I'm originally from NY, but have lived in SF for 17 years. I moved here in 1990, went home to NY in 1997, and then returned in 2003. I did the roommate thing for a long time, but eventually was able to move out on my own. Living alone, I've always spent a minimum of 50% of my salary on rent. I love San Francisco with all my heart and can't see myself living anywhere else. So I sacrifice some things so I can afford to live here. I am lucky enough to have a choice because I have a stable job and an average middle class salary. I don't have any dependents (besides a pug) and I am not elderly or disabled. I have a lot of health problems, but they are manageable, and I have insurance through my job. My apartment is rent controlled and I have fantastic landlords who love me. I have it good and I know it.
Not everyone in this city is so lucky by a long shot. One such family who has lived here in the same apartment for 34 years—a couple in their 70s/80s with a mentally disabled daughter in her 40s—are being evicted so a landlord can turn the building into expensive tenant-in-common housing. The family pays a little less than $800 a month for their apartment. They primarily live on Social Security, and the landlord has offered $22,000 for relocation costs. The family hasn't moved out despite the eviction notice because they don't know where to go in the City where the rent is so low. The article states that two bedrooms go for $3,000 average in the city, but more common are studios going for $1,200 and up. Two bedroom apartments can really get up there, even in the so-called less desirable neighborhoods.
I am not here to make the argument that landlords do not have a right to make money. And what this landlord is doing is legal under the Ellis Act. And while the article focuses on how the tech industry is driving rents through the roof, I'm not saying I want the workers out of the city. I don't begrudge people their jobs.
But I see housing as a human right, not a privilege. This particularly vulnerable family is being forced into a housing market that favors the rich and upwardly mobile, and they don't know where they are going to go. Where can they go in a place they call home that is as affordable as their current apartment? They can't afford much and three people shouldn't live in a studio, especially at their age.
Many of the comments on the article I linked to above brought me to tears. People are so fucking heartless. Some say, that's life. We can't always get what we want, and that includes living in the place you desire. Call the WAH-mbulance and GTFO. People kept mentioning they should leave the city and set up shop elsewhere. One guy said they could move to Bakersfield where the rents are equally low. That's 300 miles away. Other people said they shouldn't complain, they have the relocation money after all. But if they rent in SF, I guarantee that money isn't going to go very far, when you figure in a large increase in rent, moving costs, and security deposits. I know it seems like a lot, but when the money is gone after a year or so, then what? And this article is not unique. Every time there's an article about evictions like this, the comments are overwhelmingly cold and uncaring and mostly concerned with landlords' rights. But just because something is legally right doesn't mean we can't have compassion for people who find themselves stuck between a rock and a hard place. For people who are losing their home.
And that's the thing: the place called home. All legal and moral arguments aside, there is the simple fact that home is not just an apartment. It's the familiarity with the town or city you live in, your connections to people there, the services you use that help you live a decent life if you are disabled, the particular park you go to to play chess with your friends, the public transit that criss crosses everywhere so you can get around without a car, the community centers, the little grocer right downstairs from your apartment so you don't have to walk far for food, the deep attachments to place and people. Do they count for nothing? Just move the fuck out when kicked out and be glad you can find a place 300 miles away from everything you love and know?
Most of us will grow old. And I can say from personal experience, you don't know when catastrophic illness might take you by surprise. People can lose their jobs overnight. Is it so hard for the commenters—for people—to think, There but for fortunate circumstances go I? Or at the least, How hard for this family to be in this position. All of this is a too long way of expressing how terrible I feel some days about the way humans treat each other, although of course I'm very glad there are people protesting the eviction (not that it will do any good). It's the comments that got to me, and I tend to think of them as representing some kind of majority. I think about losing my good situation and the place I love, and hope I'm never on the receiving end of people's ill will.