God of justice, God of mercy, make us merciful and just,Help us see all your creation, as from you a sacred trust.And when people cry in anguish for their own or other’s pain,Show us ways to make a difference, O dear God make us humane!How can we, as people chosen, by your grace for service here,How endure another’s hardship without offering hope or cheer?God, forgive us, we beseech you, when our love fails to empower.Teach us how to be more faithful, in this present cruel hour.Grant all people work with meaning, strength to care for those they love.Food for table, truth for telling, challenges to rise above.But remind us, God of justice, this is now our work, our call!Changing life’s oppressive systems into ones empowering all.
Spring is here, which means hiring and moving season is heating up. If you’re considering a move, San Francisco might be high on your list: the tech scene, the outdoors, the lifestyle-friendly pace, the food.
But a word of advice to any hopeful newcomers: Prepare to hustle. And hustle hard. The stories you’ve heard are true. Being put through excruciating roommate interviews, beehive-activity open houses, leaving your credit report at the door, running just to stand still. A friend of mine actually baked banana bread and brought it to her second-round roommate interview for extra points. And she still didn’t get the place.
I wasn’t prepared for how hard and fast you have to scramble to find housing in San Francisco. Coming from New York–surely one of the most demanding, fast-paced places to cut your teeth–I thought I knew a thing or two about the housing market. But there are challenges particular to this city that make housing so much harder to find.
1. Where to begin?? San Francisco has a lot of neighborhoods. And sub-neighborhoods. Neighborhoods the length of one block. This makes browsing Craigslist very confusing for newcomers — what’s the difference between Noe Valley vs. Cole Valley vs. Upper/Lower Haight vs. Inner/Outer Sunset? A matter of mere blocks. This fun series of neighborhood postcards will help you get your bearings, but only in stereotypes. You just have to spend time walking around the neighborhoods to get a real feel for their flavor.
2. Once you figure out the map, you’ll realize there are only so many neighborhoods where you actually want to live. The public transportation system doesn’t interconnect very well here, so for young professionals who want to have a life and some mobility, geographically you’re pretty much looking in about 20% of the 7×7 square that is San Francisco.
Which 20%, you ask? Check out the above map of planned construction in the city–the larger dots are where the most units are being built, because those are the in-demand areas. There are some other areas that are great to live in too, but construction isn’t really possible in those areas because they’re already occupied by residential Victorians. And most likely regulated by building code restrictions.
3. Market prices are skewed: most rental units are rent-controlled, so there are rooms for as low as $600/person when an original leaseholder still lives there. You can try to sign a new lease, but prices for a comparable place will start at three times that amount. So you’re better off trying to find a room within an apartment on an existing lease. If you’re extremely lucky, you might be able get a place in the low $600-800 range. But you won’t be that lucky. Let’s be real. Anyone who’s been living in an apartment long enough to have a rent that low will already have a list of people they’d like to bring in should a current roommate move out.
When signing a new lease, landlords jack up the rent to market prices, which frankly I think are inflated right now. But it’s dictated by supply and demand, and you’re the one who wants to move here. So start scouring those Craigslist ads!!
4. People are crazy. You know this, but have no way of knowing whether the person you’re talking to will be a crazy roommate or not. This town is a mixed bag. You go on Craigslist interviews, but who knows what you’re going to get? You spend 20 minutes chatting with someone and based on that have to decide whether you like them and/or think they would make a good roommate. It’s no fun for either side, but at least current tenants have the luxury of choice. So if you’re the one in the hotseat, just try to keep it real. Don’t be too chill, too crazy, too nice, too eager, too reserved. Because no matter what you try to project, you ultimately have no control. The odds are stacked against you. So my advice here is be yourself, be charming, be prompt, be on Craigslist at all hours. But for all that, at the end of the day, just take whatever you can get. If you get stuck with a lemony housing situation, at least you’ll have a roof over your head while you contemplate your next move.
5. The best way is to go through people you know, but because you’re new here, you don’t know that many people. The moral of the story I’m trying to convey is simple. If you want to move out here, don’t just focus on the job search. Because once you finish your job interviews, the roommate interviews begin, and it’s a bummer to be analyzed and judged in every aspect of work, personality, life. Also, summer prices get hyperinflated because people try to sublet out their rooms for about $200/day just because they can. No, they don’t try. They succeed. Because they can. And you, dear job/apartment seeker, will get suckered into it because you’ll have no choice.
For some nerdier reading, here are some of the economics behind the housing crunch:
1. Demand outstrips supply by far.
In sheer terms of availability, population growth in San Francisco is unmatched by housing construction. To give you an idea, a recent study projected that “by 2040 the Bay Area will need 1.1 million more jobs and 660,000 new housing units to accommodate the additional 2.1 million people who will move into the area.”
Contrast that to what’s actually happening now: the Bay area is growing in population size by an average of 30,000-35,000 people per year, yet in 2011, a mere 418 new housing units were constructed. (The 2011 figure is a bit of an outlier and brings down the average over the past five years to 1,710 per year.) That means it’s crunch time.
With a mere 3% vacancy rate, an influx of people, and a backlogged construction pipeline, trying to find housing here is like playing musical chairs–without any chairs. There’s just nowhere to go. So you show up at an open house with all your documentation in hand (bank statements, credit report, references, etc.), only to find ten other people already there, of which one uber-couple has a suitcase full of cash ready to put down a deposit.
2. The market is especially skewed against ‘the little guys.’
The good news is that lots of new housing units, including rental properties, are set to come on the market in the next few years:
Largely in response to the city’s growing technology sector, 22,000 residential units are in various stages of approval and construction. In a few years, residents could be signing leases for new addresses in South Beach, South of Market, Central Market and Mission Bay.
The bad news pertains to us little guys:
… Even if supply catches up with demand, some worry that working- and middle-class residents won’t be able to afford the rents.
The trend “favors the high-end housing market, not the entry-level stuff for the little guys,” said Tim Colen, head of the San Francisco Housing Action Coalition. “It’s a question of, ‘Who gets to live here?’ “
- “SF apartment construction boom around the corner,” The San Francisco Chronicle, March 2012
See the map below, accuracy questionable. But it really is a pretty sad, sad situation.
A NYT article, ”A Battle Plan for Jetlag,” promises to distill NASA-developed techniques for us earth-dwelling travelers to fight jet lag. It sounded cool. But then I read it, and these are the takeaways I got from it:
- Well, at least that explains the indigestion.
- Wear sunglasses at certain times when traveling in certain directions.
- And when you do, you’ll feel really cool. “People will think you’re a rock star.”
… Or rather, you think they think you’re a rock star.
I know because I’ve tried this on New York subways. Whenever I see people wearing sunglasses on the subway, I think they must have (a) puffy crying-eyes, (b) a black eye or (c) an inflated ego.
But then I tried it one time, and it was a pretty awesome feeling. Especially living in New York, where the crowds crush in on you at all times, a pair of sunglasses on the subway is a screen between you and everyone else. It’s liberating. You can see them; they can’t see you. Or so you think; they’re actually staring at you because they think you look stupid wearing sunglasses on the subway.
But hey! That’s the point exactly. With the sunglasses on, you don’t care what they think. For all they know, you’re a rock star.
In the last post, I mentioned a study from two years ago that claimed people experience more of a boost in their happiness levels before a trip than during or after. The argument goes, it’s the anticipation and the planning that gets people all excited:
After the vacation, happiness quickly dropped back to baseline levels for most people…. There was no post-trip happiness benefit for travelers who said the vacation was “neutral” or “stressful.” Surprisingly, even those travelers who described the trip as “relaxing” showed no additional jump in happiness after the trip. “They were no happier than people who had not been on holiday,” said the lead author, Jeroen Nawijn.
So how can you drag out those happiness benefits? Well, I recently attended a talk at LSE with Daniel Kahneman, a seminal behavioural economist. I was excited because his research comprised about 30% of my syllabus in behavioural econ this term. The talk was unfortunately not all that interesting but I blame the moderator, who I thought did a really dismal job and barely knew what he was talking about (system 1, system 2, blah blah blah).
One thing that did stand out is Kahneman’s point about how our memories of experiences are shaped. He points out that people tend to conflate memory and experience, even though experiencing a moment and remembering it later are actually quite different. For example, if you attend a concert and there’s a loud screeching noise (or a persistent ringtone) at the end, you might say, “It ruined the experience for me.” Actually, the experience was how you enjoyed the concert during the first hour and a half, yet the memory of that experience is disproportionately determined by a final screech. In other words, we’re overly influenced by last impressions or peak (and, possibly, trough) moments.
The takeaway for traveling well? Remember it better. As this NYT article on “Planning the Perfect Vacation” recommends, try to end on a high note—save the best for last, perhaps—or at least plan a few activities or moments that will stand out in your memory as something special.
The other part that has made traveling even more fun in retrospect is recognizing the places I’ve been in the media. I was watching a rather boring movie called The Cardinal, which really wasn’t capturing my interest at all until! they were on a boat from Vienna along the Danube, passing right by the towns where we’d gone biking, on his way to the monastery!
Or hearing about Hallstatt on the news (this week’s “Wait Wait.. Don’t Tell Me“) because China spent nearly a billion dollars to create a replica of the Austrian village, though it doesn’t come with the alpine beauty and the lakes and the waterfall roaring through the town. (If you watch the BBC video, doesn’t the mayor of Hallstatt look just like Julian Assange?)
Something of the rustic, natural beauty gets lost in translation.
And I guess you can’t really create a whole mountain range either.
The “I’ve been there!” moment is all the more enhanced because these places always do seem to look better in the movies, don’t they? I was watching a film set in New York City the other day, and whenever I watch movies about New York I’m always amazed at how bright and shiny and clean everything looks.
Journaling helps preserve the memories too. Blogging especially has been helping me to keep reliving the memories! In short, I know I’m a lucky gal to have traveled so much in a mere ten months. My European travels are almost at an end, but they are hopefully well-preserved in my memory—and on this blog—for all their peaks and troughs and everyday details.
The other day, I read a BBC article about how to make weather conversations more interesting and scoffed. Of all the things to write a news article about, how to talk about the weather? As if the Brits need any help with that. And if “Cloudy today, eh?” wasn’t a particularly successful conversation-starter, I doubt “Take a look at that cumulonimbus” would fare much better.
But it got me thinking about clouds, because I honestly am fascinated with the clouds here in the UK. They seem much lower to the ground than anywhere else I’ve lived, and are much faster-moving. And then yesterday we went to the terrace of the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden to this gorgeous sight:
And I was won over.
That’s a fine-looking stratocumulus, wouldn’t you say?