Sanctuary City Tales by Elise

Saturday, August 11, 2018

August's author is Elise. Elise was on the first team I oversaw post graduate school. In short, the supervisor before me tried to put Elise on probation aka get her fired because she had an "attitude" problem...But, I found the complete opposite, Elise was a dream to work with! She was bright, funny, great peer mentor, and she kept me accountable. That year she was nominated by her peers and selected by professional staff as Student Leader of the Year. Fast forward 5 years, she still teaches me, encourages me, and checks me when I need it. She wrote about the realities of house hunting while black in San Francisco...this was not an exaggeration. I tagged along for 1 home tour...and the racism she faced was blatant...Read her journey and please pass this to folks who need to hear this. Her story is real and of many:

Elise Washington is an unapologetic Black American woman who cares deeply about justice and equity. She was born and raised in Southern California, educated on the Central Coast of California, and is now adulting in Oakland, California. She is passionate about social justice, traveling, and unpacking the world’s most pressing issues with her homegirls.

Sanctuary City Tales: House Hunting While Black 
  • “Can you pass a criminal background check?”
  • “Do you have the right house?”
  • Looks of disappointment when I arrive
  • “No access to the kitchen!”
  • “Do not make any noise after 10pm, be home by 6pm, no cooking after 7pm!”
  • “Who is renting the room you or her (my former Korean boss)? Followed by a sigh and tone of disappointment
  • “The price is $1,075 for you!”
  • “I pay $875 but I want to save money so you’ll pay $900!”
  • “I placed the ad on craigslist for $950, but you will pay $1000!”
  • “I have 1 African-American tenant, he’s actually respectful. He’s my favorite”
  • “How do you speak Spanish, but you and your family are black, where you really from?”
  • “How long have you been in the United States?”
  • “Most black people live in East Bay..."
  • “It has nothing to do with you being black, it is hard for anyone to find housing in San Francisco”...

It is a shame black people have yet to be treated with dignity and compassion in the United States of America. I wish these quotes came from a book written by an author who wrote a juicy, drama-filled story about a black female house hunting in San Francisco. These are real life quotes from the mouths of white and people of color alike in San Francisco, California. Yep, I said it beautiful, liberal, progressive, culturally diverse, 420, LGBTQ, immigrant friendly San Francisco. It seems there is one population SF has not been welcoming to way before gentrification; the black race. 

Before, you write your defense statement below please understand these “quotes” are not isolated events, I am not being too sensitive, I do not own a race card, nor am I using the political climate to gas light social issues. The experiences I share are real, raw, and unfiltered. This is my experience looking for housing in San Francisco, California in 2017. 

Only 14 days after completing my undergraduate career I accepted a position in the Bay Area with decent pay and full-benefits. I could not believe it, I would be living, breathing, and working in one of the most progressive, liberal, diverse, and culturally rich cities in the United States. I knew the cost of living in the Bay Area was high, but I figured I have a decent-paying job, college degree, lit credit score what could stop me? Racism and discrimination is what stopped me. 

I had been actively searching for housing in three specific areas: OMI (Ocean view, Merced heights, and Ingleside), Daly City (outskirts of SF), and inner sunset. Upon arriving to the apartments, I had a notebook in one hand and a pen in the other ready to write down information. Y’all would have thought I showed up with an axe and a scream mask the way people greeted me at the door. Sometimes there was a look of genuine confusion, fear, disappointment or all the above. Now most folks who are reading this know, I am 5’5, 140-pound female, but apparently these folks saw something different. 

One landlord’s first question was, “Can you pass a criminal background check?” Excuse me while I get ethnic, but Bruh, REALLY? I brought proof of employment from my job stating I was hired as a case manager to work with CHILDREN AND FAMILIES. So yes sis, I can pass a background check in fact I had my finger prints ran that day. 

On a different occasion, I met with a woman who refused to shake my hand. This should have been the first sign.  I reached in my bag to pull out a credit report and proof of employment and she literally started backing up slowly in the other direction. She did not want to touch the paper so she said, “E-mail them to me and I will get back to you”. I e-mailed her the papers later that night and the next day she responded saying she rented out the place. So basically, overnight someone passed a background check, paid the deposit fees, and moved everything in. Maybe she was telling the truth, or maybe it was racism.

Each day I would organize one-hour home visits to view 5-6 rooms. Yes, I would give myself an entire hour for each visit and the landlords would give me five minutes max of their time. Majority of the landlords I met were White or Asian and/or males/females. I am not sure of the exact age, but it was an older generation of Asian folks. When I met with them there was an initial reaction to my presence that I could not and still do not understand. For the record, discrimination/racism is not always as blatant remark or a physical attack. Sometimes it looks like what I stated at the beginning.

Eventually I decided I would have to venture out or I would never find housing in SF. I found a place in East Oakland near Fruitvale station. The potential roommate (who will be called “K”, white female) and I talked over the phone and bonded over the women’s march (red flag #1).   

I expressed my frustration and dissatisfaction with my experience trying to find housing. She validated my experience and stated it was unfair and unethical for landlords to do this. She went as far to tell me she would help me take “legal action” if her landlord tried to do that. She and I agreed I would sub-lease from her as her roommate decided to move out before the lease was over. I felt good about the space, the roommate, and the location. I had my deposit, credit check, and proof of employment ready.  The landlord of the house told K he would prefer my name to be on the actual lease instead of subleasing. Originally K was advertising the room for $900, however once it came time for me to sign the lease from the landlord the price “suddenly” dropped to $875. Due to my previous experiences in SF, I knew something was off. I contacted the landlord and he disclosed the room had always been $875 and K advertised the price higher on her own. Yep, K was indeed trying to get over on me and “make a little extra cash and save on the rent."

K left me a message about how sorry she was, but she did not believe she was wrong. She felt bad for being misleading and she hoped there was a way we could work it out. She stated to me in the voicemail “it was a minuscule amount of money and it was not a big deal.” But folks, it is a HUGE deal, the fact that people feel they can scam people into leases, be dishonest AND feel it is “okay” frightens me. As a black woman, I cannot remain silent and not speak out against discrimination because of someone else’s discomfort with the color of my skin. 

I wish I could say this is not a common narrative, but I have connected with other black transplants who have experienced the same or similar experiences. The new mayor of San Francisco has plans to tackle homelessness and I hope those plans include looking at the intersection of racism, class, and homelessness. 

Fast forward I am living my best life in Oakland with my fiancĂ©. We have our own apartment and can afford rent. Oakland has given me the best welcome any transplant could ask for. However, I also want to acknowledge the gentrification and displacement of black people in Oakland as well. There will be a change in leadership in November, I hope the next Mayor of Oakland will allocate resources and take initiative to keep black folks here.  

Pro tip: the quickest way to get housing in the Bay Area is to get engaged and “shack up” 


- Elise 


  1. Awesome read! Hopefully your experiences continue encouraging others who find themselves in similar situations.

  2. Great read! So proud of you Elise!

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