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."


friends in your example, so what is your point?

Posted by Guest on May. 22, 2013 @ 2:58 pm

then in return you admit it's OK for some rich people to maintain rent-controlled units in SF?

Got it.

Posted by Guest on May. 22, 2013 @ 3:08 pm

We all know people like that.

There's a couple who owns a TIC and secretly sublets their rent controlled apartment. Apple and Google employees riding buses to work and hoarding apartments.

It's contrary to the best justification for rent control: to provide affordable housing for those in need.

Posted by Guest on May. 22, 2013 @ 10:08 am

The law already forbids them to do that. The rental unit has to be the primary residence. The landlord can evict.

Means testing will only reward the people who come here and sponge off their parents. It will punish those who finally make a decent salary and want to save to own a home

Posted by Guest on May. 22, 2013 @ 10:15 am

the primary residence of the owner for three years, and then it doesn't matter any more.

Easy to get around that rule, just like tenants whose main home is elsewhere and they keep their SF RC unit as a pied a terre.

Posted by Guest on May. 22, 2013 @ 10:29 am

Means testing is already successfully applied to many government programs. It can be applied to rent control benefits too.

Posted by Guest on May. 22, 2013 @ 10:49 am

should be replaced with Section8-like housing vouchers to the poorest renters to use to pay part of their rent.

That would free up the rest of the housing market for more economic use and a more just housing allocation.

The current system encourages losers and parasites to squat and malinger.

Posted by Guest on May. 22, 2013 @ 10:15 am

ahhh.., such a magical tale.., The myth of the rich welfare receiver..., the rich rent-control tenant...., the rich poor person?...

Two families you say? TWO!? FAMILIES!?!:?!?!:?!:!?!?!?!?!
.................................................................................................................................................................................. /sigh

Posted by Nate on May. 22, 2013 @ 11:19 pm

It's not a myth, there's a healthy contingent of middle to upper-middle income people with rent-controlled apartments.

Posted by Guest on May. 23, 2013 @ 10:19 am

That could probably givce you a decant life somewhere cheap whereas here he is doomed to struggle.

Meanwhile, his occupation of that housing unit denies it to someone who could contribute financially to this city rather than just take things from it.

And why did he break his lease?

Posted by Guest on May. 22, 2013 @ 9:34 am

I love all the fictionalized tenants with 3br apartments going for $850. An IT guy no less. That would probably mean he is under 50 and unlikely to have been living in Sf when rents were that low. Also, inflationary adjustments would have driven the price well above that level by now.

Posted by Guest on May. 22, 2013 @ 9:56 am

for twenty or so years. He originally moved in with two roommates but as they moved out and he made more money, he decided to keep the whole thing for himself and, at that rent, why not?

The point was more that rent control is a blunt instrument because it does not target real need or actual poverty, but rather just gives everyone a handout whether they need it or not.

It also pollutes the landlord-tenant relationship and, as in the other examples, causes families to cram together in units that are too small i.e. it suppresses natural mobility.

Posted by Guest on May. 22, 2013 @ 10:11 am

I had a 3br flat in 1997 for $720/month in Hayes Valley. I've since moved, but if I'd stayed there, my rent still would be under $1000 today. Market rate for that unit would be in the $5000 range today.

It's not fiction.

Posted by Guest on May. 22, 2013 @ 8:02 pm

Market rents for 3BR in Hayes Valley in 1997 were much higher than $720/month.

Posted by Guest on May. 22, 2013 @ 10:11 pm

I moved into that unit in October of 1995, and out in December of 1997 -- when most of Hayes Valley was still the Western Addition.

The unit was a middle-floor flat on Hayes between Buchannan and Webster. We moved in prior to the Hayes Valley North projects being torn down (and rebuilt as SFHA townhouses). Market rate for that apartment was $720, and it had been vacant for about 2 months before I moved in.

When I moved out, the unit was advertised for $1,150. It was not vacant long.

Dude. I was there. I lived it. You can plug your ears and deny all you want, but it's the honest truth.

Posted by Guest on May. 23, 2013 @ 3:07 pm

has migrated from ghetto with an elevated freeway thru it to a hip inner city neighbourhood.

I can easily see a fivefold increase of rents there in 20 years or so.

Posted by anon on May. 23, 2013 @ 3:42 pm

It's not that I didn't believe you, but I was skeptical that a market rent for a 3BR flat in Hayes Valley in 1997 was $720, which you confirm since the apartment re-rented in late 1997 for $1150.

Both the 1995 and 1997 rents seem like good deals for their time, but that might be because of the location near Hayes Valley North.

Posted by Guest on May. 24, 2013 @ 10:25 am

rents for over 3K a month. (Obviously there has been tenant turnover - whoop-do-doo.

Posted by Guest on May. 24, 2013 @ 10:42 am

"On a recent Saturday, the collective that started Esperanza Gardens hosted an event at its tiny fenced-in San Francisco garden plot, billed as a "be-in." Ukulele music floated in the air as several people painted sweeping brushstrokes onto a mural. Volunte ers dished up organic pizza with donated ingredients, cooked in a handcrafted cob oven. A dreadlocked gardener named Ryan Rising was preparing to host a permaculture workshop. The sun was hot, and flowers bloomed in vibrant hues."

JFC, this is precious tea steeped in a handcrafted, artisanal mug created from the toe cheese and tears of a thousand twee clown activists.

Do you even read what you put out? I am not sure if this is a genuine article or its the script to a Portlandia skit.

Posted by NOT_Eric_Brooks on May. 22, 2013 @ 10:34 am

"JFC, this is precious tea steeped in a handcrafted, artisanal mug created from the toe cheese and tears of a thousand twee clown activists."

Heh, outstanding.

Sums up everything that is wrong with SF but which is fortunately hetting exported to Oakland and Berkeley.

Posted by Guest on May. 22, 2013 @ 10:43 am

wow dude. god forbid people paint in sweeping brush strokes, or that flowers glow vibrantly and the sun to be warm and shine. No there is something worse, someone observing it and then putting it into words. You're an asshat to start and a asshole to finish.

Posted by Cuhsandra on Jun. 11, 2013 @ 1:54 pm

OK, so who DOES get to live in San Francisco? Is there a certain minimum number of victim-groups or other classifications to which someone must belong in order to qualify?

What about me? I'm middle-aged, earn approximately the median income, gay, and HIV+. I'm an active participant in a major LGBT nonprofit and have raised almost $8000 for AIDS/LifeCycle. On the debit side of the ledger, I'm in good health, white, and thoroughly uncreative -- I've never been to Burning Man and can't even dance -- and have only lived in SF for 4 years. Do I deserve to live here even if/when I can't afford it anymore?

Posted by Guest on May. 22, 2013 @ 12:13 pm

That's very unprepossessing of you but I can totally understand why someone might think that not being non-white renders you a second class applicant to join the PC crowd.

Posted by Guest on May. 22, 2013 @ 12:20 pm

2001 was a while ago but I suspect the number aren't far off now?

"A study published in 2001 showed that more than one-fourth of the occupants of rent-controlled apartments in San Francisco had household incomes of more than $100,000 a year. It should also be noted that this was the first empirical study of rent control commissioned by the city of San Francisco. Since rent control began there in 1979, this means that for more than two decades these laws were enforced and extended, with no serious attempt being made to gauge their actual economic and social consequences, as distinguished from their political popularity.

Ironically, cities with strong rent control laws, such as New York and San Francisco, tend to end up with -higher- average rent than cities without rent control. Where such laws apply only to rents below some specified level, presumably to protect the poor, builders then have incentives to build only apartments luxurious enough to be priced above the rent-control level [and office buildings]... rent control has created a housing shortage... Not surprisingly, homelessness tends to be greater in cities with rent control - New York and San Francisco again being classic examples. One of the reasons for the political success of rent control laws is that many people accept words as indicators of reality. In other words, they believe that rent control laws actually control rents."

Posted by Guest on May. 22, 2013 @ 12:16 pm

it comes to rent control is that NYC introduced means testing for RC several years ago. Not that is that onerous - I believe you need to make over 150K a year to disqualify yourself from rent control but, even so, at least it acknowledges one of the core problems with RC - it is indiscriminant.

It doesn't surprise me that 25% of rent control recipients make more than 100K a year. I know several in that category and, for that matter, had a RC unit myself when I was making 150K a year a decade or so ago. I had the decency to give it up though.

In my experience, it's the educated whites who get the most from rent control. The less educated, the non-whites and new arrivals don't know much if anything about rent control, and are less likely to get all uppity about their "rights".

Posted by Guest on May. 22, 2013 @ 12:25 pm
Posted by Guest on May. 22, 2013 @ 3:07 pm
Posted by Guest on May. 22, 2013 @ 3:26 pm

"A study published in 2001 showed that more than one-fourth of the occupants of rent-controlled apartments in San Francisco had household incomes of more than $100,000 a year."

Big deal. A household income of $100k could easily mean a couple where each half earns $50k annually. In SF, that's not much. It's ridiculous to say such a couple doesn't deserve rent control.

Between my partner and me, we make a little more than $100k combined annually and have lived in an RC apartment for about ten years. Guess what? We still live paycheck to paycheck and come up short sometimes.

To say that couples like us don't deserve RC is to say we deserve to stay at subsistence level for the rest of our lives. RC means that over the next ten years as our salaries go up a bit (a small bit, albeit, as salaries are going these days), we'll actually get to save for our retirement and maybe visit our families or take a small vacation now and again.

What's wrong with that? The way you people talk, it sounds like you begrudge regular working folks daring to actually move into the middle class. Heaven forbid us good-for-nothing hard workers get a break and do more than live paycheck to paycheck. Just because I get a small raise and a promotion every few years or so, I am supposed to move? Hogwash. I love my apartment -- not just the price, but it's comfortable and I love my neighborhood. The idea that after ten years I am supposed to "take one" and move to a smaller, more expensive place in a shitty neighborhood is preposterous.

Posted by So? on May. 22, 2013 @ 7:51 pm

You can live far above subsistence level in a lot of decent cities/neighborhoods with that income. To say you 'deserve' to live in a desirable expensive neighborhood in one of densest cities in the country is what is hogwash.. You don't 'deserve' an expensive apartment any more than I 'deserve' a house in Malibu cuz hey, I want one. You should live in a place you can afford like everyone else.

But all that aside, what people don't get is that your rent control amounts to a subsidy for you, offset by higher rents for everyone else. The rest of us are paying for your 'cute apartment'

Posted by Guest on May. 23, 2013 @ 10:38 am

I do live in a place I can afford, i.e. my apartment. I moved into this neighborhood ten years ago. I've seen a lot of things come and go. I've put energy and time and love and roots into both this apartment and this neighborhood. Now I am supposed to move out to be polite? You never had a house in Malibu so that's a flawed analogy. I didn't just show up in this neighborhood one day and demand a "cute apartment." I moved into this neighborhood ten years ago and have grown along with it. I have no plans of moving. I like it here. Why should I leave? By the way, the Mission Terrace / Ingleside neighborhood I live in is nowhere near the most expensive in the city. It's getting pricier than it was ten years ago, and they just put in a Whole Foods on Ocean, but it's no Pac Heights or even Hayes Valley.

Posted by So what? on May. 23, 2013 @ 10:26 pm

So you're fine with other people subsidizing your lifestyle?

That's like saying I can 'afford' a new car if I pay the same car payments I paid in 2003 for a used POS and the taxpayers pay the other 75% of the bill

Posted by Guest on May. 24, 2013 @ 3:37 pm

inflated sense of his own importance and a sense of entitlement that he should be able to live in a place he can't afford just because he wants to.

Posted by Guest on May. 24, 2013 @ 3:51 pm

Except that I can afford it. I pay my rent on time every month. Not sure why anyone thinks I should move. I'd move if I didn't like it here. But I do like it, so I won't.

Posted by So what? on May. 24, 2013 @ 10:06 pm

it is arbitrarily set at less than the market rent, on account of rent control, then you cannot really afford to be in SF.

And when you are Ellis'ed, as will inevitably happen in buildings with uneconomic rents, then you will have to move.

Posted by Guest on May. 25, 2013 @ 6:42 am

I think it's "Ellised" not "Ellis'ed." Not sure why everyone keeps adding an apostrophe. Unless it's really just one "Guest" making the same type of comments over and over. There seems to be a landlord troll patrol that hangs out here. Lucretia? Lucretia?

Posted by So what? on May. 25, 2013 @ 7:42 am

The apostrophe is used because Ellis is a proper name. Jim Ellis was the eponymous (and now deceased) CA Assembyman who coined the Act that now provides SF with it's most affordable home ownership opportunities.

Posted by Guest on May. 25, 2013 @ 8:11 am

I don't think Chicago says anything about adding an apostrophe to proper names when they are made into verbs. In fact, I am pretty sure it says not to.

Posted by So what? on May. 25, 2013 @ 8:21 am

I'd worry if that's the only point or argument you can make here. Grammar Nazi's are not convincing.

Posted by Guest on May. 25, 2013 @ 8:27 am

Ah, good old Godwin. I knew his trusty law would show up sooner or later.

By the way, it's "Nazis" not "Nazi's," unless the Nazis are owning something.

Posted by So what? on May. 25, 2013 @ 8:48 am

with the proper use of apostrophes throughout his too long tenure here.

Savvy readers recognize this trait as he posts obsessively to try to fool us about some sort of groundswell of support for his idiocy.


Posted by Guest on May. 25, 2013 @ 9:05 am

make you look like the kind of person anyone should listen to about grammar trivialities.

Posted by Guest on May. 25, 2013 @ 10:03 am

And anyway, you missed my point. It wasn't about neighborhoods or even apartment price per se. My point was about means testing and what the threshold should be. The person who posted that study seemed to be saying that $100k annual household should be the threshold and that any household making more than $100k shouldn't qualify for RC. I was simply calling BS on that. $100k annual household is peanuts in SF.

Posted by So what? on May. 23, 2013 @ 11:31 pm

He really did miss your point, in a lot of ways.

For one, he assumed you were talking about a "desirable expensive" neighborhood. Ingleside is neither, even with a Whole Foods, access to BART, and an attempt to create an "Ocean Corridor." It's just too sketchy after dark with the runover from Visitation Valley and the Acura gangs roaming free. Good luck walking around after five in the winter.

For two, he probably didn't actually think you meant Pac Heights or Hayes Valley, either. He probably assumed you meant the Mission. Maybe he even thought he was on the MissionMission blog. A lot of these arguments seem to revolve specifically around the Mission -- one, because a lot of narrow-minded types think Market and Valencia is the edge of San Francisco and two, because somehow what is happening there has become emblematic of gentrification in SF as a whole.

God only knows why anyone wants to live there. Pac Heights and Hayes Valley, I get it. The Mission is a shitbag, any way you look at it.

Anyway, I agree with you that $100K is a bogus cut-off for means testing, if you're looking at it from the perspective of annual household. That can be two working stiffs who each make $50k -- not even middle class in SF. The HUD line for middle class in SF starts at $65k annual. That means the threshold for means testing should be at least $130k annual household. I'd go it up a few and say at least $200k annual for means testing. Anything below $200k annual should have access to RC.

Lastly, this whole idea that long term tenants are squatters *is* ridiculous. I've also lived in my place a long time -- 17 years, actually. First place I got when I moved to the city. For me, it's not even about the cheap rent (although I can't complain), but I just love my place. I didn't move into this apartment because I was desperate and just waiting for the next rung on the ladder to move on. I moved in because I loved the look and location (Inner Sunset/Cole Valley). I have no plans to move because I love my neighborhood and I love my apartment. Some of us are just creatures of habit. I've had the same job for 17 years, too. Same wife, too! Imagine that. Not sure why I am supposed to get an itch and move every few years.

Posted by Guest on May. 24, 2013 @ 10:06 am

but why the shot at the Mission? To each, their own. I wouldn't want to live in Inner Sunset/Cole Valley, but I'm not going to slam the neighborhood.

The Marina District, upper Fillmore--that's a different story. Walking through there to go to the Clay Theatre, yuck.

Posted by Guest on May. 24, 2013 @ 10:44 am

cannot afford to live there anyway. Sour grapes.

Posted by Guest on May. 24, 2013 @ 10:52 am

It's not that we don't like the neighborhoods, we just don't like the shitty and snobby people who inhabit them.

Posted by Alexandra on Jun. 11, 2013 @ 2:41 pm

two people living together that's 100k in your example. While that's not rich in SF, it's not poor either and certainly in the top half of income

So that begs the question who should rent subsidies should be for. We can disagree on that but, at minimum, I'd say it has to be only for people below average pay.

I believe that NYC has the limit at 150K a year but then people make more there. On that basis 100-120 a year for SF could work. and increase it by 60% of CPI - same way allowable rents are.

Posted by Guest on May. 24, 2013 @ 10:45 am

Nah. I'd set it at least at $200k household.

Posted by Guest on May. 24, 2013 @ 2:41 pm

I struggle to see why they should get a subsidy.

With rental yields at 5%, you'd need to own 5 million worth of property free and clear to gross that amount of income, let alone net.

Posted by Guest on May. 24, 2013 @ 3:19 pm

No one ever said the landlord has a right to make more annually than its tenants. Some do, some don't. That's life. If I make more than my landlord, I am supposed to feel bad and move? Don't think it works like that.

Posted by So what? on May. 24, 2013 @ 10:42 pm

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