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Real Estate

The rent is just too damn high

Former postal-worker-turned-stripper-turned-activist Jimmy McMillan of New York’s Rent is Too Damn High party. photo: David Shankbone

We might want to lure Jimmy McMillan to abandon New York City and move to San Francisco. McMillan is a Vietnam veteran who has worked as a postal worker, private investigator, and stripper, but who made his biggest splash in several runs for office at the head of The Rent Is Too Damn High party. He did not win, but he did garner 40,000 votes in the 2010 New York gubernatorial race.

How many votes do you think he would get if he challenged Mayor Ed Lee at the ballot box?

When the America’s Cup race was taking place right off our shore in the bay, the Marina Times looked at some of the sky-high short-term rental rates being charged to visitors. For example, people — or, more likely, corporations — could pay $30,000 or even $40,000 a month for a large apartment within walking distance of the water, and if they preferred to stay at home instead of going out among the hoi polloi, one such high-priced rental featured a large deck on which the renters could sit and watch the races via binoculars while they cooled their Champagne with frozen cubes of caviar. It wasn’t even remotely within most people’s spending limits, but the renters did get quite a bit for those top dollars.

A couple years later, and there’s no high-profile yachting event going on, but there are still some jaw-dropping rents being charged.

We spotted one such listing in late October for a unit in Cow Hollow. Located in a vintage Baker Street apartment building, the two-bedroom, one-bathroom unit would set you back $5,995 a month. You would pay nearly $72,000 a year for a mere 830 square feet.

Frankly, that’s too small for most families. So you would be tempted to look elsewhere, perhaps over to Russian Hill, where a Green Street apartment fits three bedrooms and two bathrooms into a 907-square-foot unit with views of the bay and downtown. But it would cost you $7,995 a month.

If you wanted to stay in Russian Hill but you needed additional bathroom space, an additional thousand a month would get you a Larkin Street three-bedroom, three-bathroom unit. The ad we spotted didn’t reveal the square footage, but we did learn that it is a townhome, not a unit in an apartment building. For the privilege of living there, you’ll need to pay $8,950 each month.

Finally, another Russian Hill unit that is in a multifamily building on Larkin Street also didn’t let us know the square footage, but we could see that it had two bedrooms, two bathrooms, and has the proverbial million-dollar views of the Golden Gate Bridge out its windows. Just $13,000 a month.

Now, let’s say you’re neither a bank executive nor a bank robber, so you’re looking for something a little more affordable. If you want something under $2,000, you will have a very, very hard time finding it in the city limits. We did find some online listings for studio units and even a one-bedroom in the Tenderloin for about $1,925 a month. Bumping up your spending limit a bit more can bring you up to Chestnut street near the Marina Green and a studio apartment that rents for $2,500 monthly.

With no near- or medium-term end in sight to San Francisco’s economic boom and its housing shortage, and with housing production being ramped up but still well under official estimates of what would be needed to cause a decrease in rent rates, people will be making decisions that impact the type of city this is. People of limited means — meaning, low- and moderate-income households — will either be sticking to their existing units if they are rent controlled or they will be looking to move outside of the city and only come back to visit or commute to their city job.

Those folks can lease a one-bedroom, one-bathroom unit in Fairfield for $1,437. Perhaps they’ll go all the way out to Concord for a studio that will only set them back $650 each month. An income-restricted community in West Oakland has one-bedrooms renting between $745 and $830 a month.

You surely pay for the pleasure of living in San Francisco, but it’s not the worst rental-to-pleasure ratio in the nation. That honor falls to Los Angeles, according to a recent study from UCLA. The study looked at areas where incomes were not keeping up with rising rents. Rental rates, however, were actually higher in San Francisco, Washington, D.C., Boston, and of course in the original rent-is-too-damn-high city, New York.

If any of that inspires you to rob a bank (which, we hasten to add, is not recommended), you might just go all-in and plop down $25,000 a month for the Russian Hill six-bedroom, four-bathroom, 3,300-square-foot duplex on Vallejo Street. If you stay there long enough, the America’s Cup is sure to come back to town.

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