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How Do You Afford S.F.?

Eight San Franciscans, all making less than the city’s median income (some much less), explain how they are hanging on.

 

This is part of "Live Large, Spend Less," a comprehensive guide to surviving (and even flourishing) in America's most expensive city. See all of the stories here.

Janelle Cruz, 27
Income: $1,200–$2,000 a month
“I tend bar one or two nights a week, and I have a job going door-to-door selling people deals on solar power. For the last six years, I’ve been living in the Purple House. We used to be basically a commune, but now we’re city-sponsored affordable housing. I’ve got 9 roommates (down from 14), and I pay $809 a month. I’m treading water and working my butt off, but it means I get to stay here.”

Vidya Karra, 31
Income: $4,790 a month
“I used to work in mergers and acquisitions at Citigroup, making six figures. Then, in 2008, I got laid off and went into teaching. I found a place with my sister in Pac Heights, which sounds impressive, but I had to sell my soul to get the lease. The union rep was telling me that public-school teachers in S.F. are paying 70 percent of their take-home in housing costs, and I’m definitely in that category.”

Lloyd Huey, 54
Income: $5,036 a month
“I’ve lived here all my life, and this house in Nob Hill was left to me by my parents, who were immigrants from China, owned a laundry service, and bought it with a lot of hard work. I make $35 an hour as a BART mechanic, and if it weren’t for this house, I wouldn’t have a pot to piss in. If I’d known how much I’d end up owing my parents, I wouldn’t have been such a little shit when I was a kid.”

Tonya Milteer, 46
Income: $0 (living on savings)
“I ran a women’s boutique in Pac Heights for 15 years. Then I closed it because I’d always wanted to be a writer. I’m doing unpaid blogging right now and raising two boys, 11 and 13, off my savings, after I whittled my mortgage down to nothing. I budget everything: Netflix instead of cable, regular TV instead of a flat screen, Golden Gate Park instead of AT&T Park. I keep the car in the garage.”

Conny Ford, 65
Income: $5,400 a month
“If you’re my age in San Francisco, you’re probably secure because you have a rent-controlled unit or were able to buy a house back in the day. I’ve lived here 36 years, raised two kids, started as a union file clerk, and worked my way up to union head. In ’86, I bought a share in the St. Francis Square co-op for $25K. I had to beg, borrow, and steal, but it’s the nicest place I could ever live as a single parent.”

Michelle, 35
Income: $4,000 a month (household)
“I was born and raised in San Francisco but I lived in Italy for the last 10 years working as a consultant for the UN, where I met my husband. We decided to move back here to raise a family and be close to my parents. I had a job doing event planning for tech companies, Christmas parties and launch parties and that kind of thing, but I was laid off. They said I didn’t make quota, but I think they weren’t happy that I had a baby. My husband has driven for Uber the last two years. At first he enjoyed it because it was a good way to learn the language and learn the city, but the company has changed and they don’t treat their drivers very well anymore. It’s gotten pretty degrading, because he’s educated and overqualified.”

Gary Krane, 60
Income: N/A (Living on savings)
“I moved to the Bay Area for the third time two years ago from Harlem. We’ve produced an app that provides marriage counseling for couples who can’t afford it by connecting them to other couples who have experienced the same problems. It’s been in development for years, but we’re still optimistic about finding a new investor for the final phase, somebody who wants to be able to say that the next Google or Facebook got its start on their couch. For now I’m living off my savings and getting a deal on a deal on a room from a friend in Tiburon, but even that’s getting to be too much. I’m thinking of moving to Detroit. I hear you can get roomshares out there for $300 a month.”

Augustine Sanchez, 40
Income: $4,000-$5000 a month
“I was raised in Santa Barbara, but when the last of my Santa Barbara relatives died it was time for a change. I took a road trip here in 1997 with a friend; we flipped a coin between San Francisco and Vegas. I used to work as a consultant at a non-profit, helping landlords with rent control pitfalls in the East Bay, and then I switched to some other non-profits over the years. But then I heard about ridesharing, crunched the numbers, and realized it was the same money I was making at my desk, with less headache and more freedom. I had a string of nightmare roommates and my one good roommate and I looked at each other and said, ‘Well, time to move to Oakland.’ You’ll laugh, but I share a four-bedroom townhouse in West Oakland for $650 a month. The neighborhood isn’t as bad as, say, the Tenderloin, but it’s comparable to Hunters Point.”

 

Originally published in the November issue of San Francisco

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