Why is the rent so high in California

: Overpriced rents in San Francisco: apartments are becoming a luxury

San Francisco -In the tech metropolis of San Francisco, rental prices have gotten completely out of control. Even a six-figure annual salary is hardly enough for a middle-class life.

The front door of the house is secured by two locks and a grille. After pressing the doorbell, you are in the unadorned hallway. "Viewing the apartment?" Asks an unkempt man, both grumpy and disinterested: "Fifth floor, down the hall, right side."

The carpet in the stairwell is scuffed. It smells like urine. A young man is currently inspecting the one-room apartment. It should be around twenty square meters, at least bright, but spoiled with laminate flooring and a cheap kitchen. The window looks out onto Hyde Street, whose sidewalks are besieged by hawkers, homeless people and drug addicts. The problem district of Tenderloin right behind the magnificent Beaux Art City Hall is certainly not a postcard view of San Francisco. But the rent is really cheap - at least by local standards: the mini-apartment should cost $ 1,725 ​​a month. Additional costs are of course extra.

Five thousand for two rooms

Interested parties shouldn't think too long. The demand is high, and a second attempt a few streets away is only supposed to be more successful. "Open House" invites you to visit a two-room apartment, newly renovated and with parking space for the car. That sounds tempting. In fact, the broker welcomes potential customers with exquisite friendliness. “You probably know that the housing market is very tense,” says the mid-thirties in a stylish suit: “This is a real opportunity.” How high should the rent be? “You can ask for $ 5,000,” he enthuses. Desire? Suddenly the misunderstanding clears up: The 50 square meter property is offered for sale. A mere 670,000 dollars would have to be paid for it.

With the Pacific to the west, the Golden Gate Bridge to the north and the famous bay to the east, San Francisco is an exhilarating city. When the fog has disappeared around noon and the clear blue sky shines over the hilly metropolis with its colorful Victorian houses, you can hardly imagine a more beautiful place. The “Belle of the Bay” also exerts a magical attraction on digital hippsters and start-up entrepreneurs: from Apple to Facebook, Google and Twitter to Uber, all tech companies in the region have their headquarters.

With a high salary and luck to rent an apartment

But the enormous attractiveness of the dream city creates enormous problems. On a headland in the water, San Francisco can spread out just 121 square kilometers - significantly less than Potsdam or Bonn. The living space is correspondingly scarce. It is no longer enough to stick a few flowers in your hair to be as happy here as it was in 1967, when Scott McKenzie erected an immortal musical memorial to the then Mecca of the hippie movement. A decent fortune has to be added today.

“San Francisco has become priceless in many ways,” complained the new black mayor of London Breed when she was inaugurated a few weeks ago. The 43-year-old made more than $ 100,000 a year before she was elected. Elsewhere in the US that is easily enough to buy a small house suitable for medium-sized businesses. Not in San Francisco: "I've been a tenant my whole life," said Breed.

A stroll through the hilly Cole Valley district west of downtown leads past a clapboard-roofed house on Belmont Avenue, where the successful gay author Armistead Maupin lived for two decades. With his novel series “Tales of the City” he became a celebrated chronicler of the liberal attitude towards life of the 1970s and 1980s in San Francisco. In 1993, Maupin bought the 150-square-meter home for $ 615,000. When he moved to Santa Fe in 2012 (returning ruefully to the West Coast two years later), he sold it for $ 1.6 million. It is now worth at least $ 2.3 million, according to the Zillow brokerage firm. The real estate market in the Bay metropolis is "very healthy" rave the professionals from Zillow: Last year, the average price per square meter climbed by 9.8 percent to 11,370 dollars. This year it is expected to gain another eight percent.

Years of waiting

Not only teachers with an annual income of 60,000 to 70,000 dollars, but increasingly even many techies, who in San Francisco and neighboring Silicon Valley are usually paid in the six-figure range, can no longer afford this. But things don't look any better on the rental market. "I'm damned lucky," reports Helen Phung, who works as a PR woman for a start-up for online mail-order companies. Eight years ago, she and her partner moved to San Francisco to live in an apartment with a city rent cap. In the meantime, a one-year-old daughter has been added. But Phung would never move out of the three-room apartment: With a basic rent of $ 2,500 it is unbeatable: "Friends of mine pay $ 5,000," reports the young woman.

That is not an exaggeration. With an average monthly rent of $ 3,330 for a one-bedroom apartment, the equivalent of a German two-room apartment, San Francisco is the most expensive city in the United States for renters - ahead of New York, Washington and Los Angeles. For an extra room you have to add another thousand dollars. According to the official government definition, families with an annual income of less than $ 117,000 in San Francisco are now considered to be low-wage earners and, like Phung, are entitled to a rental capped apartment. But the corresponding law was overturned 25 years ago under pressure from the property lobby and only applies to the old stock. Halfway affordable living space is accordingly rare: the waiting time for a place with “rent control” is an incredible 64 months.

Regulations controversial, families in caravans

The dramatic housing shortage in San Francisco has long since become a political issue. The issue is at the fore in every election campaign. Nothing has happened so far. And help from Washington is not to be expected - on the contrary: Trump's Housing Minister Ben Carson is preparing a law that would loosen the cap on socially cushioned rents and raise the minimum contribution of poor people to rent from 50 to 150 dollars. After all, there is now an initiative to vote in California in the November congressional election that would reintroduce a price brake on new rentals. The majority of the Democratic Party and many trade unions support the move. "We now have a serious shortage of teachers in California because of the lack of affordable housing," warns Eric Heins, president of the CTA educators' union. But the majority is not certain: of all people, Gavin Newsom, the Democratic candidate for governor, has concerns. Too much regulation, he fears, could bring new residential construction to a standstill.

But without regulation, far too little affordable living space will be created. Not only in San Francisco, but also in neighboring Silicon Valley, there is now a real emergency. Students at the elite Stanford University have to pay $ 1,800 for a room in a shared apartment. According to official statistics, 100 families are now living in caravans in Palo Alto, a 65,000-inhabitant town with a population of 65,000 between the chic headquarters of Facebook and Google, with a majority of Latinos. If you can't afford that, you will end up on the street like Frederick Douglas at some point.

Shelter as a luxury

The 61-year-old African American used to have a family and a job in a factory. Then the marriage broke up, Douglas lost his job and, soon after, his apartment. “After that everything went down the drain,” says the well-groomed man with short hairstyle without any sentimentality. He got by with jobs as a dishwasher, horse boy and unskilled worker in a hotel laundry. But even that is now over. Douglas has been homeless for eleven years. He sleeps on the street or in St. Boniface Church on Golden Gate Avenue, which has nothing in common with the silhouette of the bridge glistening in the sunlight.

There are at least 7,500 homeless people in San Francisco, but there are far too few places to sleep in public homes. That is why the Catholic Franciscan Order opens its church to people without a home during the day. About 100 stowed their belongings under the benches that day and are trying to get some sleep on the hard wood. Incense cones soften human odors. The monks treat the poor with respectful concern. A few doors down they offer a free lunch. “We don't ask for names or status,” says Brother James Chaplain. But he estimates that a quarter of the canteen guests definitely have a job but cannot afford a meal.

At night, many homeless people hide under plastic sheeting in improvised tents on the sidewalks of the district. “The city is falling in half,” says Chaplain. But the high number of people in need in the middle of the city center also creates other problems. Residents in the Tenderloin district complain about the masses of dirt and heroin injections on the streets. In many cases, the urge to go is taken on the sidewalk. Mayor Breed has therefore earmarked $ 3 million in the new city budget for 44 new street cleaners. She plans to spend around ten million dollars more on new homeless shelters and social bus tickets.

The housing shortage in the Bay metropolis will not be solved with such emergency plasters. “This society is pushing out more and more people,” Chaplain complained when he left. It didn't sound like the love and gentleness that Scott McKenzie praised fifty years ago in his San Francisco song. In fact, the next morning in the San Francisco Chronicle there was a disturbing report: A 75-year-old apartment owner shot at his tenant in order to force him to move out. After falling ill, the 39-year-old was four months behind with his rent. The man survived seriously injured.