Vanishing city

Up against intense market pressure, longtime residents and community projects fade from SF

Esperanza gardeners (left to right): Gabriel Fraley, Maria Fernanda Valecillos, Alana Corpuz, Veronica Ramirez, Jonathan Youtt

On a recent Tuesday night, some of the city's most influential developers, architects, and land-use lawyers gathered in a conference room at the ritzy W Hotel for a panel discussion, titled, "San Francisco's Housing Crisis: Can the Tech Boom Help Us?"

It was a provocative question by any measure, but equally intriguing was the lack of even a hint of objection to the dead-serious framing of increasing unaffordability as a "crisis."

Even among well-heeled property brokers at the event, which was hosted by San Francisco Magazine and the San Francisco Housing Action Coalition, there appears to be universal acceptance that the city stands at a crossroads.

"The question asks itself: Who gets to live in San Francisco?" Tim Colen, HAC's executive director, stated by way of introduction.

To break it down into extremely simplified terms: High-salaried professionals easily make the cut, while tenants of modest means who lack stable rent control are more hard-pressed to find housing they can afford. Opinions on how to approach this problem differ sharply.

Colen and other panelists posited that the solution is to build as the city has never built before, aiming for the construction of 100,000 units in the next two decades. But panelist Peter Cohen of the San Francisco Council of Community Housing Organizations countered that today's development projects aren't being constructed for people who actually live in the city, 61 percent of whom make less than 120 percent of the Area Median Income.

The city's real-estate market is invariably described by those who closely track it as "hot," or "bubbly," bringing to mind a cappuccino, perhaps, that induces a jittery feeling. Speculation abounds.

The ripple effect extends beyond residential units. All across the seven-by-seven peninsula that once represented a haven for misfits and iconoclasts, stories abound of arts organizations, nonprofits, and community gathering spaces getting priced out, pressured to move, or otherwise swept away due to economic circumstances beyond their control.

From 2009 to 2013, UC Berkeley economist Enrico Moretti noted, explosive job growth coincided with San Francisco bearing the third-largest spike in rental prices on average, nationwide. In 2011, San Francisco rents were 34 percent higher than they had been 2003; by 2012, they had jumped to 53 percent higher, according to a market analysis prepared by The Concord Group. According to San Francisco Rent Board data, 1,757 eviction notices were filed from March of 2012 to February of 2013, reflecting a 12-year high.

"The problem has serious social consequences," Moretti said at the event, sounding for an instant like a tenant advocate. "There is a serious amount of displacement."

Every upheaval is messy, every tenant-landlord rift is complicated, and circumstances vary case by case. But taking a broad view, the overwhelming consequence of San Francisco's gale-force property market pressure is a cultural shift; the fabric of a longstanding community is unraveling. Below are a few stories of the people and projects that are finding they won't be able to stay in the San Francisco spaces they occupy for much longer.


Jon Zuckman, better known as Jon Sugar, showed up for a May 15 court appearance on his pending eviction proceeding with an entourage in tow. He was flanked by LGBT housing activist Tommi Mecca, perennial political candidate and sex worker Starchild, and radical activist Jerry the Faerie, among others, all longtime characters of the city's lefty, radical LGBT scene.

Judge James Robertson, citing a letter he'd received from Zuckman's doctor, agreed to grant a 60-day continuance, "for the purpose of allowing the defendant to try and locate alternative housing."


concern troll. The only value is will add is as worm food.

Posted by Guest on May. 22, 2013 @ 6:48 am
Posted by Guest on May. 22, 2013 @ 7:01 am

a hateful, classist, racist person. So yes, I look forward to the day you finally provide a service to the ecosystem as food for the worms.

Posted by Guest on May. 22, 2013 @ 7:22 am

But merely keep repeating the same insults as if that were effective?

Posted by Guest on May. 22, 2013 @ 7:36 am

Sounds like you're the hateful one to me

Posted by Guest on May. 22, 2013 @ 10:56 am

awesome. i love this.

Posted by Guest on May. 22, 2013 @ 5:33 pm

You are just another greedy wacked out renter, and please, like you will not be worm food soon.....

Posted by Guest on May. 30, 2013 @ 12:41 pm

The unfortunate truth is that money=happiness is our society. Money doesn't mean anything and it doesn't last. Neither do their stories because they aren't about perseverance, hard work, true love, and doing what's right. Our society does not want to be a hero right now. We'd rather just be comfortable, not making any waves or stirring things up.
We should be putting value on compassion, where every human has access to the same resources, such as food, shelter, and love.
We need to make change to be a better FUTURE. Not a better PRESENT. The world is too beautiful a place not to share with all of creation, not just the present one.

Buuut the rough reality is that he's not going to stand a chance of staying if some lawyer doesn't take on his case pro bono. another option could be for super rich lawyers, with too much money, realizes he or she could have actually been born this man so he's grateful he has the opportunity to help him. Let's bring back the golden rule!

Posted by Guest on May. 22, 2013 @ 8:05 am

What we need in SF is more people paying their way and adding value, and less losers and parasites on welfare and subsidies.

Posted by Guest on May. 22, 2013 @ 9:32 am

The losers and parasites are sharpening their pitchforks and preparing their torches.

Posted by Guest on May. 22, 2013 @ 9:42 am
Posted by Guest on May. 22, 2013 @ 1:52 pm

than we wouldn't have this problem! We need less money grubbers and more people lovers. You and your money won't matter once you die. Great ideas, love, compassion, invention, will survive. Technology will die or take over the world and all humans will cease to be of value.
Please leave our beautiful, rich with CULTURE (not money) city. Take your money to LA where all the other money grubbers are. There's lots of room for you there.

Posted by Guest on May. 23, 2013 @ 10:00 am

Or of course you can have neither.

Posted by Guest on May. 26, 2013 @ 12:47 pm

Selfish is wanting others to subsidize your rent that is as greedy as any loser can get.

Posted by Guest on May. 30, 2013 @ 12:39 pm

Your perfect word exists I've been there.... CUBA they have very little and don't starve. But that is it... the buildings they do have re crumbling from lack of maintenance and nothing has been built for 50 years.... that is your "vision"... IT SUCKS

Posted by Guest on May. 30, 2013 @ 12:51 pm

Um, it doesn't matter how much "value" an aging activist - or anyone else - adds to a city. You don't get to kick people out of a city just because they don't add value, especially if they have been residents for several decades. Who decides what you need here? People who can "economically contribute" can live in the suburbs like they've done for the past 50+ years in their uniformly-designed family homes inside of gated communities. Why can't they stay there?!


I know this is completely against what America's core values seem to be (i.e. me and my money come first, and to hell with the rest of you), but this is the way it should be. Whatever it takes to make this attitude a reality should be done, and anyone who stands in the way needs to be summarily crushed.

* * *

Oakland is not that much cheaper than SF, sadly, because the same thing is happening there, more or less. Poor young white folks make a neighborhood look less sketchy to the rich. And sorry, we don't need another San Diego, we don't need another Aspen. If you take the poor freaks out of SF, and if you take away the welcoming atmosphere they create for other poor freaks, then you will be left with a sterile mall. If you want a city full of bro-grammer D-bags, cocky finance types, event planners and their cocktail dresses, and all kinds of other philistine riffraff - the very thing Food Not Bombs types thought they were coming to SF to escape - you will get it. And maybe that's what you like, because you are one of the Moneyed. But I am not (not being an adequate salesman of the self or of anything else), and I am getting pushed out too. I happen to like it here, and I personally think I "add value" just by living here and being a respectful, driven member of the community. I am firmly convinced this city has to remain a city of poor freaks - otherwise, this place turns into a nice, verdant location with absolutely unbearable people, like a Boston, or the entire state of New Jersey.

Posted by GuestWorkerPogromsAreComing on May. 23, 2013 @ 10:34 am


I'll try that line next time prices go up at the grocery store. 'but I've been buying milk at this price for 10 YEARS!!'

Why the attachment to living in a particular house/apartment/city/whatever?

Posted by Guest on May. 23, 2013 @ 10:59 am

nothing should ever change and that a renter somehow has a right to a lifetime lease at a subsidized rent.

Posted by Guest on May. 23, 2013 @ 11:27 am

favour the kind of people that the city sees as contributing the most. So they might have policies that favour, say, foreign investors but not have policies that encourage, say, more homeless people to come here.

Posted by Guest on May. 23, 2013 @ 11:22 am

So what you are really bemoaning here is not so much any genuine suffering, but rather that certain partisan groups that you personally approve of are receding. and while that personal view is understandable, I see little reason why that should concern the moderate majority who voted for the pro-jobs, pro-growth, pro-business Mayor Lee.

His 65% approval ratings indicates that support for jobs and development are far more important to most SF'ers than a few bad artists and political extremists. So the city isn't "vanishing" at all. It is merely changing as it has always done.

The climate in Sf has always swung from one wing to another, and right now people, voters and residents are getting behind the economci success story here. If that emans a few people have to move to Oakland, I can live with that, and so can most of the rest of us.

Posted by Guest on May. 22, 2013 @ 7:00 am

While I agree with you on the issue of personal opinions, I don't think you can give a lot of credence to Mayoral approval ratings. Many sf residents are ignorant of local politics, which is illustrated by almost universal re-election of incumbents. When's the last time an incumbent was not re-elected?

If Ed Lee was not an incumbent (whose appointment was pretty damn shady to begin with, and his deciding to run even MORE shady), I bet you he would not have won. His backers knew he'd only get elected if "incumbent" appeared next to his name because let's be honest, few people pay attention to local politics.

Most people are bummed about the out of control cost of living in SF, the rent. I wont' argue the service industry here has exploded as a result and waiters and what not are making much more money, as long as the housing exists maybe it can be win-win. we'll see.

Posted by dude on May. 22, 2013 @ 11:05 am

you can claim support for anything and anyone. There just isn't any evidence that you are right and there's a lot of evidence that you are wrong.

Posted by Guest on May. 22, 2013 @ 11:23 am

"But a lot of them "just can't afford to be in San Francisco anymore," she went on, singing a familiar tune. "There's just been a huge shift over to the East Bay."

The horror, the horror.

Making someone live in Oakland is a human-rights violation!

Posted by Demented, Yet Terribly, Terribly, Persistent on May. 22, 2013 @ 7:16 am

It's really the classic SFBG logic error of thinking that San Francisco is somehow not just a part of the Bay Area.

San Francisco exceptionalism is a flawed way of thinking.

Posted by Guest on May. 22, 2013 @ 7:34 am

Left-wing people have a civil right to live in San Francisco!

Who else is going to read the Guardian?

Posted by Demented, Yet Terribly, Terribly, Persistent on May. 22, 2013 @ 7:43 am

talked about here for the poor, the unemployed, the homeless and non-whites is really just a plea for the demographics of this city not to change so that the entrenched special interest groups on the left can continue to exist in some form.

Posted by Guest on May. 22, 2013 @ 7:48 am

So you actually do think you're better than other people? You admit to that? That takes guts I guess. I mean, we're all racist. Duh, it's been institutionalized. Thanks old, dead, white men (alive white men can still suck but they're just a product of an environment, it's not their fault)! So of course we're every -ist (class, age, sex, etc.) but to say you basically think that your preference is better than everyone else's out LOUD, in TEXT, kinda makes you a bad person. Because you're not even sorry.

You really think once everyone around you is just like you, you'll grow? Become a better you? Be happier? Because you won't. You'll stay sheltered and arrogant and privileged. You won't learn gratitude and you'll never be happy.
These aren't the burbs. This is the city. You have to have a pair of something to live here.

Posted by Guest on May. 22, 2013 @ 8:17 am

Finally a comment worth reading. Most of these comments are disgusting.

Posted by swiss on May. 22, 2013 @ 12:36 pm

He said that much of the so-called empathetic compassion for the poorer classes was little more than self-serving political posturing.

And I fear that he is correct.

Posted by Guest on May. 22, 2013 @ 12:56 pm

I can guarantee I do not do it for the politics. Yes, certain agencies provide funding for non-profit organizations, but only because our society makes it so.
Shwuh oh, time to get a little socialist: If EVERYONE gave 10% of their check out of gratefulness that they weren't created the most unfortunate person in the world or found themselves in unfortunate situations over and over, then the world would be a better place and maybe there wouldn't be any unfortunate situations.

Unfortunately, humans are innately selfish (survival of the fittest). Fortunately, technology and other progressions have allowed us to not have to fight for food or shelter. There's definitely enough resources to go around. So it blows my mind that there are still people dying of hunger, thirst, etc. just because they don't have money. Now, I digress, but not really. These tenants are being evicted because the market says that landlords can charge at least double what they could charge 10 years ago. These landlords could CHOOSE to keep it the same. These landlords do not see their tenants as humans but as dollar signs. Landlords are still living in the "survival of the fittest" mentality because they see their survival based on how much money they can make. Sad truth.

A bit of a silver lining: Housing Negotiation Project occurs every Wednesday & Thursday from 12:30-4:30. It provides volunteer attorneys for people who are going through the eviction process who cannot afford their own representation. The lawyers represent families, yuppies (yes, even those heathens), teachers, counselors, the elderly, the disabled, servers, and bike messengers. Some people experienced a financial hardship (medical, family, etc.) and others have a landlord who sucks and is trying to jack up the rent.
If you know of anyone who has received a notice of eviction, please send them to the Eviction Defense Collaborative @ 995 Market, 12th Floor.

There is hope. It's just very small and very hard to find. Look!

Posted by Guest on May. 23, 2013 @ 10:23 am

I'm sure it's the minority but how many folks live in below market rent controlled apartments and CAN afford to pay market? There's a sizable group of these folks. It's too bad we can't take away their subsidy to subsidize house for folks that really need it here.

Personally I have several friends that make a bunch of money now but still live in their 1990 college apartment at 30% of market rent. They buy places in Tahoe and Napa and keep their subsidized apartment forever to live in here.

Posted by Guest on May. 22, 2013 @ 7:45 am

It would be amusing to cross-check the list of people living in rent-controlled apartments in SF against real estate ownership records in California and neighboring states.

Any guesses how many people in San Francisco living in rent-controlled apartments own real estate elsewhere?

Posted by Demented, Yet Terribly, Terribly, Persistent on May. 22, 2013 @ 8:26 am

... to cross-check how many comments on this website are made by landlords hostile to rent-control who own a pre-1979 SF rental property. Over 80% is my guess. You'd think they'd just sell the building (at a huge profit in most cases) and move on with their lives. But instead they have this insatiable need to whine and complain on a website that is very supportive of tenants in general and extremely supportive of strong rent-control laws. There are lots of whiners and losers in the US, and apparently many of them own SF rent-controlled buildings.

Posted by Guest on May. 22, 2013 @ 8:53 am

Only Landlords Could Possibly Think That Rent Control Is Stupid!

Posted by Demented, Yet Terribly, Terribly, Persistent on May. 22, 2013 @ 9:12 am

Do you realize that you mispunctuate your screen name?

I know that punctuation pickiness is uncool, but so are you.

Posted by Guest on May. 22, 2013 @ 9:21 am

Of course I live in Portland, along with at least one person who had a rent controlled apartment in San Francisco while simultaneously owning a house in Portland, at least until recently.

If he can care about San Francisco housing policy, so can I.

Posted by Demented, Yet Terribly, Terribly, Persistent on May. 22, 2013 @ 9:30 am
Posted by Guest on May. 22, 2013 @ 9:30 am

Alabama, Mississippi, Oklahoma ... They don't have rent control so they must be superior and we should follow their lead. Is that what you're saying? You know, Detroit has no rent control and a high homeownership rate. Should we try to be like Detroit?

Posted by Guest on May. 22, 2013 @ 10:02 am

Why would they need rent control? You could move there tomorrow and live like a king on your minimum wage job.

Of course, they do have a cvity income tax in Detroit, so maybe you think we should follow their lead after all?

Posted by Guest on May. 22, 2013 @ 10:13 am

wow you are literally stupid. Did you even realize what you commented in reference to the context of this article and the comments that followed?

You should just start all over again at Kindergarten.

Posted by Cuhsandra on Jun. 11, 2013 @ 1:45 pm

I think rent control is stupid, and I'm not a landlord. In fact I live in a rent-controlled apartment myself. It has personally benefitted me.

However I realize that the macro impact of rent control is negative. Nice for those who were lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time, but bad for young people new to the housing market and everyone else trying to find a place subsequently.

Rent control decreases the overall availability, quality, and affordability of housing everywhere it's attempted. The irony is that

As one of the friends of Jon Sugar's mentioned in the article, I don't want to see him get kicked out -- especially since the whole situation arose as a result of bedbugs, not anything that was his fault. His only real "fault" in this saga that I can see has been not being savvy enough in navigating the hoops that were set up by the court process for him to jump through, thereby inadvertently creating the legal conditions for him to be evicted.

Jon isn't really an activist. But he's someone who adds richness and community to the lives of those around him. It's a shame that he and others who are losing their homes are suffering the unintended consequences of policies largely enacted and supported by people whose intentions are exactly the opposite.

If San Francisco continues to gentrify and become more conservative, people like the folks running the Bay Guardian will have primarily themselves to blame, for choosing statism (government control and regulation) over a more free-spirited cultural liberalism. The relative prosperity that made the Summer of Love possible is something that a tax-and-spend agenda of big government programs can never deliver.

People who value non-conformity, funkiness, a free-spirited art and music scene, and the counterculture in general should give serious consideration to the fact that government is none of these things.

The culture of big government is to elevate the Protestant work ethic over bohemianism, sobriety over hedonism, obedience over independence, "family friendly" mores over alternative culture, government military veterans over peace activists, money over aesthetics and spirituality.

When that's what you keep electing, don't be surprised at the all-too-predictable results.

Posted by Starchild on May. 23, 2013 @ 12:04 pm

Starchild for Mayor. ;)

Posted by Guest on May. 23, 2013 @ 12:27 pm

assumption revealed by the introductory information in previous years' voter pamphlets, being gay, bi-sexual, transsexual, etc. is not a qualification for office. (Nor is it a disqualification, of course.)

Posted by lillipublicans on May. 23, 2013 @ 12:47 pm

But having the depth of thinking to realize that rent control actually harms tenants shows a subtle grasp of sophisticated concepts.

Posted by Guest on May. 23, 2013 @ 1:20 pm

who uses the Starchild persona to make friends with LGBT etc, then subtly manipulates them by feeding them the government line once in awhile like she just did.

Posted by guest on May. 25, 2013 @ 8:11 am
Posted by lillipublicans on May. 25, 2013 @ 12:07 pm

because they think it's a free lunch, without realizing that it's killing them. In fact, the big dark secret is that a lot of landlords like rent control. After all, they could just as easily buy in Marin or San Mateo, with high rents and no rent control.

But the thing is that LL's make bank when they get a vacancy, like 3K a month for a 1BR. And there are ways of ensuring more turnover.

Posted by Guest on May. 23, 2013 @ 12:43 pm

I know two families of four who are crammed into a one-ed flat, purely to retain rent control. They've got the money to move and in fact one of them bragged to me about "having saved a million" partly because of his cheap rent - he's looking for a Tahoe ski cabin right now and will pay cash.

Then there's an IT guy I know who is on 150K a year and pays $800 for a 3-bed flat in Nob Hill.

SFBG always conjures up some old guy with AIDS getting evicted but there are a lot of people making bank off RC who don't need it.

Posted by Guest on May. 22, 2013 @ 9:25 am

who already inherited two houses on the East Coast and used some more of his inherited wealth to buy a multi-unit San Francisco apartment building. He then did an OMI eviction on the tenants paying the least rent because he wanted a place to live during the time of the year he wasn't globetrotting.

Posted by Guest on May. 22, 2013 @ 9:39 am

So what is your point?

Posted by Guest on May. 22, 2013 @ 10:14 am