Jessie: Over-The-Rhine, Cincinnati


This is Jessie. She’s a well educated thirty year old professional with a good income. She could live anywhere she wants. She was offered excellent positions with good companies in San Francisco. While she was excited by the opportunity to live in a top tier coastal city she was smart enough to actually run the numbers before taking a job. Her income would be comparable to what she was already making in Cincinnati, but her cost of living (particularly the astronomical cost of housing) in San Francisco meant that she would actually be accepting a massively lower standard of living in California compared to Ohio.

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Cincinnati isn’t just affordable. It’s also a fabulous place to live. Ten years ago the cost of property in San Francisco was high, but still within the reach of people like Jessie. No more. And ten years ago the urban core of Cincinnati hadn’t yet revived sufficiently to reach a critical mass of livability. But today the scales are tipped decidedly in Cincinnati’s favor as San Francisco (New York, D.C, Boston, Seattle, LA, etc.) have gone off the charts in terms of cost while Cincinnati has matured and proven itself.

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Last year Jessie bought this entire three family building in the Over-the Rhine neighborhood in Cincinnati for $279,000. She then spent $126,000 in renovations. So she’s in for a grand total of $405,000. She lives in the top two floors and rents two apartments on the lower levels. The rental income goes a long way to offsetting her monthly expenses. I just checked the real estate listings here in San Francisco. There’s a 300 square foot studio condo on the market for $399,999, but it will almost certainly sell for considerably more once potential buyers outbid each other. And the monthly HOA fees are ridiculous.

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If you’d like a more detailed account of how older buildings in Cincinnati are being purchased and rehabbed by ordinary people, including Jessie, I encourage you to check out the “Owner Occupied OTR” episode of the Urban Cincy Podcast.

John Sanphillippo lives in San Francisco and blogs about urbanism, adaptation, and resilience at He's a member of the Congress for New Urbanism, films videos for, and is a regular contributor to He earns his living by buying, renovating, and renting undervalued properties in places that have good long term prospects. He is a graduate of Rutgers University.

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SF first, then Cinci

At her age and marital status, I would have taken the job on San Francisco.
Suffered a lower standard of living for a few years and then moved back to Cincinnati with a much higher salary.

Dave Barnes

housing costs elsewhere

That you can find nice, much less expensive housing elsewhere is not exactly new. But one need not go as far as Cincinnati. The CA Central Valley is full of towns with very attractive neighborhoods with tree lined streets and old, character-full houses a half day drive from the Bay Area. I was in Colusa recently. There are some pretty neighborhoods there.

The more interesting point to take away is that this woman has a good job in Cincinnati. As Joel Kotkin often writes on this site, in CA we have thriving tech, finance, and entertainment industries, and they do support some lawyers, accountants, carpenters, plumbers, restaurants and toenail painters, but we are actively inhibiting opportunties elsewhere in the state by discouraging industry from siting in places like Fresno, Redding or even Colusa. So, a young person might need to look to some other state for a reasonable standard living which stil requires an income to buy those nice affordable homes.