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SF Housing Crisis Horror Story Part 1

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Part 1: The Past

March, 2015 

The cameras went up on a Tuesday. There hadn’t been a notice posted about it, like there usually was about things concerning the building like how to separate the recycling and compost. In the two hours I’d been in my night class, I’d gotten 24 text messages from all of my roommates who were freaking out. The cameras were everywhere. There was at least one on every floor of our three-story apartment building, including one directly over our front door.

Big Brother Sees All. Photo:

Our four-bedroom apartment is located in the Western Addition. The neighborhood is what many white people would call “borderline ghetto,” with the projects just across Webster and the “Un-Safeway” (where they have to lock up not only the liquor but the toothbrushes too) two blocks up Fillmore. There’s a constant congregation of dudes drinking beers and smoking blunts in front of the corner store and in the janky park next to the McDonalds. They pose no real threat, they mostly just offer flattering cat-calls (my personal favorite being, “What’s up, Slimderella?”). We’ve all had a bike or two stolen from our lobby over the five years we’ve lived here. Hell, my roommate’s car window even got shot out while parked on Golden Gate Ave. last month. Crime had been on the rise in San Francisco, but as far as we knew, there hadn’t been a break in in our building for us to worry about.  It seemed apparent that the cameras weren’t there to keep anyone out of the building, but rather to monitor who came into the building.

This was not good news. Is it even legal to put up a camera above someone’s door without notice? Did the landlady want to sell the building and try to buy us out? Or did she just want to spy on us with hopes of someone breaking a rule so that she could evict us and double our rent? But the real question we were all dying to know was: did the cameras even work?


Paranoia led us to believe the CIA, the DEA, or La Migra was going to show up at our door any minute, but eviction was our main concern. No one likes to have the feeling Big Brother is watching your every move. We talked about wearing costumes as disguises when we came and left the building, preferably the V-for Vendetta masks. We talked about only using the side door to the trash room to come in and out of the apartment to deter the cameras. One girl that had been staying with us for a couple months now needed a new plan. She attempted to get on the lease in January, but the landlady denied her 650 credit score, saying that she needed a minimum of 720 to get approved. Her unreasonably high standard didn’t make much sense since the other roommates had been paying the rent without any problems for the past six years.

The cameras were effectively fucking with our heads. When you make a person feel like a criminal, they start to act like a criminal. It wasn’t long before someone in our building came home and ripped out one of the dangling camera cords. Low and behold, the wire was fixed and properly hidden behind casing within a few days. This led to the conclusion that the cameras weren’t there specifically for us, but for all tenants in our building. Who knew what other illegal shenanigans the others were up to, especially the friendly meth-heads that lived downstairs. There only way to find out what our landlord was thinking, was to ask.

“Have there been any break ins that we need to be aware of?” I asked when I popped by the landlady’s office a week or so after they were installed.  “We noticed the cameras, and we were wondering if we should be concerned about our safety.”

“Oh, no, no,” she said, shaking her head. There was an air of nonchalance in her voice, but her gaze was as intimidating as ever. “It’s just something that I’ve always wanted to do. I have them up in another one of my buildings, and thought it was a good idea to put them in here too.”

I call bullshit.  If she got rid of us, she could double the rent overnight. Some young technerds (who would love to turn our apartment into their frathouse), wouldn’t blink an eye at paying $1600 a month for a room.

We don’t really know what the evil landlady has in store for us. We’ve started looking for other options just in case, but it’s pretty depressing out there on Craigslist. I’ve been to a couple open houses, along with 50 other people waiting in line like cattle to view a shithole with blue classroom carpet, cheap wooden pantries and pink pastel bathtubs above a Chinese restaurant in San Fransorta (aka the Outer Sunset). I’ve submitted applications to various property owners without response. My 797 credit score takes a dive every time they run my credit report.


For now, the ladies of apartment X sit like canned sardines waiting to get popped open. My roommates and I are dreading the day we see an eviction notice on our door. We try not to think about it. We study our tenants’ rights. We drink a lot of wine. We lay low. We hope that the housing crisis will disappear and everyone will just go away. But since over 100,000 people have infiltrated San Francisco since 2003, I don’t think that is going to happen. Change is good they say. I say, change is good for those who can afford it.

Say tuned for part 2 of the SF Housing Crisis Horror Story

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Heidi Smith - The Ultimate Scavenger

Heidi Smith - The Ultimate Scavenger

Heidi works for a non-profit cultural exchange organization helping others experience life from a different perspective. She likes magnetizing the obscure and scavenging the city for fun, free things to do. She is a world traveler, a freelance writer and a spontaneous chef. She is also said to be part-mermaid.