By Jason Boyce
It was a handwritten note from the master tenant. As he explained it, his wife was moving back from North Carolina and would need my room. She couldn’t stay in his room because he was currently sharing it with their son’s babysitter, with whom he was having an affair.
I’d only been in the apartment for three months before I got that notice. I fled my previous living situation because I hadn’t slept in a month – both roommates were in new relationships and had regular 4 a.m. sexcapades. And sadly, it wouldn’t be the last time I moved. Over the next year, I would move four more times. These are the make-or-break times for living in San Francisco.
Several of my friends have gone through similar circumstances. They’ve moved to the East Bay and are happier there. But I love San Francisco. And I’m stubborn. The fog, the hills, the amazing views, and the crazy range of amazing people it can bring together – all these things made me realize, from my first visit, that this city was my home. But it isn’t easy to make a life here. As a filmmaker, my passion pays my bills, but films are long-term projects that can go on months before payment, so I always need to be thinking a few months ahead.
I’m insanely lucky to make a living from my work, and I do it by balancing a part-time job editing films and working distribution at a nonprofit with freelance work for a variety of clients – mostly documentary-film production. Storytelling and social justice are two of my passions, and San Francisco allows me to combine the two for a career that gives me the strength to keep working, even when my home situation is in shambles.
After I got the eviction notice, I figured it wasn’t worth the impending drama, so I decided to go. I made a few phone calls and found out that a friend of mine had a very small spare room in his flat but could only sublet it for a couple of months. I took it just to get out of a bad space, even though I was just buying time. My clients had deadlines, and my problems couldn’t get in the way of them.
One week later, I was living in a tiny room, trying not to pull my hair out over how much more expensive rooms had gotten in the last three months. Would I even be able to afford to stay in the city, or would I get priced out? I didn’t even have time to think about it. That time was better spent firing off hopeful emails and arranging meetings with prospective roommates while juggling several work projects.
Right at the end of the sublet, I found another place with a new master tenant who had friends in common with me. Score! We talked and we got along. I gave him a deposit and moved in. Problem solved, right? Wrong.
It turned out that the landlord at the apartment didn’t like black people. The master tenant had told me in confidence how uncomfortable the landlord felt around me. I wasn’t welcome. After only three months, it was time to start looking again. I was in the middle of working on a trailer for a video game and preparing to shoot my first documentary in El Salvador. I didn’t want to deal with looking for another place.
While in El Salvador, I got a call from another friend who’d heard about an available room with someone she knew. When I returned to San Francisco, I met the guy, and we got along. I moved to my new home – a dingy room in a dirty flat – but I had hopes that my housing problems were finally over and that I could focus on my work.
I was counting paychecks, tightening my budget, and putting away a little more money every month. I cut trailers for a couple of film projects, and for the first time in a long time, I felt like things were really going my way.
I’d been living there for four months when my pet bird of 23 years passed away, and a week later the master tenant told me his girlfriend was moving in and that I had to go.
If I were to write that scene into a movie, I’d love to say that I’d weighed my options and decided to fight. Or that I was pushed across some line in the sand. In truth, I don’t know why I made the decision I did. If he’d come to me on a different day or even phrased it a different way, it might have gone another way.
But here’s how it happened:
Without even thinking, I looked him dead in the eyes and said, “No.” He yelled and stormed off. The next day, I walked from the apartment to and across the Golden Gate Bridge over to Sausalito and took the ferry back to SF. Hungry, sad, lost without my childhood buddy, and absolutely exhausted, I stared at the city before me and again found my resolve to fight.
When I returned home, he stormed into my room, screaming at me. “Nobody wants you here,” he yelled, “Why won’t you just leave?” After a year of living in apartments where I wasn’t wanted, it just didn’t bother me anymore. I knew I wasn’t going to let some asshole run me out of my city. Eventually, he caved and offered me a buyout. That covered the deposit for my own place, still in San Francisco.
I don’t like to say I’ve “made it,” because my hold on the city is tenuous at best. Rising rents, economics, or demographics may succeed in pushing me out some day. Who knows? But what I’ve come for, I’ve found. I spend an insane amount of time working, but I’m doing the best kind of work, following my creativity and putting together media that enriches and empowers others. What time I have left goes into enjoying this amazing city and making my own projects.
That’s everything I’ve dreamed of. For better or worse, I’ve chosen San Francisco as my home, and I will fight for it. That’s why I’m here. It’s why I’m holding on, and it’s what makes San Francisco worth it to me. The cost may be high, but I’m willing to pay it. So long as that’s the case, you can find me here.