Protesters picket landlord who threatened to oust them all

Screw You, Tech Bros: San Francisco’s Middle Class Is Vanishing Along With Everything Else That Made The City So Special

San Francisco has become the most unaffordable city in the nation, and tech bros are to blame. At least that’s the considered opinion of a whole lot of people who are being priced right out of The City.

That long-time residents are being financially forced out of the rental market is not fresh news. According to a January 2014 article in the San Francisco Examiner, the once wonderfully diverse ‘Baghdad by the Bay’ is now a city of haves and have-nots.

Case in point: A 38-year old Potrero Hill resident named Melissa LaBonge. Melissa worked as a development manager with the San Francisco Bay Area chapter of the Arthritis Foundation and coordinated numerous Susan G. Komen 3-day fundraising events that raised hundreds of millions of dollars for breast cancer research, treatment, and education

In 2014, LaBonge and her boyfriend had a combined income of around $80,000. Earning roughly $7,000 more than the median income for a household of two, they were solidly ensconced in the so-called ‘middle class’ and should have been able to live comfortably in San Francisco for as long as they wanted to. Unfortunately, that’s not how things turned out. When asked about her middle class peers in 2014, LaBonge told the Examiner, “Very few still live here. Most of them have moved. Everyone else has three jobs.”

According to her LinkedIn profile, the Rutgers-educated social worker now lives and works in Nashville.

The City is less for having loss the enthusiasm and good works of Melissa LaBonge, but her story is only one of thousands of middle class residents who have been financially forced out of their homes. The once-vibrant and diverse population is no longer a haven for artists, musicians, small business owners, and students.

Upward trend in rental prices has been happening for at least three decades

According to Zumper, the median rent in San Francisco today hovers between $2,800 and $3,199 for a one bedroom apartment. The Outer Mission and Excelsior neighborhoods are the most affordable, with a few one bedroom and studio apartment rentals going for less than $2,000 per month. Even the Tenderloin district, once the fearful haunt of pickpockets and drug fiends, boasts precious few rental dwellings for under $2,300 per month.

As of this writing, Zumper reports the highest average rental rates to be in South Beach, Mission Bay/Dogpatch and the Russian Hill neighborhoods where a month’s residential rent is approximately $4,000.

Foundations that helped people avoid eviction were themselves evicted

Last December, Truth Out reported the pending eviction of two non-profits that help San Franciscans avoid eviction. Tenants Together and the Eviction Defense Collaborative were effectively ousted from their eleventh-floor offices on Market Street when the rent went sky-high. The offices they could no longer afford to lease are now occupied by a company called WeWork that rents short term office space. WeWork offered to sublease office space to the non-profit groups but at a much higher rate than they had been paying or could afford to pay. Prior to their eviction, the foundations threw themselves a fundraiser to finance their move to new digs. On their Facebook event page, they posted the following.

“We’re being evicted. Like so many in the Bay Area, Tenants Together and The Eviction Defense Collaborative of San Francisco are being PRICED OUT of our homes. We’re lucky to have found new digs in 2016, but we’re sad to say goodbye to 995 Market St. in San Francisco, where we have worked for ten years.

“We know we’re not alone. Too many of our supporters, donors, and members have been evicted themselves. We invite you to come and share your story of eviction, landlord harassment, and rising rents. The Anti-Eviction Mapping Project will be there to capture ethnographic narratives of displacement. We all help each other fight back.”

Carpenters Union Local 22 saw it coming last August, when they protested the ‘gradual takeover’ of the Market Street building they shared with Tenants Together and the Eviction Defense Collaborative. Union members stationed a ‘grim reaper’ at the entrance to 995 Market Street along with a banner that read “WeWork Hurts Workers – Hurts Families – Hurts Community.”

Are brogrammers to blame?

Dave Schilling and Jules Suzdaltsev of Vice magazine certainly think so. In a scathing report entitled Reasons Why San Francisco is the Worst Place Ever, the duo declared “The end is nigh for a city that used to be a magnet for the counter-culture.” The Vice piece furthermore described tech bros in general as “d*****b**s” whose insistence on “infiltrating the real San Francisco” has left The City “damn near unlivable for most normal people.”

When start up entrepreneur Justin Keller (who moved to San Francisco three years ago) wrote an open letter to the mayor exclaiming how he “shouldn’t have to see the pain, struggle, and despair of homeless people to and from my way to work every day,” it did nothing to endear tech bros in general to the hearts of the disappearing middle class.

Christopher Muther of the Boston Globe tossed his three cents into the frenzy when he referred to tech bros as an ‘invasive species‘ that’s ‘spreading faster than Asian carp in the Mississippi River.’ ‘Brogrammers,’ as Muther describes them, work for San Francisco-based tech outfits such as Google, Uber, Airbnb, LinkedIn, DropBox and Yahoo. Justin Keller owns a tech company called Commando.io.

San Francisco artist Hannah Rothstein explained the tech bro phenomenon this way.

“There’s definitely a large contingent of young, 20-something males that roll straight out of college into perk-heavy tech jobs that are incredibly parallel to the college setting from which they came — dining halls for all three meals, rec rooms, and cookie cutter apartments filled with people very much like themselves. Socio-economic diversity is definitely being pushed out of The City.”

Is this a solvable problem?

For readers who lived in the Bay Area in the late 1990s, the current tension between new-money tech companies and the middle-class populace may feel uncomfortably familiar. In 1999, the San Francisco Gate reported a self-styled anarchist who called himself the “Yuppie Eradication Project” plastered the Mission with everything from flyers to feces in an effort to bring attention and discomfort to the “cigar bar clowns” and “yuppie carpetbaggers,” as Kevin Keating referred to the gentry of Tech Boom 1.0. YEP tactics were not effective and are in no way recommended.

In 2016, the direct action group Eviction Free San Francisco assists rent-paying residents who are at risk for eviction. The group staved off the eviction of an entire building in North Beach and continues to assist tenants in fighting the controversial Ellis Act which allows landlords to oust every tenant at once. Eviction Free SF may be contacted via email at evictionfreesf@riseup.net.

Will the widening disparity between the very rich and the very poor in San Francisco change before every artist, waitress and social worker is financially banished from the rental market? This writer hopes so, but does not hold her breath for such an equitable outcome.

[Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images]

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