Staying in the Mission Without a Tech Salary

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I moved to the Mission seven years ago and have grown to love the neighborhood. Unlike others, I don’t have a romantic story about visiting a friend here and falling for the Mission’s quaint boutiques, the cultural diversity, Dolores Park and the flatness of the terrain. I just moved to the Mission because this was where my friends hung out and I wanted to be near them.

I still do, but over the years I have discovered the restaurants I enjoy and feel comfortable in and the streets I like to walk down. The Mission gives me the feeling that comes with being happy where you live. So about a year ago when I lost my $550-a-month room in a flat near Whiz Burger — the management company discovered the tenant on the lease had moved to China — I was determined to stay.

Yes, rents have skyrocketed and many people will pay the premium it costs to live here, but few of my friends have the money to do so, yet we’ve managed to stay. This is a story about how we dug in. When writing a bigger rent check isn’t an option, how does one survive in the Mission? Stubbornness, dumb luck and connections to others unable to pay exorbitant rents.

I couch-surfed for a few days, but could see quickly that it was not going to be easy to replace my reasonable rent. Stubbornness kicked in and I moved into the Curtis Hotel, an SRO on Valencia Street, and began my visits to the highly competitive showings of reasonably priced rooms.

It was stressful. At my final place, 20 people an hour streamed through the open house. “It had to be scheduled this way to avoid overcrowding the apartment,” said the main tenant greeting people.

We had to fill out a fairly straightforward questionnaire. The last question asked, “What is your favorite ice cream flavor?”

A few days later, I got the call. “Do you still want the room?” When I moved in, my savior and roommate told me, “I chose you to live here because we have something in common. We both love ‘Cherry Garcia.’” Go figure.

A love for Cherry Garcia got me a place for $650 — just $100 more than the last place and only one block from Whiz Burger.

My friend, Jesse Davis, just went through a similar experience. He lived on 24th Street and Potrero and for one reason or another had to move out by February 1. He was also homeless for a month — staying at his parent’s house or couch-surfing — before finding his new home near 30th and Mission. Craigslist was his search site and his budget demanded that he bottom-fish. His rent is in the same ballpark as mine.

Jesse agreed that it was incredibly stressful, but he waited until he found something he could afford.

Another local renter, Shane Gorton, just had a room open up in his house on 17th and Guerrero streets. He picked a friend to move in and the rent is only $650 a month for a 12’ by 16’ room.

It’s unclear how long there will be any deals left. I am seeing some of the places I’ve grown accustomed to like Pop’s — change and disappear. Abandoned buildings I wondered about are now being turned into condo/movie theater/bar/bowling alleys. Restaurants with no identity come and go.

The faces of people walking down Mission Street are different. I see a new parklet being built, then a new coffee shop opening. Then I see a small grocery store selling only locally-sourced goods at ridiculous prices. All are square pegs being pushed into a round hole. Or maybe I am.

But, for now, the Mission’s still home.

31 Comments

  1. John

    Kyle, I’m a little confused about your Curtis story. You said you were interviewed by the “main tenant” there and, having gotten the place, you then describe him as your “roommate”.

    Why would a tenant at an SRO hotel be in charge of letting to you, rather than the owner and manager?

    And when you say “roommate” do you mean you share a room? I thought “single room occupancy” means what it says.

    More generally, it’s good to hear people finding affordable housing in the Mission, giving the lie to those who claim the Mission is now having some form of housing crisis.

    And particularly if you are looking to share a place, you can effectively inherit the rent control that the previous tenants have, as long as at least one original tenant remains. Beware of rent gouging by master tenants though – it’s illegal but endemic.

    • Amy

      It sounds like he stayed at the SRO temporarily while he looked for long-term housing. He found this long-term housing on Craigslist – this is where the roommate comes in.

      • John

        I guess so. Perhaps the real message is that he made an effort rather than just expecting a cheap home to land in his lap.

        Crisis? What crisis? just get on your bike!

    • zig

      Reading comprehension is fundamental

      He lived in an SRO and looked for a share clearly

    • zig

      Of course the Mission is experiencing a housing crisis

      Why do you comment on every single article about the Mission?

      • Frank

        Because John doesn’t get out of the house often enough

      • John

        Wrong. I comment on less than 50% of articles. My understanding is that ML prefer active and enthusiastic commentators.

        • Frank

          John, I have never read an article where you don’t comment. It’s certainly not 50%

          • John

            Easy to prove you wrong, Frank. Look at the latest five ML articles which are listed in the top right-hand corner of this page.

            I have not commented on two of them.

        • marcos

          Fewer, not less.

          • John

            No refutation then? Just pedantic nitpicking?

          • marcos

            Your torrent of swill is unremarkable on its face, save the pathetic grammatical errors.

          • John

            marcos, if you could ever win a debate here you would not resort to nitpicking peoples’ grammar and spelling.

            That’s a sure giveaway that you have no decent arguments.

      • ThatGuy

        If he bugs you, skip over his comments.

        • Max Weber

          You can’t skip his comments because they are 1/3 of the comments in the entire website. He is on a one man troll mission to control the dialogue here and has for months

          • John

            Is it my fault if others do not post more?

            I take it as a tribute to the irrefutability of my arguments.

  2. Frank

    The author received affordable housing because of the type of ice cream he likes? Insanity.

    (fwiw, a different Frank from the one who’s quarreling with John)

    • bb1952

      and perhaps that’s the crux of the non-issue above? perhaps there is more than one person named “John” commenting here?

  3. Buck

    The Mission is having an affordability crisis, thats what this article is about; the unavailability of affordable housing. In most cities you may see 20 potential renters for an available and reasonable room total. In SF its not 20 a day, its evidently closer to 20 an hour in popular neighborhoods. That screams housing crisis. The City is so far behind the curve with regard to housing production we’ve painted ourselves into a corner. Rent control drives rental prices upwards because nobody with rent control want’s to leave, half of them would never be able to afford it and the other half would never want to. Tech and marketing money drives up rental prices because they can one-up each other for new and newly available properties. If we got rid of rent control (which I would personally love) the City would just trade one population without housing for another. The city can’t build housing fast enough to releave the built up demand, so those with money are the only one’s that can compete for much of the housing stock.

    • marcos

      San Francisco cannot build its way to affordability.

      • John

        SF homes may never be cheap but that is not a reason to build nothing.

        • marcos

          That San Francisco cannot build its way to affordability means that the housing to which it does grant discretionary entitlements to via zoning had better pay its way and then some, make it worth our while.

          This is not the time to open the spigots of market rate housing construction given the intractable infrastructure constraints.

          • marcos

            We need to restrict market rate housing discretionary entitlements to only those projects that warrant approval on their merits and reject those that are inferior and would subsidize developer profit by putting public infrastructure further into debt. I don’t think that most San Franciscans would want to run the City like a charity for developers.

          • John

            “most San Franciscans” want to see a lot of new housing built. Ed Lee easily won election running on a pro-growth, pro-development platform.

            So you are in a minority of not much more than one in suggesting that we build next to nothing, and you have clearly lost that debate.

            Even Campos and Avalos want to build a lot of homes. There is nobody in your camp. Give it up.

  4. Old Mission Neighbor

    So basically Kyle hustled within the law instead of crying and trying to change the law. Good on you, Kyle.

  5. poor.ass.millionaire

    Hats off to Kyle, and the others profiled for being determined and finding something that works instead of all the incessant complaining and entitled rent control hoarders trying to control this city! That’s how it’s done folks. I wish those 30 year rent controlled artists- Yanez and Lopez would do the same instead of whining about losing their rent subsidized apartment.

  6. cascata

    About your friend Jesse, if he was lucky enough to be able to stay with his parents, who are either paying rent or paying a mortgage, I don’t think he could be considered “homeless”.

  7. Kaliman

    Wow – what’s with these anti-rent control trolls these days?

    They always sound very unhappy when the topic is mentioned.

    • John

      On the contrary. You are the one that complains about rents and evictions.

      I’ll make money with or without rent control, but I do feel sorry for the people who cannot move to SF because all the rental units are being hoarded by folks who lack the courage to move on.

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