You Must Be Joking, But I Know You Are Not: the San Francisco Rental Market.


Good Evening:

This building at 435 Duboce has attracted quite a buzz in the San Francisco media; have you heard about this one?


The upper level is a one-bedroom apartment (the real estate agency prefers the euphemism “town home”) of approximately 940 square foot “penthouse” (They call that a penthouse?! On the 3rd floor??) with parking available for a nominal extra charge of $250/month.

The rent? $6,500 per month.

Not a misprint.

Except that actually it was a misprint, one that did not get corrected until after the vandalism. You can see where they painted over the graffiti in the next photo if you look carefully. Look for the slightly whiter paint.


You can see the (non-profane) graffiti at this link. The real estate agency claimed that the listing and the stories about the listing all contained a misprint: the correct rent was “only” $4,980 per month. Plus $250 per month for parking.

The graffiti protestors took their to a construction site on the next block of Duboce Avenue.

"There's Something Fishy Going On Around Here"

“There’s Something Fishy Going On Around Here”

"What Happens When Rich People Move In"

“What Happens When Rich People Move In”

"Evict (Mayor) Ed Lee"

“Evict (Mayor) Ed Lee”

I don’t know where to begin.

First, we have the typical overreaction to a flawed Internet story gone more viral than it deserves. Second, we have a typical error that occurs in online journalism (yours truly makes errors, too, but I don’t pretend to be a journalist) that doesn’t get corrected until too late.

Most important–“only” $4,980 per month??

I live less than a half-mile from this building, and there exists nothing, absolutely nothing that justifies this price tag. Come on, “penthouse?” They call that top floor a “penthouse??” My one-bedroom, less than one-fifth the rent and only a little bit smaller, is not a penthouse, and yet it sits on a top floor several feet higher than the top floor of that building. The preferred name for my place: The Artist’s Garret. I’m not a journalist, but I am pretentious.

Even in a city where the average one-bedroom costs about $3,500 per month, 435 Duboce Avenue is a bit much.

So I grabbed a few snapshots then wandered off to The Lower Haight’s beloved English style pub The Mad Dog in the Fog for a pint of Blackthorn Cider and a bit of the England v. France Rugby Union match. About halfway through the pint (England led France 19-9 at that point), a young gentleman who would have won Honorable Mention in a Michael Cera look-alike contest awkwardly plopped into the bar stool next to me spilling much of his pint onto the bar. I thought, “He is way too young to be way this drunk way this early on a Saturday afternoon.” My friends who have gone clean and sober might object (perhaps no hour was “way this early” during their bad days), but that’s what I thought.

He turned to me and slurred, “Do you hate me?”

“I don’t-”

“Why do people hate me?”

“I don’t. Who hates you?”

“People boo me when I wait for the bus.”

“Boo you?! Why do they boo you?”

“You know, people here are real uptight and conservative and mean.”

“How so?”

“It is so hard to make friends here, people are so closed up.”

“What do you mean?”

“Because I moved here. I moved here for a job and they hate me. I was living in the state of [deleted-Ed.] and needed a new job and got one here so h*** yeah I moved here and now everyone hates me because I moved here for a job.”

“If it’s any consolation, I don’t hate you.” And I didn’t. No reason for that. He was not belligerent, not breathing on me, and he didn’t spill anything on me. Plus, he sounded like he needed some help, even if I had nothing to lend except one or both of my ears.

I said again, “I don’t hate you.”

“But I work in tech.”

“So you work in tech, and you might make three times what I make-”

“-no way, man-”

“-OK, twice as much-”

He did not disagree.

“-but I will not hate you for your money, because I make more than enough for myself. I don’t care what other people make. You think about what other people make, that makes you envious and what makes you envious makes you hurt and what makes you hurt makes you suffer.”

“See, man, I knew you were cool-”

I have never been cool, not once in my entire life. And that was no where near my best Yoda impersonation.

“-that’s why I sat here.”

He went on to tell me his story. He had a job in his old state but wanted to make more money, no, needed to make more money because he had huge college debts, plus he wanted to pursue a career in his college major (I have left out many details to maintain his privacy), and he found a perfect job here in the city, but because he was young, white, male, looked vaguely like Michael Cera, and worked in tech, the San Franciscans who already lived here hated him.

“Am I a bad guy?” He asked in conclusion, still slurring his speech.

I thought for a moment. People have been displaced by the ridiculous rental market here in San Francisco. Sometimes, corporations have certain laws, and/or exploited loopholes in certain others, to evict or buy out the current tenants, and then jack up the rent to “market” levels–which might be $4,980 per month, because that listing on Craig’s List came down very, very quickly.

“No. You are not a bad guy. You are a scapegoat.”

“Scapegoat?!” He had not thought of this possibility.

“You are not the problem. The problem is that rental companies, some of them out-of-towners, some of them out-of-staters, some of them out of nation-ers”–I make up words sometimes–“see a chance to make huge bucks in this market, so they buy up properties, evict the people who live there and then rent out the places at crazy rents to new people who can afford it. It’s just how the systems works now in this city. Not your fault. Not your fault at all.”

“So you don’t hate me.”

“No. I get it. You’re OK. The situation sucks.”

At this point England scored a try plus the conversion and I had run out of cider and hadn’t the cash for another drink, so I wished him good night, good luck, and a belated welcome to San Francisco. Walked home wondering how life in San Francisco could have gone so wrong for so many. If it had gone wrong. Could be nothing more than just another boom in this boom-and-bust city.

Vonn Scott Bair

PS–I recognize, acknowledge and proclaim that I’ve grossly oversimplified the rental situation here–it’s much more complicated than what I’ve written. But I chose to oversimplify for the benefit my pub-mate and related the story as best as I can remember.


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