Tijuana rents rising twice as fast as San Diego's
Growing up in the Midwest, Michael Hodge never expected to live in Mexico.
“I look back now — I knew virtually no Spanish, I had been to Tijuana maybe twice,” he said.
But then his roommate suddenly moved out, leaving him on the hook for their two-bedroom apartment’s $2,500-a-month rent. Hodge needed to find a new home fast.
Fortunately, some of his coworkers at an electrical recycling company already lived in Tijuana. And they were looking for a roommate.
When Hodge moved into the apartment in 2020, his share of the rent was only $300 a month.
Tijuana has long been a refuge for priced-out San Diegans looking for affordable housing. But rents there are rising rapidly — twice as fast as in San Diego. Between 2016 and 2022, rents in Tijuana grew by 63%, compared to 30% in San Diego during the same time period.
Still, people continue to move to Tijuana in search of cheaper housing. Data shows that this southward migration is also having an impact on the city’s housing availability and traffic congestion.
Approximately 60,000 people live in Tijuana and cross the border to work in San Diego every day, according to Atenea de la Cruz Brito, an academic at Universidad de Tijuana CUT who studies housing markets along the border. To collect rental price data, she uses a federal questionnaire Mexico conducts every two years.
“We know that the majority of new residents come from Southern California,” she said. “They are commuters who work in the United States.”
De la Cruz Brito noted she hasn’t seen evidence of working-class Tijuana residents being pushed out because of high rents. High rents tend to remain concentrated in neighborhoods that were already expensive.
“I can’t say that gentrification is happening in these neighborhoods because they were already upper class,” she said.
The growth is more dramatic in areas just outside of Tijuana. Rents in Tecate and Rosarito doubled between 2016 and 2022, according to de la Cruz Brito’s research.
Lack of inventory is another contributing factor to Tijuana’s rising rents, according to Gustavo Chacon, the former president of Baja California’s Council of Real Estate Agents.
There is a lot of new construction in Tijuana, but most of it is luxury housing. No one is building affordable or middle-income housing, he said.
“People still expect places for $300 or $500 a month,” he said. “They exist, but not near the border.”
“If not for Tijuana, there’s probably a good chance I would have left town.”Michael Hodge, moved from San Diego to Tijuana
Apartments near the border start at $800, and units in the new high rises cost as much as $2,000 a month, he added.
More than half of Chacon’s clients are American residents curious about life in Tijuana. Proximity to the border is at the top of their wish list, especially if they plan to work in San Diego, he said.
That’s because, despite the obvious savings from living in Tijuana, there are also significant drawbacks. The biggest one being traffic.
“The traffic is ridiculous,” said Robert Martinez. “It’s getting worse. It’s becoming a mini–Mexico City.”
Martinez works as a school bus driver in San Diego. He moved to Tijuana 15 years ago and said the traffic is worse than ever.
“Usually, I wake up between 3 a.m. and 3:30 a.m. in order to get ready,” he said.
Martinez said his commute is only possible because he has a special SENTRI pass that gives him access to a fast lane at the border. Coworkers who don’t have that fast pass cross the border at 1 a.m. and sleep in their cars until their shift begins, he said.
Meanwhile, for Hodge, the Midwesterner who moved to Tijuana three years ago, he’s now found his own place and no longer lives with roommates — something that would have been impossible in San Diego where median rent is $3,300.
“If not for Tijuana, there’s probably a good chance I would have left town,” he said.
Still, the move is not without drawbacks. Hodge also identified cross-border commutes as the biggest challenge.
“Moving to Tijuana is definitely an option,” he said. “But don’t think that everything is going to be perfect. It’s not going to solve all of your problems.”