Alamo Square is a picture-perfect still frame of idyllic San Francisco overlooking the famous Victorian painted ladies.
“I would love to live here,” said a tourist from Surry, England.
So imagine the incredibly fortunate residents of 575 Pierce in corner apartment 102.
Alex Steup can sing the praises.
“I love the design,” she said. “The amazing view. The location.”
Now, the surprise. Alex pays just $1,200 a month in rent. But there’s a twist.
“What’s that?” I asked, poking a finger into the low ceiling.
“The bed, actually,” she said.
Talk about high rents in San Francisco — Steup lives in a 10-by-4.5 foot converted closet.
“That was my bedroom for many years,” said her roommate, Tristan Harvey, who spent much of his life there. He recently enlarged the area into a section of living room by adding plywood.
“I built that to expand the space because this room could stand to lose a little bit,” he said. “And I could use the money.”
Freedman: “Did you envision yourself living in a closet at 33-years-old?”
Steup: “I don’t like to call it that.”
Freedman: “What do you call it?”
Steup: “A second living area. Uh huh. Or ‘The Cloud.'”
Beyond the semantics, this is a case of outside appearances sometimes being deceiving. It’s old news to Sam Moss, a devoted advocate for public housing and critic of San Francisco’s status quo.
“Saying that housing is a crisis has become cliché,” he said. “It’s beyond a crisis.”
According to Moss, it’s more like a self-imposed crisis due to the city’s zoning restrictions against high density housing.
As Tristan Harvey told us, Alex Steup rents the closet because he needs the money.
His father, Larry Harvey, co-founded Burning Man and lived in the apartment for four decades, but he never transferred the lease before his death last April.
Within in days the landlord changed what had been a rent of $1600 to $3600 per month.
Within days, the landlord raised what had been a rent of $1,600 a month to $3,600 a month. Tristan received the landlord’s letter on the day of his father’s memorial.
“I believe it is the landowners who charge as much as they can and squeeze every penny that can be squeezed,” said Tristan, who is also HIV positive.
“I mean he had the legal right to do it. But morally? Probably not,” opined Sam Moss about Tristan’s landlord.
Harvey has appealed to the city. It’s the principle, he says. “I am struggling to keep my head above water. And I think a lot of San Francisco can share that sentiment. There are more than you can imagine who have steady jobs and live in cars because they cannot afford to live any other way.”
When compared with option, a closet with an elevated be looks pretty good.
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“It is really cozy up here,” said Steup as she settled in.
Do we dare we call this a new normal?
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“What is the solution?” we asked Sam Moss.
“Change the zoning laws,” he said. “Fewer single family homes. More housing. Just build it!”
“What is your dream?” we asked Steup.
“To make enough money to have a dog and a yard for people to play in,” she answered.
But will that ever happen in San Francisco?
“Never…” she said.
Take a look at ABC7’s latest stories and videos about efforts to Build a Better Bay Area.
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