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.