When Brian Kennelly responded to the advertisement for an opening as the modern languages and literature department chair, he knew that the move from St. Louis, Mo., to San Luis Obispo would bring with it a change in the cost of living.
With this in mind, Kennelly flew out last May to look at Bella Monta¤a (he was on the waitlist at the time) and other housing options in San Luis Obispo and its surrounding (and somewhat cheaper, as the case may be) communities.
“I felt weird about forking out money I didn’t have on something I had never seen before and that was out of my price range anyway,” he said about Bella Monta¤a.
At the time, Kennelly figured he could sell the house he had bought nine years earlier in St. Louis (at $90,000) for $150,000, leaving him with about $45,000 plus his savings to put toward a house in California. Because of this, he came here in May with the intention of finding a house in the $100,000 to $200,000 range, but Kennelly soon found out that “you can’t find a burned-out car to live in for that.”
So, his new limit shifted to $350,000. The Atascadero house he finally bought (with the help of his parents) cost him three times what his home in Missouri sold for – far exceeding both his hopes and his expectations for what he would find.
“I’m glad that I am back in California. It comes at a steep price, but I’m going to make it work,” Kennelly said.
And that’s the attitude – and potential sacrifice – that many newly established Cal Poly staff and faculty must make to move to San Luis Obispo.
According to www.bestplaces.net, the median home cost in San Luis Obispo is $542,000, and the cost of living is 55.7 percent higher than the nation’s average.
For some, the decision to move to San Luis Obispo – despite the comparatively high housing and living prices – is one of necessity.
“I came here (this academic year) because Cal Poly offered me a good job in my field – academic jobs are relatively hard to get,” said Matthew Moore, a political science professor, in an e-mail interview.
“I lived in Vermont before coming to Cal Poly. As a ballpark estimate, I’d say that housing prices are 50 to 60 percent higher here than in Vermont.”
For others – like Kennelly, who figured that his job as modern languages and literature department chair would be a challenge – current life circumstances made the decision to move here a relatively easy one.
“I came to San Luis Obispo with the knowledge that I would not be able to afford to buy a house here. Period. That’s OK with me, because my wife and I are empty nesters – our boys are out on their own,” journalism professor Doug Swanson said in an e-mail.
“If I was in a life situation where I had small children at home and needed to buy a house again, I would not have taken the job here, because buying a house here is prohibitive for someone on my salary who’s coming from a part of the country where real estate prices are reasonable.”
The cost of living makes it hard for faculty who are just beginning their families. Though Moore and his wife eventually bought a house in Atascadero, because “petty much everything south of the Cuesta Grade or near the water was out of our price range,” payments on the house will make saving for parenthood difficult, he said.
“We’re very happy with it, but our mortgage payment is a very large chunk of our monthly income, and that makes things less flexible,” he said. “For example, it will make it harder to take time off when we have kids, and it makes it harder to save for long-term expenses like home repairs, sending kids to college and retirement.”
Other drawbacks related to housing and living costs faculty listed included San Luis Obispo’s lack of discount stores, such as Wal-Mart and K-Mart; the county’s shortage of entry-level jobs for college graduates; the city’s focus on tourism, rather than its residents and high gas prices.
But then there are the beaches, outdoor recreation opportunities and year-round nice weather. In the end, the pros and cons must be weighed and taken together. It’s a balancing act all potential faculty members must make.
As Bill Durgin, who came here from Massachusetts last fall to fill the position of provost and vice president for academic affairs said, “I think the Central Coast is a beautiful and expensive area in which to live.”
Read Thursday’s paper to learn how Cal Poly deals with attracting new faculty members to San Luis Obispo.