,007 in 2019 and 19,078 in 2020). The slowest month for requests in 2020 was April, with 6,385 change of address requests, and in 2019 it was September with 2,469 requests.

Some folks did relocate to San Francisco during the pandemic, but they were well outweighed by those moving out.

In March through October 2020, USPS reported 75,796 change of address requests for which the destination address San Francisco. Of those, at least 35,000 were already living in the City.

Among those moving within the City, the most popular destinations were zip codes 94109 (Polk/Russian Hill/Nob Hill ) with 3,476 move-ins, followed by 94110 (Inner Mission), with 3,062 move-ins, and Mission Bay (94107) with 2,873 move-ins. August clocked the highest number of requests, with 11,750 moves, followed respectively by July with 11,198, October with 10,572, and September with 10,816.

The USPS doesn’t define the number of people included in a request, so we don’t know for sure how many individuals the move-out data indicates. Taken together, however, the data points to a rapid and unprecedented net outflow from the City over the course of a few months.

“Based on what the postal service says of the total numbers in 2019 and 2020, it looks like there were about 100,000 more requests over those 8 months, which is a big number,” said Ted Egan, San Francisco’s chief economist. “That shows a clear increase in outmigration, and that lines up with other data we’re seeing.”

In San Francisco, the median price of a 1-bedroom apartment has dropped 23% compared to a year ago, according to Zumper. Other indicators, such as high apartment vacancies and plunging sales tax collections, including for online sales, point to a smaller population than last year. According to the U.S. Census, San Francisco’s population in 2019 was 881,549.

However, the moves out of San Francisco haven’t yet shown up in California’s official population counts.

The California Department of Finance, which issues statewide and county-level population estimates annually, reported a roughly flat population in San Francisco county between July 2019 and July 2020.

But given the effects of the pandemic, those population estimates— which are based on Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) registrations, Internal Revenue Service (IRS) returns and other indicators— are likely to change considerably as new information comes in, said Phuong Nguyen, a researcher at the California Department of Finance.

“The data we collected is very preliminary. Because of COVID, some places might not have up-to-date data, or a slowdown in data processing.” Nguyen said. She noted that the DMV’s closure between March and May 2020, along with extensions of tax deadlines, could spell delays in accurate population counts at the county level.

In the near term, Egan said, any drop in San Francisco’s population will result in a commensurate drop in spending, which is already depressed because of the shaky economy. The employment makeup of the outmigrantswhether a disproportionate number are downtown office workers, for examplealso makes a big difference for the City's outlook.

“If it’s the case that it’s all tech workers moving, because they’re the most mobile and have the resources, that has implications for how much of the tech industry returns to downtown offices,” Egan added.

Image by Jake Buonemani
Image by Rasmus Gundorff Sæderup

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