These cities in the Bay Area have become prohibitively expensive, reaching levels of affordability that are deemed excessively challenging

Over the past two decades, purchasing a home has significantly become more challenging in numerous countries, particularly in the United States. A recent report has introduced a category termed “impossibly unaffordable” to describe the situation in several major cities, reflecting the sentiment of many potential homebuyers.

The report analyzed the relationship between average incomes and average home prices, highlighting factors such as increased demand due to the pandemic, policies limiting urban sprawl, and heightened investment activities that have driven housing prices upward.

In the United States, cities along the West Coast and Hawaii featured prominently among the top 10 most unaffordable places. The Demographia International Housing Affordability report, which has been tracking housing prices for two decades, singled out cities like San Jose, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and San Diego as particularly costly.

Unsurprisingly, California cities, known for their high living costs, dominated the list. Honolulu, the capital of Hawaii, also ranked sixth among the 94 major markets surveyed across eight countries.

Beyond the United States, Australia stood out as the only other country besides the US with cities making the “impossibly unaffordable” list. Sydney led the rankings, followed by Melbourne in Victoria and Adelaide in South Australia.

However, topping the global chart for housing unaffordability was Hong Kong, renowned for its compact living spaces and exorbitant rents. Notably, Hong Kong was the sole Chinese market covered in the report, underscoring its unique challenges in housing affordability.

Hong Kong consistently appears among the most expensive cities globally, boasting the lowest home ownership rate at just 51% among all cities surveyed. In contrast, Singapore, its Asian counterpart, sees a much higher home ownership rate of 89%, largely due to extensive government efforts in public housing provision over decades.

While Hong Kong remains the least affordable city worldwide, there is a glimmer of hope for prospective homebuyers, as prices dipped during the pandemic in 2020. This decline coincided with stringent border closures and a zero-Covid policy enforced by the government, compounded by the chilling effect of new national security laws.

The report uses a price-to-income ratio, dividing the median house price by the gross median household income, to gauge affordability. It attributes the surge in house prices to factors such as increased demand for homes with outdoor space spurred by remote working trends during the pandemic. Additionally, it points to land use policies like “urban containment,” aimed at curbing urban sprawl, which have inadvertently exacerbated housing costs by limiting supply.

Investor activity further intensified price increases as they sought profit opportunities in the market. The report suggests that adopting policies similar to New Zealand’s “Going for Housing Growth,” which mandates local authorities to zone for 30 years of housing growth, could alleviate housing affordability issues. This approach has been advocated for Canada, particularly in cities like Vancouver and Toronto, which also rank among the “impossibly unaffordable” cities.

For those seeking more affordable housing options, the report identifies cities such as Pittsburgh, Rochester, and St. Louis in the US; Edmonton and Calgary in Canada; Blackpool and Glasgow in the UK; and Perth and Brisbane in Australia among the most affordable of the 94 cities surveyed globally.

Compiled by researchers from Chapman University’s Center for Demographics and Policy in California and the Frontier Centre for Public Policy in Canada, the report highlights the stark disparities in housing affordability across international metropolitan areas.

Top 10 “impossibly unaffordable” cities

Hong Kong



San Jose

Los Angeles



San Francisco/Adelaide

San Diego


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