I have an uncomfortable relationship with a few buildings in this neighborhood. This is my story about one of them.
You know that big high rise at the corner of Mission and 8th St? It’s the one that looks like nothing, really. It’s just a series of squares. It is so gigantic and imposing and yet somehow completely unremarkable. I must have walked by it hundreds of times without really noticing it at all. Which is pretty remarkable considering it’s the tallest building for miles.
Anyways. Over a year ago, this building came a part of my life when my boyfriend moved to San Francisco. The company he works for was generous enough to set him up in temporary housing there while he tried to find a place to live. He moved into a furnished studio on the 15th floor with a spectacular view of SoMa. It was a good arrangement, especially considering my house was only a five minute walk away.
I always felt a little out of place there, and for what it’s worth I think he did too. I’ll be honest. I’m just a perpetually broke college student with some tattoos, weird hair, and a collection of ratty band shirts. Someone who looks like me sticks out like a punky sore thumb when you put me in front of a polished marble-covered lobby. And yet, 1188 Mission St was my second home for months. Months where I would sit by the window, looking down on streets that look remarkably cleaner when you’re viewing them for an ivory tower.
There was a fantastically odd mix of people who called this building home. A number of them had been displaced from the low income housing complex next door. The one that I watched be gradually destroyed from my boyfriend’s window. I spent many mornings sitting and watching the derelict buildings below me collapse while trying to not scuff the impossibly expensive imported couch. They were all promised new rent-controlled dwellings the new high rise as part of the multi-phase construction plan that this building was a part of. Which sounds like a pretty sweet deal until you consider just how much of a dissociative, alienating experience it must be to live as part of a bargain. To exist as a sort of social pact between the bourgeoisie and the disenfranchised.
I mean, how did that conversation even go? “Sure. You can build your multi-million dollar high rise- as long as you carve out a few units for those incredibly low income people you’ve displaced. I’m sure they’ll assimilate fine. Diaspora? Why are you using those big words?”
After a few months, he moved out. He found a fantastic apartment in another neighborhood to call home.
But I still walk by that high rise every day on my commute from my house to school. I can still point out the window on the 15th floor that I sat in front of every day. And I know that I will never be able to return there. Hell, I can’t even walk into the lobby without having to convince the security guard that I’m there for a legitimate reason. Additionally, I know that I fall well below the level of income it would take to rent a unit there independently. I also know that the number of “affordable” units there are already occupied, and will be for a long time to come.
It just feels weird to feel permanently shut out of a place you once knew. I feels isolating to know that in a building so huge, in my own damn neighborhood, there is no room for people like me.
Now they’re starting a new phase of construction. Another high rise that will, reportedly, have both market price and low income units. But even if I could afford it, is that where I’d want to live? As nice as it was to occupy that building for a few months, there was no real community there. Which isn’t surprising when you consider that the tenants were pretty much either those who can afford inflated rents or those who are so poor that the city has had to legislate them into legitimate housing.
Just like building swanky condos next to slums doesn’t improve a neighborhood, neither does sandwiching high and low income units into the same building lessen disparity. You can’t protect people’s individual agency by making their basic residence a bargaining term for those with the privilege of being able to afford housing.
Is this what redevelopment will look like in all of SoMa? I sincerely hope not.
If you’re interested, the Chron’s Curbed section has a lot of coverage and commentary on this building and it’s saga over here.