As I walk into the homey Inner Richmond apartment of Vetiver singer Andy Cabic three days before Christmas, the first thing I notice are the boxes lining the walls — an all too familiar sight in San Francisco these days. When asked about the changes the city has faced over the last five or so years, Cabic sighs and looks out the kitchen window toward the Presidio, a view that he soon would no longer be able to enjoy. “Artists would not be able to live here if it wasn’t for rent control,” he says. By New Year’s Eve, his apartment building will change ownership and Cabic will be forced to say goodbye to the railroad-style apartment where he and his partner Alissa have lived for more than a decade. Everything was still uncertain when I spoke with him, echoing a refrain that the displaced San Francisco band Two Gallants used as the title of their 2015 piano ballad, “There’s So Much I Don’t Know.”
This scenario has gone from regular occurrence to cliche; evictions in the Bay Area have become the norm when they were once the exception. As rents have risen to the highest in the country — skyrocketing well past New York City, according to Zumper’s National Rent Report from May 2016 — it has become increasingly expensive to live in San Francisco. The creative class has been hit hard, getting pushed to the outskirts of the city — most notably, the far western suburban Outer Sunset and southern Excelsior neighborhoods, both a considerable distance away from downtown. Many have crossed the San Francisco Bay to Oakland, where rents have been rising at an equal or faster rate over the past few years, now cracking the list of top-five most expensive cities in America. As a result of rent increases, Oakland has lost a quarter of its African-American population in the past decade alone. Many people have left the Bay Area altogether, journeying south to Los Angeles, north to Portland, or in some cases, across the country to New York.
It’s easy to focus on how the city itself has changed (just walk down the tree-lined and wine-bar-littered Valencia Street in the Mission), but hyper-gentrification has manifested itself in more subtle ways, cutting deep into the psyche of many musicians who once called the area home.
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