Walking on San Carlos between 18th and 19th streets, 76-year-old Jerry Avila points to changes he has seen on the block where he has lived for more than 30 years. For most of that time little changed, he said.
But in the last two years, the hodgepodge block of businesses and Victorian-esque, single family homes with chipped paint has been transformed. “Everyone who used to live here is gone,” said Avila.
The family-owned muffler shop, All Muffler Auto Service at the corner of 18th Street, sold in late 2013 and in May of this year groundwork was laid, walls were erected, and the process of completing a 5-story, 16 unit condominium complex was well underway. By the end of the first week of August, the fourth floor was nearly finished.
At the other end of San Carlos, tenants, including six who were disabled, were evicted from the six unit, 3-story building in 2013 by Elba Emelia Borgen and Laura Rodgers, who made the anti-eviction mapping project’s list of serial evictors. Renovations are ongoing.
Avila stops in front of another new, contemporary place nearby. It’s a new 5-story building with three units that went up in 2011. The exterior is modern, picture-esque, and in contrast to the rest of the older homes on the block, truly sticks out. One of the just under 1,000 square feet two bedrooms, two bathrooms here sold for $910,000 in 2012.
Avila bought his 2-story, 2 bedroom home for $81,000 in the 1980s.
Much has been written about the Mission District’s rapidly changing demographics and the rising rents – 11 percent in one year alone. I walk on San Carlos often and the pace of construction and change is astonishing. I wondered what it felt to live in the midst of it all. The answers I got were surprising.
Take Avila, the person who has been on the block the longest. He hasn’t felt that there was ever much community. “It’s not like a little town sort of community, it’s just not like that. They live their own lives. It doesn’t matter to me,” said Avila.
The owner of ABC Locksmith, located at 3410 18th Street, watches the 5-story development going up next door on San Carlos with mixed emotions.
“Everything changes, and I’m one of those people who doesn’t think more than a day and a half ahead, but eventually, I think that I’ll be priced out of here,” said Katy Lawson, who has owned the 45-year-old business since 1998.
“I think its like anything else that’s going on in the Mission. I don’t think it will do anything for my income, but it may be the reason I get pushed out,” she added.
Heather Whittaker, a resident of 21st and San Carlos Street for more than eight years, agreed.
“Change is bad for the people who are getting priced out, and maybe one day I will get priced out,” said Whittaker.
Whittaker noted that the new tenants moving in are much younger and richer than she was at that age.
“It’s like any other neighborhood in the city, you hope it doesn’t get whitewashed. Jacking up housing prices, it’s a joke. It makes the newcomers seem shallow,” said Whittaker.
Linea Caffe, on the opposite corner of the five-story condominium project, is a newcomer, opening in the fall of 2013. Owner Andrew Barnett said watching the building go up so quickly is “like watching a movie unfold.”
Barnett, who has lived in the city since 1975, moving out to Sonoma in 1981 and back to San Francisco is 2010, agreed that it’s important for the neighborhood to keep its cultural diversity and has hopes that it will.
For Jesus Miranda, a hairstylist at Lyly’s Beauty Salon, there is no hope.
“Eventually they are going to be kicking everyone out. Some of these businesses have been here 40 to 50 years and their contracts are ending,” said Miranda.
Jill Slater, a previous city planner for San Francisco from 1997-2005, said to PBS in 2003 on the topic of gentrification, “All the qualities of San Francisco that make it desirable can also create massive displacement pressures,” and that couldn’t be more true today.
On a recent weekday, 23-year-old Kevin Argueta rode his skateboard up San Carlos. He has lived nearby on 22nd and Bartlett his entire life and for as long as he can remember, change had been underway, and in some instances growing up, he predicted it.
“Once I started seeing more and more people who weren’t native to the area, that’s when I knew,” said Argueta, who was five years old during the last dot-com boom.
This one, however, has been more enduring and housing prices are now expected to surpass those of Manhattan, according to a report done by the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research nonprofit group (SPUR) earlier this year.
And, it’s unlikely to slow down, according to the report. More people are employed in San Francisco now – 620,000 – compared to any other point in the city’s history. That growing population will mean further changes, more new housing and pricier old housing.
In this environment, even 10 years can seem like a very long time.
Argueta remembers when Valencia Street was filled with old buildings and bookstores, not the hip block it is today. He also remembers when he knew all of his neighbors’ faces, who were all Latino, some who have now either moved away or have been forced out.
Today, he watches the speed of the changes with a mixture of fear and hope.
“Fear, because there’s a possibility that we may be kicked out of our home that we’ve been living in for so long for new housing,” he said. “Hope, because maybe these new housing developments and new people will finally get the gangs and drugs out.”
Martin Bustamante contributed reporting.