This piece was produced by KALW and is republished here with permission as part of a collaboration with KALW.
The median rent for a one-bedroom apartment in San Francisco’s Mission District is currently about $3,500 per month.
That means a renter needs to make almost $130,000 per year in order to spend no more than a third of her paycheck on rent. In our series, Displaced from the Mission, we’re bringing the stories of people who have been left behind by the neighborhood’s economics.
DogPaw Carrillo was born and raised in the Mission District. He was a renter in the same house for 31 years, until seven months ago when he was evicted. For now, he’s subletting for a friend, while looking for permanent housing in the East Bay. Carrillo says his whole life is in the Mission, even if his home isn’t, so that’s where I went to meet him.
Carillo’s an artist, he used to paint but lately he’s focused on photography—it’s easier to pull off when you don’t have a studio. Cafe La Boheme on 24th and Mission is his makeshift office for now. He says the cafe was and still is a cultural center for his generation–especially Mexican Americans like him.
“There were a lot of poets, poet laureates—Alejandro Murguia, Alfonso Texidor,” he says, “and this was the hub.”
Carrillo’s lived here in the Mission his entire life; on the small streets that branch out from 24th. We take a walk through the neighborhood. He points out every mural–ones painted by this friend or that. He’s working on a photography series, to capture them before they expire.
“Murals are like people,” he says, “they get old and start getting all wrinkly and next thing you know they’re gone.”
We turn left on Treat Street. The houses are grey blue and papaya orange. Carillo runs into familiar people constantly.
“Well this is my first neighborhood this is where I grew up.” He points to a little orange house with steps in front, “and this house here, this is the home of the great Taj Mahal. I don’t know if you’ve heard of Taj Mahal, he’s a great blues man. As kids we would watch him from here and he would sit right there and he would play the blues–I’m, like, ten? Nine? I’d never heard the blues before and instantly–transformed, was I.”
He points across the street. “This building over here, which is now the San Francisco Mime Troupe, once housed the Fantasy Record Company. A lot of the music as a kid that I heard came out of here–Lenny Bruce came out of here, Mongo Santamaria, Dave Brubeck, the great Cal Tjader–and they used to let us have the whole run of the place.”
It all seemed to go down on this block.
“Santana played at this block party here,” he says, “this was before Santana became Santana.”
He points to a brown building he calls the hippie house, and says “it’s the oldest house in the Mission.”
Carrillo grew up inspired by the stories of the Irish and Italian and Mexican organizers that worked in the neighborhood. “It could be any color, it’s just this energy that’s been here for a long, long time,” he says, “it’s a working class energy.”
This neighborhood made him who he is. He’s never lived anywhere else. So when he was evicted seven months ago–he says he felt blindsided.
“You just immediately go into shock,” he says, “because you know there’s never going to be a home here, as such.” But, he says, there’s a part of him that thinks, “this is going to be gone anyway, why mourn that?” He means the neighborhood, the Mission, will be gone.
“It’s like an ice cube on a hot summer day on the sidewalk,” he says, “It’s not going to be there long. And that’s what we have right now.”
The house he was evicted from was a few blocks from where we are, on Capp Street. It was more than just his place of residence. He says it was a collective and performance space, “a nice little community space that only we knew was there.”
They called the space Gravy Dogs Presents. Over the years the house hosted punk rock, reggae, ska and blues shows.
He and a housemate split the rent which, by the end was $1,300 per month. When the owner passed away, his sons decided they didn’t want to be landlords; so they sold the building. They used the Ellis Act to evict Carrillo. He and his housemate considered a lawsuit, even met with a lawyer, but in the end, didn’t pursue it.
“He never said, ‘hey this is an uphill battle, you’re better off pulling out,’ but that’s what the math was,” he says, “those were the numbers.”
The house was put out on the market, and sold for almost $800,000.
Carrillo describes living in the house while it was being shown to buyers. “There’s no dignity in any of that that,” he says, “we had 30 people show up that first day,” and Carrillo hosted them all.
“So now they’re hanging out in my yard having coffee talking about ‘what a great yard,’ and I’m standing there going this is amazing.”
Carrillo says the owners paid him $16,000 to leave. After 31 years, the house was like a museum of the neighborhood’s culture. Carrillo had to dismantle it all.
“You start to look at things differently: ‘this is sacred, this is not sacred,’ ‘this can be donated, this’ll be put out on the sidewalk.’”
But he saw it as an opportunity. He gave old instruments to the San Francisco Latin Jazz Youth Ensemble, art supplies to Precita Eyes, furniture to Salvation Army.
“There was a halfway house on my block…my neighbors,” he says, “so I gave them a bunch of clothes.”
But some things he and his housemate couldn’t part with. Like over one hundred pieces of framed musical memorabilia and archival poster art from the Mission District. Those were the things that were put into storage.
He bounced around for a while and now sublets a room from a friend. “I was spoiled,” he says. “We take these things for granted–hot running water, a place where your mail is safe, good light–little things like that.”
He doesn’t have a consistent income, just what he puts together from art projects and commissions. The $16,000 he got from the eviction is dwindling. He doesn’t know yet if he’ll find a permanent place he can afford in the city.
“I’m being shot out of a cannon,” he says.
But then, he starts to tell this story about the recent Day of the Dead parade. When he was there, he got to talking with another life-long Mission resident.
“She said, ‘I feel like a phantom,’” he recounts, “I said ‘really? So do I. Tell me.’ She says, ‘yeah, it’s like, I grew up here, my family grew up here, they’re all gone, I live in a room,’ and she feels like she can walk down this street where she grew up and nobody could see her.” Carrillo says, “sometimes I feel like that.”
And then an idea strikes. His face lights up. “Why not have a New Orleans funeral?” he smiles. “Everybody loves a New Orleans funeral, are you kidding me?”
A funeral procession for the Mission itself. He starts brainstorming out loud–coffins, costumes, horns–the whole street taken over by people like him; the people that he says will haunt this neighborhood forever.