Valley Voice
How San Francisco fights gentrification

Moving in together has become a decision for life in San Francisco, where rents are at an all-time high and longtime tenants are evicted. Now protests against gentrification start to accelerate.
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My friend lives in this cute house in the Mission, her boyfriend in a tiny apartment a few blocks away. They have known each other for almost two years; they seem like a good couple. Why else would you dress up as Bonnie and Clyde on Halloween?

Moving in together has always been a life-changing decision. The old farmer next to my parents’ house used to hang the beheaded chicken on the clothesline in his garden. Every now and then blood was dripping into a tub. When he died, his wife said she would never move in with somebody again.

Bonnie and Clyde can’t move in together although they handle each other gently. They simply cannot afford it if their relationship won’t work. Bonnie’s apartment is under rent control and Clyde has been living in his one-bedroom for such a long time that pays very little. That has become very rare in San Francisco. Renting here is nearly three times as expensive as in any other American city, with an average rent of 4,600 dollars for a two bedroom apartment.

Kurz und schmerzhaft: alle Kolumnen

Kolumnenkabinet

The Mission district, a former working-class neighborhood that saw an influx of Irish, German and Mexican immigrants in the 19th and 20th century, has changed dramatically since it became one of the hottest locations in the US. The transition was sped up by Silicon Valley’s tech-workers who prefer to live in a city instead of a suburban nightmare called Palo Alto, and by the increased popularity of Airbnb.

Gentrification has been an issue in San Francisco for a while, but lately people have started to fight. In the Mission you’ll find text on the wall of (“The city is not for sale”) or pictures of the threatening face of ancient Medusa (“Gentrify me!”) at the public train station. Hundreds of people join demonstrations to protest housing prices and the evictions of tenants. Now residents of San Francisco will even vote on an initiative called “Proposition F” that aims to limit short-term rentals, mainly the ones of Airbnb.

Guided historical tours through the city became sadly popular again. You can’t walk down the street with a long-time citizen of San Francisco without him or her telling you everything about what has been there before there was this hipster café serving organic almond milk or the luxury condo that just sold for one million dollars in cash.

Bonnie and Clyde don’t have so much money, although they went to a good university and have good jobs. They don’t have to fear eviction, but they know that if they ever decide to leave their single-apartment they won’t be able to find a similar affordable place again. Maybe they will do it anyways. Maybe they will rob a bank. Maybe they will just get stuck where they are right now. And that will be a sad thing to happen in Silicon Valley of all regions, where they talk so much about change.

Es gibt auch eine deutsche Version dieser Kolumne.

Britta Weddeling is a technology journalist with Handelsblatt, Germany's #1 business daily, based in San Francisco. She is author of a weekly English tech column called "Valley Voice" and contributes every week to a podcast at a major German radio station (Deutschlandradio,"Was mit Medien").

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