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."


The diea of rent control is clearly not to help people who have large incomes and who are simply too cheap to move.

It's designed to help poorer people who need help, in a similar way to how Section 8 works.

So if you make far more than your landlord (which I doubt) then you do not have a moral policy imperative backing you up here. You can squat there out of self-serving greed, of course, which seems to be what you are saying. But that is a violation of the intent of the law. In fact, you are exploiting a law intended to help others less fortunate than yourself.

Posted by Guest on May. 25, 2013 @ 6:45 am

It's interesting how when laws benefit the wealthy, your type doesn't bat an eye. Subsidies for Twitter? You're all for it. But the moment the laws happen to benefit the working or middle class, you sound the alarms. It's so hypocritical.

Anyway, I never said I necessarily make more than my landlord. The OP set up a hypothetical where an LL would have to own $5 million worth of property outright to gross $200k annually. And I am saying, so what? That doesn't mean his tenants can't make more than that by, you know, working at their jobs. There is no entitlement of the LL to be wealthier than his tenants, but the OP seemed to believe that's a given.

Posted by So what? on May. 25, 2013 @ 7:49 am

makes and I'm sure there are millionaires who choose to rent.

Where it does matter, as a policy matter, is where a policy predicated on helping the poor is hijacked by the wealthy. That millionaire shouldn't be getting food stamps or section 8 vouchers or Medicaid either, by the same argument.

Posted by Guest on May. 25, 2013 @ 8:13 am

the same idiotic falsehoods.

Rent control is not a subsidy. If "so what?" were to move out of his/her apartment, the landlord would charge the new tenant market rent. How does that help the hypothetical low income person you pretend to care about, but in reality hold in contempt?

Means testing for rent control? Not going to happen. Who lives in a fantasy world?

Posted by Guest on May. 25, 2013 @ 8:32 am

One can easily argue that the landlord is forced to subsidizing a rent controlled tenant by being compelled to charge a rent that has no bearing on the economic rent.

Means testing has already been introduced in NYC for rent control so it is clearly not just a fantasy. Ironically it's people like "so what", bragging about his deal while making six figures, who will lose rent control support here.

Posted by Guest on May. 25, 2013 @ 10:02 am

that your comments are intelligent or that the sky is brown.


Posted by Guest on May. 25, 2013 @ 10:23 am

I don't make anywhere close to six figures. As I said, I make less than $65k. In SF, that is low income. Check it out. HUD defines anything below $65k as low income.

Posted by So what? on May. 25, 2013 @ 10:31 am

of which you make 65K and your "partner" (yuk) presumably makes at least 35K.

So you are an above average "family" and so undeserving of de facto welfare.

Posted by Guest on May. 25, 2013 @ 11:44 am

The point is that rentals are supposed to be fluid. It's not a house. You're not making a down payment or getting a loan, and you can leave at the end of your lease. The flip side of this arrangement is that you're subject to the effects of the market, i.e. the value of your property will probably increase and you're expected to pay for this.

Obviously I'm not saying people should move every six months. But why not a 5-7 year cap on rent control? This would get things moving at least somewhat, and people could stay in one place for a reasonable amount of time, creating some of this 'rooted community' that everyone is going on about (although I personally fail to see how strolling down your street feeling satisfied with yourself is some kind of contribution.. I seriously doubt that most of these middle-class people in RC apartments are babysitting their neighbor's kids or organizing community events). They would know to start looking for other options ahead of time if their neighborhood gets rapidly more expensive.

If you want to own a place for your whole life, rent in the middle of nowhere where nothing ever changes, or buy a house in the burbs... the whole excitement of a city is that it is dynamic. You can't have your cake and eat it too.

Posted by Guest on May. 24, 2013 @ 4:15 pm

comments you can make on this website spewing the same classist falsehoods?

Or pop that blood vessel already.

Posted by Guest on May. 24, 2013 @ 4:29 pm

touchy! Sorry you're so attached to your apartment! It's not classist to point out the obvious. It's not low-income people I'm talking about here. I don't see how anything I've said is false. Besides, the entitlement felt by these upper-middle-class RC tenants is what's snobby!

Posted by Guest on May. 24, 2013 @ 4:49 pm

The way he charged right into the cannons there.

Posted by Guest on May. 24, 2013 @ 5:07 pm

I'm not the one who left that comment. Mine are marked "So what?" not "guest."

Anyway, I do actually organize community events. I have a Rent Control Club that meets once a month to laugh at our landlords and all the schmucks who pay four times what we do. The rule for joining is that you have to pay less than $800 per month on rent. We share pictures from the glamorous vacations we can afford thanks to RC and drink Champagne. We put our dues in a pot and raffle it to one lucky club member each time, who uses it to have a meal at French Laundry. We scream with laughter at all the yuppies who pay $3k per month to live in places half the size of ours and lean out the window to annoy them with laser pointers on the sidewalk while they wait in line for dumplings or sushi.

If this is not the epitome of community-building, I'd like to know what is!

Posted by So what? on May. 24, 2013 @ 11:16 pm

Also in our club is a lawyer who specializes in fighting Ellis evictions. For every new win, we make a toast with cocktails made of the finest liquor, paid for at the expense of another sorry landlord who tried in vain to "go out of business."

Posted by So what? on May. 24, 2013 @ 11:46 pm

and clings to his subsidized apartment knowing and fearing that Mister Ellis will come a knocking any day now.

Oh, and there are no "wins" against Ellis because there is no legal defense against an Ellis. That's the whole point of it.

Posted by Guest on May. 25, 2013 @ 6:47 am

buildings with a dozen units. I only have one now, having TIC'ed and condo'ed the others. But the problem is always lack of turnover.

As a landlord, I don't mind rents being controlled for a few years so that tenants are spared the situation like back in 2000 when rents could rise 50% in a year.

But then at least have the decency to move on.

Now, I was lucky and had turnover. In fact, the probability of a tenant moving out of a RC unit is inversely proportional to the amount of time he or she has been there.

Many move after a year or two because the rent differential isn't that great. The LL's I feel sorry for are the ones who get a few "lifers". For a big landlord, it doesn't matter because they will always get some turnover. But if you only have one 2-4 unit building and a couple of them squat, then you have a problem.

That's why I never feel sorry for tenants who get Ellis'ed. They've generally out-stayed their welcome, else they would not have been Ellis'ed in the first place.

Posted by Guest on May. 24, 2013 @ 4:33 pm

The entire idea that moving is the "decent" thing to do is preposterous. As a landlord, you are not guaranteed to get filthy rich. You've taken a risk as a property owner, and that risk doesn't always pay off (hence it being a risk, look it up).

Long-term renters are not squatting. Squatting means to illegally occupy a space. Dictionaries are your friend.

Posted by So what? on May. 24, 2013 @ 10:38 pm

So it's better for you that your landlord is making good money. It's not the tenants paying close to a market rent whose homes are "vanishing".

Posted by Guest on May. 25, 2013 @ 6:48 am

I have a great relationship with my landlord, for one thing. For another, my place would be impossible to Ellis. It's not set up to convert to an ownership unit. The location and shape are just too awkward.

Posted by So what? on May. 25, 2013 @ 7:53 am

does not know that you are here bragging about how good your deal is.

Any place can be Ellis'ed. And you can sell any home in SF.

Sounds like you're saying it's in a bad area and, sure, homes in Hunter's Point don't sell as well as they do in Pacific Heights. But someone would buy it.

I wouldn't be too smug and complacent if I were you. Most LL's eventually tire of subsidizing their tenants and either find a way of evicting them, or sell to someone who will.

Posted by Guest on May. 25, 2013 @ 8:17 am

Yes, I can. RC isn't going anywhere, and neither am I. I'm putting in new kitchen tile and hardwood floors this year, and a garden next. I'd love to own, but it's too expensive in the Bay Area, so I rent. I've found a place I like, I pay my rent on time, my landlord likes me, I know my neighbors, what the hell is the issue? I'm sorry you didn't move here ten years ago. Maybe it's not 100% "fair," but what is? You whyne that I should live somewhere cheaper -- why don't you? If you don't like the high price of rentals here, don't move here. But don't blame me just because I got locked into a good deal early on. Happens all the time. I pay $60 for a haircut at the salon on the corner. Some of the clients are grandfathered in at $40 and some less than that. Boo hoo hoo. I don't hold it against them.

Besides, if I moved out now, it's not like you could move into this spacious 2 BR and pay $750 like I do. The minute I moved out, the price would go to FMV, so who would that really benefit besides the landlord? Not anyone looking for an apartment. And like I said, my landlord likes me. He appreciates the stability and longevity and the work I've put into the place.

Mmmmmmmmmm, can't wait to eat cake off my new hardwood floors.

Posted by So what? on May. 24, 2013 @ 10:27 pm

You're living in fairy land.

Although if I had a tenant who totally did the place up at his own expense, I'd Ellis him as soon as he is finished, and get all that value for myself. Your LL only "likes you" because he doesn't know you are writing this rot.

What kind of dummy spends thousands doing up somebody else's home? And when they are always as little as 60 days away from having to move?

By exaggerating wildly, you both lose all credibility and undermine the concern that SFBG are raising here on behalf of people in genuine need. You're a poster child for everything that is wrong with rent control.

Posted by Guest on May. 25, 2013 @ 6:55 am

the definitions of the words "squatting" and "subsidy," you should get a sense of humor.

Why so bitter? Why do you revel in other's misfortunes, like getting evicted?

You are poster child for what is wrong with landlording.

Concern trolling, notwithstanding.

Posted by Guest on May. 25, 2013 @ 7:13 am

fantasy of a bitter person, it is important to show that such attitudes do exist, and how that undermines the cause of social justice here.

SFBG can justly be criticized for always picking someone old and sick who is being evicted to be their poster child, it's important to realize that there are many tenants who exploit the system and even brag about it.

The voters may not continue to support the current rules if they see affluent people gaming the system for personal gain.

Posted by Guest on May. 25, 2013 @ 7:45 am

I'm neither exaggerating nor affluent nor gaming the system. Okay, the bit about the Rent Control Club was sarcasm. But I am absolutely redoing the floors. I found a good deal and am doing some of the work myself (I enjoy such things). In fact, my landlord helped me find the deal, and is putting some money towards it. He is putting the amount of new low-rung carpet towards the overall price of the floors. He knows that after ten years, the carpets aren't so great (and were sort of down-market to begin with, you know, that beige wall-to-wall crap).

You may be shocked to learn this, but some landlords have a genuine interest in their tenants' lives and well being. Just because you're an ass who views your tenants as parasites doesn't mean all landlords feel that way. Some appreciate the stability of long-term tenants who pay rent on time, work hard, are quiet and responsible, and don't complain. Sometimes that's better than taking a chance on new tenants who might be careless and loud and drug users or complainers.

As for affluent, that's a laugh. I've already noted that between my partner and me, we make a little over $100k annual combined. I make less than $65k annually, which is the HUD line for low income in SF. So by HUD standards, I am low income -- not affluent. This ain't Cincinnati, or even Portland.

I am doing nothing to break the law. Clearly, you don't like RC, but right now it's the law. There are plenty of laws I disagree with, but I abide by them. You'll have to, too. Until RC goes away, if it ever does, I plan to stay put. I like my apartment, my neighborhood, and my landlord. No reason to move.

Posted by So what? on May. 25, 2013 @ 8:12 am

I really don't care whether your LL can't see thru your manipulation and selfishness or not. But I can say that rent subsidies were never designed for families making six figures.

Your fight isn't really with me but with SFBG. They're trying to say that there is a crisis in SF with rental housing, and you're trying to say that there is no crisis and everything is great.

One of you is wrong.

BTW, I've had over 100 tenants and most of them were fine so it isn't true that I don't like tenants. But then they nearly all moved out after a couple of years and progressed with their lives. I only had to evict a couple of them.

Posted by Guest on May. 25, 2013 @ 8:24 am

The SFBG is not defining rent control as a subsidy because it isn't one.

Either you are disingenuous or retarded. Whatever the case, you boast of economic terrorism, eviction for profit or taking advantage of undocumented workers.

If the legal and economic system were fair, you would be in jail.

Posted by Guest on May. 25, 2013 @ 8:39 am

are glibly saying that all is well with tenants in SF.

Are you right or are they right?

How you choose to define subsidy is irrelevant to that because this is about evictions.

Posted by anon on May. 25, 2013 @ 9:58 am

anon. Where did I, or anyone else, say "all is well with tenants in SF?"

At least, you remain undefeated in your debates.


Posted by Guest on May. 25, 2013 @ 10:16 am

Tenants have it great and, at the same time, they don't?

Posted by Guest on May. 25, 2013 @ 11:42 am

Some of them do; some of them don't. It's not that hard to grasp.

What bothers me is this attitude that rent control is fine as long as the people it's helping remain in crisis, scraping by on the brink of disaster. That makes you feel good. But if this "subsidy" actually helps a working stiff attain a normal standard of living, you sound the alarms.

Think of it this way -- the fact that we can point to specific instances where rent control has helped a working class people do okay for themselves is a *good* thing. It means the "subsidy" has had a positive effect. Isn't that the point?

I'm sorry that we regular working folks can't all be sick and drowning in debt to conform to the image of us that makes you feel okay.

Posted by So what? on May. 25, 2013 @ 12:30 pm

"Although if I had a tenant who totally did the place up at his own expense, I'd Ellis him as soon as he is finished, and get all that value for myself. "

I knew this guy was an Israeli after reading just a few of his comments. This comment clinches.

No one but an Israeli can speak about other human beings in that tone of complete disdain.

It comes from them being allowed to treat Palestinians like dogs when they go to Tel Aviv for vacation.

When they come back here to America, they think they can treat and talk about Americans the way they treat and talk about Palestinians.

Posted by Joe Mittal on May. 25, 2013 @ 8:01 am

"Although if I had a tenant who totally did the place up at his own expense, I'd Ellis him as soon as he is finished, and get all that value for myself. "

I knew this guy was an Israeli after reading just a few of his comments. This comment clinches it.

No one but an Israeli can speak about other human beings in that tone of complete disdain.

It comes from them being allowed to treat Palestinians like dogs when they go to Tel Aviv for vacation.

When they come back here to America, they think they can treat and talk about Americans the way they treat and talk about Palestinians.

Posted by guest on May. 25, 2013 @ 8:03 am
Posted by Guest on May. 25, 2013 @ 8:09 am
Posted by lillipublicans on May. 25, 2013 @ 8:20 am

But hey, you helped me get rid of him, so you credit for that.

Posted by Guest on May. 25, 2013 @ 8:26 am

Thanks for suaring your info. I really appreciate your efforts and I will be waiting
for your further post thank once again.

Posted by Christal on May. 28, 2014 @ 8:03 pm

Well that certainly is the fantasy you hear a lot from educated whites; 'if only I could find a cute rent-controlled apartment'... I'm not as eloquent as this guy, so I'll just quote again:

"Les Katz, a 27-year-old acting student and doorman, rents a small studio apartment on Manhattan's Upper West Side for $1,200--with two roommates. Two sleep in separate beds in a loft built atop the kitchen, the third on a mattress in the main room.

Across town on Park Avenue, Paul Haberman, a private investor, and his wife live in a spacious, two-bedroom apartment with a solarium and two terraces. The apartment in an elegant building on the prestigious avenue is worth at least $5,000 a month, reall-estate professionals say. The couple pay around $350, according to rent controls."

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

While this article on (rather, anti-) development is not different from any other article on this topic in SFBG since, probably, 1968, I find myself, very strangely and sadly, agreeing with it this time!

But as soon as I recall another article in SFBG just a few weeks ago, an angry response to someone's short piece on SF housing crisis in Slate, that started with, "If you want to live in Manhattan - move to Manhattan", I get all my anger at SFBG advocates back in place, where it's supposed to be. You just don't get it: THE ONLY WAY to save the beloved Mission warehouses where random shit can take place was to allow 40 story apartment buildings to be built in Mission Bay ten years ago, not cap them at 8 just because you so myopically hate high rises, and to save a couple dozen people their sacred views of the water!! People who will live in a six-story apartment building that will replace Cellspace would also gladly live in a high rise in Mission Bay - but you didn't let it be built. Now it's Cellspace turn.

You shoot yourselves in the foot every time, idiots.

Posted by Sashok on May. 22, 2013 @ 2:52 pm

They oppose new development AND they oppose expensive housing, not realizing that you either build or you have expensive housing.

Posted by Guest on May. 22, 2013 @ 3:03 pm

can't have your gluten-free cake and eat it too

Posted by Guest on May. 22, 2013 @ 3:33 pm

Everything has become the exact opposite of what the SFBG was supposedly fighting to achieve. It all feels so naive and foolish. I've concluded that the only thing to do, because I truly love living here, is to learn to accept the new San Francisco.

Posted by Guest on May. 22, 2013 @ 5:23 pm

values. The SF left appears to have forgotten that and has become rather intolerant.

Posted by Guest on May. 23, 2013 @ 1:29 pm

Maybe if more people who need help with rent got it, landlords would be less inclined to get out of the rental business. Tax all property owners for rent assistance. establish who should get help: it always was low income/working class, who work in the city. period. not "the creative class"; not people with college degrees since they generally have more work options than those who don't. rent control was supposed to be for the support people, ie, working class, who provide services for everyone else who lives here. if that is still who rent control is supposed to be for, demand :"means testing", where people meeting those qualifications get assistance with rent, but every year they have to show they still qualify. (why should a landlord subsidize a tenant who was starting out at 23 and now 20 years later is making $200K in the same rent controlled apt, or worse his friend or relative he passed it onto, also making $200K, is. and/or the tenant doesn't even work in the city).
If the tenants union cared so much about rent subsidies for tenants who were earmarked for help, they would not be afraid of means testing. they are, because they know a huge percentage of tenants don't come close to meeting the types of tenants rent control came into existence to help.

Posted by martin on May. 22, 2013 @ 9:38 pm

In my neighborhood, developers have built two large condominiums in the last eight years. My guess is the rents are extravagant. One has a rooftop penthouse and it blocked the views of many people in the neighborhood. One person in my neighborhood organization called it "the ugly yellow building." About six months ago another developer built another large condominium which further eradicated the residents' views in the nearby apartments. Neither of these buildings add to the character of San Francisco's architecture; they are formless concrete constructions.I have heard many people repeat the line"there is no right of private view" in San Francisco. However, I it angers me that developers are selling the same view that I had for five times as much rent as what I pay.

I have heard many people say we need to increase the supply of housing in the city. However, I wonder how these overpriced condominiums will contribute to housing for the disenfranchised working and lower middle classes. I also wonder why the San Francisco Planning Department is approving these kinds of buildings which add nothing to the quality of life in the city.

Posted by Guest on May. 22, 2013 @ 10:03 pm

maybe the planning commission should consult you before the approve or disprove any building?
Maybe the landlord should consult you before they accept any further tenants so they can meet your seal of approval.

Can you explain to me how one penthouse can block the views of many people in an entire neighborhood?

Posted by Maldita fondada on May. 23, 2013 @ 5:48 am

You are a troll.

Only a troll would need the concept of "view blockage" explained to them.

Think a big fat guy standing in front of you at the baseball game. That is "view blockage".

How do you react to the fat guy in front of you? You move.

You can't move a house. The people in that neighborhood had their view stolen from them.

Posted by guest on May. 25, 2013 @ 8:06 am

I went to an open house where the condo was in an old building but had this full-floor penthouse built on top. I think it was 1.5 million or so.

Neighbors can protest any construction like that and so, if permits were granted, the neighbors either did not complain or were over-ruled.

Posted by Guest on May. 25, 2013 @ 8:19 am

... Joe Mittal?

Yes, you say, but the last? What of all the newbie multiple postings? One word: verisimilitude. Maldita may indeed be cursed from birth, but it isn't stupid like... bestemor.

Posted by lillipublicans on May. 25, 2013 @ 8:28 am

You keep repeating that name as if it is meaningful to anyone.

Posted by anon on May. 25, 2013 @ 9:56 am

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