Admittedly, I am a product of suburbia. In eastern Ohio, the bus was something only crazy people rode (not that Muni is void of those); and people didn’t walk anywhere unless they had a DUI; and there certainly wasn’t such a thing as rent control. I first learned of rent control two years ago, when I traded the serenity of hearing crashing waves at my Presidio apartment for the convenience and vigor of the Mission. When I made the move, I was convinced that cheap apartments in San Francisco had joined the Tasmanian tiger, never to be seen again, but as my (still short) tenure grew, my rent-controlled apartment became relatively economical as prices unrelentingly climbed. As a San Francisco resident, you are most likely living under rent control. There are a few exceptions, which are listed on the website at the end of this article.
Meet five steadfast residents of 18+ years who’ve experienced the city morph around them from their rent-controlled stoops. These rent-war veterans have survived in their abodes through many a roommate and landlord change, and the ever-evolving culture of our city.
San Jose native, 19-year Mission veteran
Lives in a two-bedroom flat west of Guerrero Street
How much did you first pay for rent, and how much do you pay now?
I moved in in February of 1994, and the total rent was $1,350 split between four girls at that time. Now I pay $1,700.
Who lived in this apartment before you?
I actually dug through the records and found [information about] the original residents. This place was built in 1907 to get people into housing quickly after the big earthquake. A French couple moved in after it was built. The man died in 1947, and his widow moved out in 1954.
Who lives here now?
I live here with my daughter, Jane, and my boyfriend, Alan. Jane grew up under a very interesting circumstance, having been born into a house with roommates. She grew up with a total of 15 different roommates who helped raise her in a community environment. She stays in touch with a few of them to this day. It’s funny – I never imagined raising a kid here. I would have thought I’d raise my kids on a ranch in the country.
Would you stay in San Francisco if you lost your rent-controlled
No, I don’t think I would. I probably couldn’t afford it on a librarian’s salary. I know that I couldn’t afford to live in the neighborhood. It would be pretty awful. My daughter has lived here her whole life and takes a lot of ownership in her neighborhood.
Emigrated from Massachusetts, 21-year Mission veteran
Lives in a one-bedroom flat with a rear balcony west of Valencia Street
What was your rent when
you first moved in, and what is it now?
It was $800, and now I pay $1,096.
How has San Francisco changed?
This wasn’t a very bike-friendly city. Critical Mass showed everybody how bikeable this city is—that and the AIDS Life/Cycle Ride. That’s when I got interested in biking and eventually got rid of my car. The AIDS situation has changed a lot. There were hundreds of people living here who thought they were going to die in the next five years. Hundreds of people stopped planning for their future. As treatment became more advanced, all of a sudden people were living a lot longer and realized that maybe they had better get back to work.
Why do you think rent control is important?
Rent control allows this city to have the inhabitants that is has, those who make San Francisco what San Francisco is; and that’s what makes it one of the most desirable places to live. It’s a very unique place.
What was the Mission like when you first moved in?
I wouldn’t walk toward Mission Street. I’d only walk toward Noe Valley. After living in New York, D.C., and Boston, always in edgy neighborhoods, this one didn’t seem any more dangerous.
If your apartment lost its rent-control status, would you still
live in San Francisco?
If my rent went up, I couldn’t. I would move to Oakland, which is what the Mission was, to my mind, 20 years ago. It’s our edgy neighborhood now, and there are a lot of cool things happening.
German native, 35-year Pacific Heights veteran
Lives in a one-bedroom apartment at the top of Gough Street
How much was your rent when you moved in, and how much is it now?
It was $500 when I first moved here, and that was very expensive! But it was the very best signature I gave in my whole life! Now I pay $1,366 for all of this! It is a steal for this view!
How has San Francisco changed since you first moved here?
San Francisco is always changing, with people giving up their businesses and moving on, and new ones opening all the time, you know.
Who lived here before you?
There was a woman living here whom I worked with at Vidal Sassoon in London one and a half years before I came here. I visited her often, and when she transferred to LA, she asked if I wanted to have the apartment. Hallelujah! I didn’t know how long I was going to stay in San Francisco, but I wanted the experience of living here.
Would you continue living in San Francisco if you lost rent
This is a difficult question to answer. We do not know what is going to happen five minutes from now. I’ve always been very lucky in life, you know. I don’t want to think about it. I hope my next place is up there playing the harp! Ha!
New Jersey native, 20-year Tenderloin veteran
Lives in a one-bedroom apartment on Polk Street
How much was rent when you moved in, and how much is it now?
When I first moved in, rent was $479. I have 750 square feet upstairs and about 2,000 downstairs. Everything downstairs is all mine. This was just an open space. My buddy and I put up these walls and doors. Now the rent is $849. That’s a lot of money!
How has the neighborhood changed since you first moved in?
It’s cleaned up a lot! I still have the drug dealers and the pimps outside, but it keeps the people with money from moving in. That’s great because it’s a lot less stress. When people with money move in, things start to change. The owners want to spend money on the building, and then they petition the San Francisco Rent Board to raise the rent to cover the cost of the renovations.
What are some places you miss that aren’t around anymore?
The Rendezvous! That was a sleazy place. I had my name engraved on the wall!
If you lost your place, would you still live in San Francisco?
No. If you lost your house, would you still live on the same street? I would have to get out of here. I would stay in the area, but I’d probably live in Daly City. I’d never go back to the TL, though.
Detroit native, 18-year Outer Richmond veteran
Lives in a one-bedroom flat west of 25th Avenue
How much did you pay for rent when you first moved in, and how
much do you pay now?
I paid $550 when I first moved in, and it was a great deal. I have a sweet claw-foot tub, a huge walk-in closet, bay windows, and a fireplace. Now I pay $1,000.
Did you totally fall in love with the city when you first moved
I hated it! I cried for the first month I was here every day. I thought I had made the biggest mistake of my life. It was 1994, an El Niño year. For 30 days straight, it just rained all the time. I was driving around with no idea where I was going, my car got towed seven times, and the windows got smashed out. It was awful. I love it now, though.
Why did you choose the Outer Richmond?
When I first moved here, I moved to the Western Addition. Someone got shot in the head right outside my window in the playground across the street. I said, “Fuck this, I’m outta here.” I checked out the rent board over at the college, and I found this place. I have this great view of the bridge and an awesome neighborhood.
If you lost rent control, would you stay in San Francisco?
If I could, yeah. This is my home now. I ain’t going anywhere. When I die, they’ll burn me and put me in that vase over there and take me over to Neptune’s. You can come on the boat. I’m allowed eight people, I think.
For more info on rent control, check out this website: