Above the pleasant gurgle of a fish tank full of large goldfish, two white plastic bags full of groceries hang from the ceiling. Every month, Lilia says, an exterminator comes to the Julian to fumigate and give out mice traps. But the cockroaches and rodents prevail. She knows, because she hears them scurrying across the floor at night.
Lilia has lived in the Julian Hotel, near 16th between Mission and Valencia Streets, with her 12-year-old daughter, also named Lilia, for three years. They are the only remaining family in the hotel after the owner raised rent and converted several rooms to tourist-rates, rentable by the night rather than the week or month. This can cost owners between $20,000 and $35,000 per room depending on the hotel’s location.
The tiny, narrow room is taken up primarily by the twin-sized bed Lilia shares with her daughter. Easter egg pink walls brighten the space and the green linoleum floor is immaculately scrubbed and mopped. Their small white dog Muñeca sleeps in the bottom shelf of a dresser.
The mother and daughter came across the border separately from Guadalajara – Lilia senior in the trunk of a car, and Lilia Jr. with family members and fake identity papers.
When Lilia came, she had no idea what to expect, and even less about the price of rent in the Bay Area. She hoped to send money home to her husband, who had accrued a serious debt from a failed business he owned.
“My sister offered that I should come here because I needed to help my husband with his debts,” says the youthful looking 40-year-old, her hair pulled tightly back into a bun. “So I stayed with my sister. But then I felt like I was a burden with my child. So I moved.”
With her hourly wages at a Mission District taqueria, the $468 a month room at the Julian is the only place she can afford.
Unlike families who remain in hotels for years, Lilia is working hard to boost her income so she can secure more desirable housing and get out of the Julian.
“Families use SROs as a roof-over-their-head safety net,” says Maria X. Martinez from the Department of Public Health. “And given the lack of affordable housing in San Francisco, SROs unfortunately become a permanent state of sub-standard transitional housing.”
Lilia doesn’t feel comfortable coming home late at night after her shift at the taqueria, or even going to the bathroom in the middle of the night because of screaming in the halls. At night, there are no managers to patrol behavior in the hotel. Lilia Jr. is so frightened to stay home alone that she sleeps at her aunt and cousin’s apartment on 18th Street most nights.
“I feel sad when I’m alone,” shrugs the Everett sixth grader, lounging on the bed with a lollipop. On mute, the television covers the latest about Sammy Sosa’s skin lightening treatment.
“I worked just as hard as I did in Mexico for the same money,” Lilia admits. “The only thing that was better is that I had my own home, but we lost that.”