We all have our stories on how we found apartments in SF — but some are just better than others, tbh.
Spamming our friends, co-workers, and everyone else we’ve ever met, and asking if they know of any available apartments. Frantic calls and emails to landlords in the black hole that is Craigslist. Joining Facebook groups to sift through posts. Instagram stalking that friend-of-a-friend who you heard needs to rent out their rent-controlled studio. Prayers and sacrifices to the gods of housing. We’re all too familiar with the struggle that comes with finding a place to call home in San Francisco; it’s a rite of passage that so many locals must navigate at some point.
The state of housing remains absolutely terrible in San Francisco. Though rents appear to have leveled out and avoided the demoralizing upswing they saw in 2021 and 2022, San Francisco still remains one of the most expensive metros to lease a domicile anywhere in the country — we’re back in the number two spot, just below New York City, baby! (*Cries in instant ramen noodles and dehydrated chicken stock packets.*)
In fact: Some San Francisco neighborhoods saw zero homes built within their zip codes last year — after the City had finally agreed on its current housing element, which is an eight-year plan to produce 82,000 residential units. Mind you, this is all transpiring amid a bereft downtown and an increasing amount of layoffs from large tech companies. (For the love of G*d: It’s about time we streamline business office spaces into habitable apartment complexes that include below-market-rate units and bolster SF’s affordable housing stock.)
With such a housing crunch, many SF residents have a story on how they found their digs in the greater Bay Area. Here are some of our favorites.
The carpool connection
“One day I rode a casual carpool, and the couple in the car began talking to me about life. We found out that the three of us were Michiganders, and I ended up sharing that I’d like to move to Oakland from South Berkeley. One of them mentioned that her friend was looking for a roommate, so we exchanged contact details. She actually ended up following up, and I landed a sweet one-one share of a two-two on Lakeshore Avenue in Oakland. I’ve been living in that neighborhood for four years. Oh, I actually found out from my new roommate that her apartment ‘friend’ was her ex! And the new driver was her new beau. Funny world.”
— Reddit user eevsm
One man’s trash is another man’s bedroom
“I spent a summer living in the attic of a private warehouse-slash-junkyard owned by an eccentric retired documentary filmmaker. My friend and I carved two bedrooms out of the mess, which included mountains of obsolete computer and filmmaking equipment, and then spent three months shoplifting Dubliner Irish cheese and Parducci wine from the local Andronico’s and watching our way through a box of ’70s kung fu VCR tapes we found on the side of the street.”
— Joey M.
A nude beach goddess with a room to spare
“I took a work sabbatical a year ago and went to the Big Island in Hawaii. When I was there, I met this amazing goddess — if you’d met her, you’d agree — while my friends were spearfishing. I was watching our belongings on the shore of the nude black-sand beach where we set up shop. Fast-forward two weeks, and I ran into said goddess at an open-relationship and poly workshop in Oakland. At the event, she just so happened to mention that she had an opening in the artist collective she lived at. I saw the space the next week, fell in love, and moved in.”
— Tong-Tong L.
The high-school-prom date
“I moved here from New York City about two years ago for a job at the Golden Gate Theatre. I was really worried about how I was going to pay rent, but I put good energy out into the universe and hit up my network. I found out that my high school prom date had moved to the Outer Sunset in 2016, and she was looking for a roommate. How did I know this? I responded to a Craigslist ad — and she was the one who posted it. We lived together for one year before she moved in with her now husband, but it was the best first year in the city I could’ve asked for. We took a move-in cheesy prom picture to celebrate, and it’s still somewhere on my external hard drive.”
— Paul K.
Reddit’s got your back
“I found my first roommate on Reddit! Actually, in the r/SFBayHousing subreddit. So yeah, the internet is shrinking the world. It also gave me an affordable rental in the city, which is basically priceless.”
— Reddit user aradiowave
So does Facebook
“When I was looking for a place to move here in 2021 from New Orleans, I literally just opened a Facebook Market place for ‘San Francisco rents’ and started scrolling. My budget was pretty tight, and I wanted to live alone. I kind of knew this would mean I’d live in a small studio probably in the Tenderloin. But to my surprise: I found a basement apartment in the Mission that I could actually afford. I toured the apartment on FaceTime and did everything else through texts and emails. Thank God for smartphones and 5G.”
— Jason P.
Sometimes Instagram, too
“I started following this girl I connected with at a party in SF years ago when I visited a friend. As it turned out, when I was plotting my move here last year, I saw that she had posted on her stories she was planning to leave SF and go to Oakland. As someone who is always anxious about doing big life decisions over the internet, I knew this was probably gonna be the least stressful and worrisome way to get a place in San Francisco without having to fly halfway across the country. And I was right.”
— Miranda I.
From BART to a one-bedroom
“I was taking the blue line back to San Leandro, where I was crashing on my friend’s couch at the time. I was in between leases, and I still wasn’t sure if I wanted to stay in the East Bay or move back into the city. The commute to Twitter from the East Bay was starting to take its toll on me. But as luck would have it, I started chatting with someone who would later offer me her one-bedroom Nob Hill apartment. We hit it off as friends and started to get lunches during our breaks. She worked at Fitbit. Fast-forward a few months, and she decided to take a job in Seattle and asked if I wanted to take over her lease. I said yes before she could even finish the sentence. I’m literally writing this email from the same kitchen table she left to me as a farewell gift.”
— Virginia S.
The dance-floor lease
“I went out with some of my friends who were visiting, and I was really hating my rental situation. Basically, I was paying $1,200 a month for a fucking sunroom. So as I was bitching about it to my friends at Tupelo, a guy who later joined our group mentioned that he was looking for a roommate. He was leaving back to Los Angeles because he was laid off at a startup he was working for. I asked him for more information, and he straight-up showed me a picture of the lease while our group was dancing. I lived there for two years, and I had a room with a door.”
— Zack C.
A secret housing market in Chinese
“When I was thinking about moving to San Francisco from Mountain View, a former co-worker told me about the Sing Tao classifieds. The listings include oftentimes not-entirely-legal in-laws in Chinatown, the Sunset, the Richmond, Bayview, and Excelsior, as well as other cities in the Bay Area. It’s an entire hidden housing market open to those who speak Chinese. I wasn’t having any luck with Craigslist, so I busted out my rusty Cantonese and Mandarin to call up a few landlords. To my surprise, I found friendly landlords who returned calls and scheduled viewings immediately. After crawling up to the Sunset via Caltrain, BART, and Muni, I found a tiny yet affordable apartment 24 hours after I started my search. I’ve been there for almost seven years now.”
— Viola C.
The landlord who doubled as a fairy godmother
“Here’s a not-dark story: After leaving the area for almost a year in 2014, we were struggling to find a place when we returned to the Bay Area. (We had quit our jobs to travel and then came back to reality). After searching and just crumbling under the financial realities of it all, we called up our former landlord to ask if they had any openings in the same building — and they did! They also let us move back in for the same monthly rent we had since 2011, which was $1,600 a month in Burlingame for a one-bedroom with garage parking and a 98 Walk Score. Woot, woot! But we left the state in 2018. Our mortgage on a three-bedroom house in Chattanooga, Tennessee, is now less than $500 a month.”
— Alex W.
‘From sucking dick to signing leases’
Feature image: Courtesy of Randi Pace