Mission math: a census series

At the Atlas Cafe, dozens of young people, a majority of them male-identified, sip coffee, eyes on their screens. Down the street at L’s Caffe, the scene is similarly gender-skewed: A half-dozen guys sit in velvet-backed chairs, tapping away at their laptops. It’s no fluke. As the 1983 Weather Girls hit proclaims, it’s raining men — at least in the Mission’s Census Tract 229.02.

Bordered by Cesar Chavez, Alabama, 23rd and York streets, and the place to find La Torta Gorda, L’s Caffe, The Spice Jar, and numerous barber shops and taquerias, the census tract is home to nearly 3,000 residents and replete with male energy. A whopping 64 percent of the residents are men, according to the 2017 American Communities Survey. That compares with only 45 percent in 2012, and 51 percent citywide. 

While an influx of tech workers is likely a factor in the increase, only four of 15 men interviewed at random for this story identified as tech workers. Others were teachers, nonprofit workers and students. Moreover, for many, the driving force in moving to the Mission was price. Although prices have risen significantly, it was still in this bustling, vibrant neighborhood where they could find the cheapest rent. 

“Surprisingly, this is where I found a room I could afford,” said Anthony Miceli, a graduate student in psychology at San Francisco State University, who has lived in the census tract for two years.  

He pays $1,100 a month for rent for a room in a house he shares with three other people – that compares to $3,600 for a one-bedroom, or $2,000 for a studio, according to local listings. 

Miceli was also drawn to the area because it is a bikeable distance to San Francisco State, is very close to public transportation, has “the most going on,” and is “an interesting cultural hub.” 

His favorite things in the neighborhood are Philz Coffee down the street, Mission Cliffs (a rock-climbing gym), and the mushroom reuben sandwich at Wise Sons Jewish Delicatessen. 

“I suppose I am part of the whitewashing of culture here,” Miceli says, slightly conflicted about where he fits in. “But as a renter, it’s wherever offers you a spot,” he explains. “And this was the best deal I could find.”

Between 2010 and 2017, this area transformed from 67 percent Hispanic or Latino to just 43 percent. Citywide, there was no decrease of Hispanics and Latinos in the same seven-year period, with many Hispanics moving further out to neighborhoods like the Excelsior.

A few blocks away, at Punjab Restaurant, Joao Sampaio is waiting for his bowl of beef pho to cool. He moved to the neighborhood last week from Providence, Rhode Island, and is originally from Brazil. He came to the city to start a job with the Smuin Ballet.

“I was looking everywhere for an apartment, and blessed to find one here,” said the dancer, smiling. 

His rent? Also around $1,000 for a room in a house, also on Alabama Street. 

Sampaio’s dancer friends live in the neighborhood. His go-to: All the different foods offered on 24th Street. 

Not all of the men in the neighborhood are recent arrivals.

Will Jameson scrolls through his phone, patiently waiting for his laundry to be done. He’s at Wash & Dry, a lavanderia on 24th Street between Alabama and Bryant, and has lived in San Francisco for the past 20 years — more than half of his life. 

The Mission, however, has been his home for just five years. He used to live downtown, but found cheaper rent here. In this short time, he’s observed some changes to the demographics of his neighborhood.

“It has definitely been tipping toward more yuppies who sit in coffee shops and scroll though dating apps,” sighs the man, who commutes to work in the Financial District. 

Jameson moved to his one bedroom apartment on Florida Street because the rent was cheap and the place seemed nice. His favorite place to eat is La Palma, a Mexican restaurant across the street, which makes its own tortillas. 

Jameson too has noticed the abundance of men and the scarcity of women. 

“Yeah, most of the people who are moving here for tech jobs are dudes,” he says, shrugging.

According to 2018 data compiled by a Seattle-based research company, Evia, men make up more than 80 percent of U.S. tech employees.

Jack Harlem holds one of them. Four years ago, he moved to San Francisco from San Rafael for a job at a tech start-up that installs temporary lighting at construction sites. He says there’s a strong sense of local community in his neighborhood at the border of Census Tract 229.02, plus accessibility to BART and the freeway. 

“We planted two trees with our neighbors last month,” he says. He pays $3,800 for a two-bedroom apartment. 

Not everyone who lives in this neighborhood is male.

Laura Turney, who sits in the sun at a table outside of La Palma on 24th Street eating tacos, works in tech, making up part of that other 20 percent. She moved to the Mission District about seven months ago from Noe Valley, when her rental costs there became untenable. 

“And I like the Mission, I feel like it’s neighborly,” Turney says. Her hobby is exploring all the taquerias in the Mission. So far, her favorite is Taquería El Farolito, on 24th and Alabama. 

“To be honest, I haven’t noticed more men,” she says. “But I’ve not been here long.”

Willie Ablaw, a third grade teacher who has lived in the census tract for two decades, notes  that a “certain type of guy” has moved into the neighborhood. 

“Every conversation overheard at coffee shops, it always has something to do with tech,” he says. Ablaw and his husband moved to the Mission in 2002 after a stint with the Peace Corps in Guatemala. They chose the Mission because it was affordable.

He says his street has changed a lot since he arrived.

“There’s no more kids. No more Latina families,” he says. “Just young people and their dogs.”

At Temo’s Cafe on 24th Street, Jack Policar reaches into his shorts pockets to search for change. 

“Sorry, man,” he says to an older man who has popped in to the cafe to ask he could spare any coins. “No change. But can I get you something to eat?”

Policar, who is in his 30s, grew up in Marin, but used to come into the city three times a week to skateboard between Haight and Mission. A year ago, he moved to a house on 24th Street. Self-employed, Policar runs a startup that helps coordinate caregivers. He spends most of his waking hours in Census Tract 229.02. His primary haunts include Haus coffee shop, Roosevelt Tamale Parlor, and Pop’s. 

He says this is simply the part of the city he loves the most.

“People are just really, really nice here,” he explains. “There’s street culture — people actually talk to each other,” he adds. Before moving to the Mission, Policar lived downtown, but hated it.

“After work, people would just go back to their apartments, and ignore each other,” he says, explaining that he also has a lot of friends who live close by, and that this neighborhood reminds him of the city as it was when he was a kid.

“I feel the Mission is the last place in the city that has the diversity, the people from all walks of life, who aren’t afraid to express themselves in a genuine way,” he says. “And the food is still great.”

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  1. Anecdotally, I would suspect that new female arrivals to the city would be reticent to move into the area due to unwanted attention and higher crime.

  2. I am left with more questions than answers reading this article.

    > While an influx of tech workers is likely a factor in the increase, only four of 15 men interviewed at random for this story identified as tech workers.

    Certainly influx of tech workers is a possible factor (though the use of the weasel word ‘likely’ greatly diminishes the sentence). But it seems like the overwhelming reason cited in your article for moving to the neighborhood was cheap rent, something, according to the prevailing rich techie transplant narrative, they would have less of an issue with, since they can afford more rent. Also fully 75% of the people moving into the neighborhood are not working in tech jobs.

    And speaking of tech jobs. Jack Harlem is noted as having “a job at a tech start-up that installs temporary lighting at construction sites.” I am struggling to see how installing lighting at a construction site would be a tech job, and I say this as someone who has worked in the trades. I fear that we’ve become so wrapped up in the invasion of the tech-snatchers story that any time we see an app or a smart phone we presume that business is a tech business.

    Lastly a slight correction to either Laura Turney or Annie Berman, there is no Taquería El Farolito, or any other taquería on 24th and Capp. There is one around the corner on Mission though.