San Francisco, where “Eviction = Death”

It was out of boredom, and a touch of morbid curiosity, that I clicked on the link a friend shared for a two bedroom $895,000 condo in San Francisco’s Castro district.

Just when it seemed that SF real estate speculators couldn’t get any more surreal, this one actually left me clutching my pearls.

For longtime residents, San Francisco is a city in crisis. Speculators have exploited the Ellis Act, and tens of thousands have been evicted in recent years. (More than a couple have committed suicide as a result.) And in my opinion, this real estate announcement deserves special recognition for the amount of nerve it took to come up this feel-good whitewashing of the current state of affairs

This is how the ad describes the Castro and its ongoing “transition”:

“Eureka Valley includes the world-renowned Castro district, and has a wonderfully rich history as the epicenter of the gay rights movement. Today, the neighborhood is undergoing another transition as the long-standing gay community welcomes young families to the increasingly diverse neighborhood. On the eastern end, coveted Liberty Hill offers tremendous views and one-of-a-kind residences. Located centrally with downtown access via Muni streetcar and freeway access just off of Market Street, the hard-to-resist neighborhood is also graced with a wide variety of architectural styles and property types — including many pre-Quake Victorians. Bustling Castro Street is home to some of the city’s most beloved landmarks, including Harvey Milk’s store front and the historic Castro Theatre, as well as great restaurants and bars, clubs and pubs serving all your nightlife needs. A celebratory attitude often reigns, as each year the streets come alive during the Castro Street Fair and Pride Week. Venture up the hills and you’ll find quieter streets lined with charming, well-kept homes. Locals love to take advantage of many hidden mini-parks like Kite Hill, and the Seward Street slides.”

Wow, talk about warm fuzzies. The longstanding gay community got together and decided to give up their rent controlled apartments in droves to welcome the new, and mind you, “diverse,” new residents. The old displaced queers are just as jolly as a smiling pig on a BBQ sign.

I took the liberty of inserting a few points. Here’s my rewrite:

Eureka Valley includes the world-renowned Castro district, and has a wonderfully rich history as the epicenter of the gay rights movement (locals refer to it lovingly as the Disneyland of Gays Gone Bye). Today, the neighborhood is undergoing another transition (Thanks Ellis Act loopholes!) as the long-standing gay community welcomes young families (not unlike how Native Americans welcomed European settlers).

The San Francisco fog rolls in, courtesy of the wonderful short film "Adrift."

The San Francisco fog rolls in, courtesy of the wonderful short film “Adrift.

On the eastern end, coveted Liberty Hill offers tremendous views and one-of-a-kind residences. Located centrally with downtown access via Muni streetcar and freeway access (because, of course, you’re driving your BMW fifty miles to Mountain View) just off of Market Street, the hard-to-resist (hard to resist displacing thousands through evictions) neighborhood is also graced with a wide variety of architectural styles and property types — including many pre-Quake Victorians. Bustling Castro Street (Now with no public nudity and tamer window displays, for your comfort) is home to some of the city’s most beloved landmarks, including Harvey Milk’s store front and the historic Castro Theatre (all powered by the green energy of Harvey Milk spinning in his grave), as well as great restaurants and bars, clubs and pubs serving all your nightlife needs. (That “your” makes me nervous. But with each gay displaced from the Castro they paint another rainbow) A celebratory attitude often reigns (aren’t gays fun?! — we ship them in from the East Bay), as each year the streets come alive during the Castro Street Fair and Pride Week (aka your friends will think you’re interesting). Venture up the hills and you’ll find quieter streets (i.e., a nice break from those gays) lined with charming, well-kept homes. Locals (in San Francisco that means anyone who receives mail there) love to take advantage of many hidden mini-parks like Kite Hill, and the Seward Street slides.”

Behind the feel good veneer are real stories, like that of Jonathan Klein, a well-known and beloved owner of a local travel agency. He had recently been evicted when he made his way to the iconic Golden Gate Bridge and took his life.

In the wake of the suicide, civic leaders and the local media, always struggling to shield the new, monied residents from discomfort, went to great lengths to downplay the eviction as a factor, instead highlighting the general issue of “depression.” Those closest to him, however, made their feelings known. A temporary memorial was placed outside of Klein’s travel agency including a prominent sign reading: “Eviction = Death” — a play on the famous AIDS logo of the late 1980s and early 1990s, “Silence = Death.”

Friend Cleve Jones posted the following on his Facebook page:

“Everyone in San Francisco talks about the skyrocketing rent and the increasing evictions. It hits older and disabled people the hardest. Many of my friends have lost their homes, people like Peter Greene and Jonathan Klein, who operated the Now Voyager travel agency on 18th Street since 1984. Peter and Jonathan have been despondent. The politicians talk but do nothing to protect us. Today I learned that Jonathan has taken his life and I am overwhelmed with sorrow.”

One of the most offensive parts of the mass displacement in San Francisco is the feel good spin the speculators and city officials insist on selling, and all the hand wringing about anything that might make the tech workers uncomfortable. It would be better if they’d just man up, kept it real, and replace Kumbaya with a more fitting theme song.

Chris Andoe
Chris Andoe is an author and seasoned activist. After meeting John Aravosis at a Chicago “StopDrLaura.com” protest in 2000, Chris was inspired to organize his own major demonstrations in St. Louis, which drew national attention. Since then, his activism has revolved around LGBT, affordable housing, and mass transit issues. In 2011 Andoe made headlines taking on the amorphous hacker group Anonymous for publishing nude photos of a Bay Area Rapid Transit spokesperson, saying “Puritanical shame-based tactics have no place in the capital of sexual liberation”, and he extensively covered San Francisco's jarring gentrification, from mass evictions to the nudity ban. Andoe was on the ground in Ferguson at the height of the unrest, recording events as they unfolded. Always in the fray, Andoe’s been interviewed by NPR, CBS, and has been quoted from CNN to The St. Louis Post Dispatch.

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