I got my first taste of San Francisco’s dismal rental market through a class assignment. We were tasked with finding an apartment within city limits that was affordable for a person with a minimum-wage income. After spending hours on Craigslist (sound familiar?), I found a room in a beautiful-sounding house on the edge of the Castro.
I emailed the owner and got a response explaining that the basement functioned as a “working dungeon.” If I lived there, he informed me, I’d get free access to all the equipment. Also, there were at least 35 candidates who were hoping for the room, so he’d appreciate it if I got back to him quickly. I was taken aback by the idea living in an S&M hot spot, but I was just as baffled that I was up against three dozen competitors -- the post hadn’t even been up for 24 hours. Still, I’m savvy enough to know that if it were a present-day situation, the rent would be twice as much, and I’d be vying against twice as many applicants.
Here’s why. In the past four years, San Francisco rental prices have climbed 13.7 percent, but occupancy has only risen 1.3 percent. Last year alone, average rental prices in the city increased by 14.4 percent. According to a recent report by the National Low Income Housing Coalition, San Francisco is the most expensive city in the country to rent housing. In other words, this shit is bananas.
With numbers like these, it’s not surprising that people are willing to bend over backward to snag an apartment. I decided to investigate the lengths locals have gone to in order to secure a set of keys, and what kinds of situations people would be willing to accept in such a crappy market.
GET IN THE CLOSET
Before discovering his current apartment, art student Nathan Dingley remembers checking out rooms he could hardly believe were being passed off as living spaces. He visited one in the Inner Sunset that he assumed could only be a closet. It was maybe 6 feet by 10 feet; Nate is 6’3’’. “I couldn’t even lie down in one direction, and I certainly don’t think I could have fit my bed in there. The landlord was charging over $600,” he said. The next morning he woke up to an email from the landlord; she had already rented the room.
BRING A WINGPERSON
When Josh (last name withheld at his request) started looking for a room,he knew he’d have to do something that set him apart.He wanted to live with a bunch of dudes, and after several unsuccessful open houses, he stumbled upon what proved to be a genius tactic.Every time he visited an open house, he’d bring a 12-pack of decent beer and a smokin’-hot female friend. Upon arrival, his buddy would chat about all of her cute, single friends who just loved Josh, and suddenly doors flew open. The point, he told me, was to convince potential roommates that he’d keep the booze and babes coming and would therefore prove indispensable.
LEARN TO LOVE YOUR ROOMMATE
Of all the stories I heard, Eric’s was by far my favorite. He and his roommate, Billy, were tired of their smelly apartment in the Haight, so when Billy’s girlfriend found a two-bedroom in Duboce Triangle, Eric was amped. When he called the landlord and said that he, his roommate, and his girlfriend were interested in seeing the place, the man told him flatly that he had no applications left. On a hunch, Eric had Billy call back and tell the guy that he and his partner, Eric, were looking for a home. This time the owner was thrilled to show them the place. Eric particularly remembers one moment, while touring the apartment, when Billy lovingly tucked a lock of hair behind Eric’s ear. The two signed on the dotted line less than 15 minutes later.
DON'T HIT UP THE HOMELESS
Nathan Hayflick and Anthony Aerts are currently my upstairs neighbors, but before that they were jaded apartment hunters. Both remember spending hours scouting “For Rent” signs to avoid the competition on Craigslist. One day they spied a little house for rent and decided to investigate. No sooner had they parked their car than they noticed a woman walking through the front gate into the yard. They excitedly called out to her and rushed to the gate, applications in hand. Their enthusiasm quickly died when the woman, without pausing to acknowledge them, flipped open a recycling bin and started rummaging through the bottles. “It took us a moment to fully realize that we had tried to give our applications to a woman who was, in all likelihood, homeless,” said Nathan.
This story originally ran in Volume 4 of The Bold Italic magazine – Obsessions – which is available for purchase in our Shop.