Outside of the Castro, new 'gayborhoods' emerge

  • by Seth Hemmelgarn
  • Tuesday June 24, 2008
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Although the Castro remains largely an LGBT haven, rising housing prices there have been sending people to other neighborhoods throughout the city for years. But many say as people move to other parts of the city, they bring changes that often raise home prices in those communities, too.

Those who have moved to neighborhoods such as Bayview-Hunters Point, the Mission, and the Tenderloin, which to varying degrees are known for poverty, drug dealing, and violence, are aware of the plights people in those areas can face.

Bayview-Hunters Point

Ron Saunders has lived in the area for 23 years and recently helped open a community art gallery at Third and Fairfax streets.

He remembers a few years ago when he saw a man walking down the street wearing leather chaps and walking his poodle.

"I knew that the neighborhood had changed from that point on for sure," Saunders, who is black and gay, said.

For at least 10 years, the area has seen an increase in LGBT people and others who have been priced out of neighborhoods like the Castro.

The neighborhood has also seen other changes in recent years, residents say. The Muni T-Third line has provided an improved link to the rest of the city, new businesses are opening, and some say crime in the neighborhood has decreased.

Matt Czajkowski, left, and Jim Hunger with their dogs Ruby and Ivy at Javalencia Cafe, part of the Third Street Renaissance. Photo: Jane Philomen Cleland

Saunders, who declined to state his age, said there are people who've lived in the area for a long time who are fearful about some of the changes happening, but he hasn't seen or felt any resentment.

Matt Czajkowski, 45, who bought a house with his partner, Jim Hunger, 57, in the Bayview almost 10 years ago, said that as far as he knows, there was only one other gay couple near them when they moved to the area. Both men are white.

Now, he said, there's at least one gay or lesbian couple on every block in his immediate area.

Darwin Dayan, who's lived in the neighborhood off and on for 26 years, said, "As far as gay couples or gay people wanting to own property, this is the best place."

Dayan, 43, and his partner, Deo Martin, 42, both Filipino, bought their four-bedroom, three-bath Victorian home for $458,000 five years ago. Now, he estimates it's worth over a million dollars.

Meg Robertson, 39, and Sheila Jaswal, 38, moved to the Bayview in 2005. In the three years the South Asian and Anglo family have been in the neighborhood, Robertson said she's only heard gunshots a couple times, and the couple �" who have two young daughters �" indicated the neighborhood is similar to many other parts of the city in terms of safety.

Jaswal said the neighborhood "feels very alive," and it's "feeling like a place where you can have an impact."

Jeffrey Betcher, 48, said his house was falling over 10 years ago when he bought it, but he's put "tons" of work into it. Betcher also co-founded Quesada Gardens Initiative, a community-building project.

"We live in a gentrifying neighborhood," Betcher, who is white, said. "A lot of folks are engaged in trying to mitigate the negative aspects of that."

Bayview resident Sheila Jaswal, center, shares a laugh with daughters Banti, 6, and Ruta, 3. Photo: Jane Philomen Cleland

Gentrification is a term often used to describe what happens when people with higher incomes move into lower-income neighborhoods, leading to the displacement of longtime residents. Many have blamed gentrification for the city losing African Americans from neighborhoods like the Bayview, which, according to 2000 U.S. Census Bureau data, had a population that was 48 percent African American.

But Supervisor Sophie Maxwell, who is the lone African American on the board and represents the Bayview-Hunters Point, said, "I don't use the term gentrification. As far as I'm concerned, the gentry's already there."

According to the 2000 Census data, about 51 percent of the area's housing units were owner-occupied, compared to about 36 percent for the Castro area.

Tori Freeman, who's white and identifies as poly-bisexual, lives in India Basin with her 14-month-old daughter, Zoe.

Jeffrey Betcher at the upper end of the Quesada Gardens in the Bayview. Photo: Rick Gerharter

"The reality is this neighborhood has been changing for a long time," Freeman, 31, said. "The Asian community and the Latin American community has been buying property in this neighborhood since I was in the third grade," when she first moved to the area.

The Mission

Like other neighborhoods in the city, the Mission has long been known as a place where immigrants can try to get a foothold. The neighborhood also serves as an example of people of strikingly different economic classes living in close proximity.

Mariana Viturro, of St. Peter's Housing Committee, an organization in the Mission that addresses housing and immigrant rights, said as evictions and rents increase, "people are being forced to live in more crowded conditions," including garages and basements.

India Basin resident Tori Freeman holds her daughter Zoe. Photo: Jane Philomen Cleland

At the same time, million-dollar homes can be found in the neighborhood.

For Carla McKay, 41, the neighborhood offers refuge. She used to live in the Castro, but she said, "I just never felt welcome."

She likes the Mission, which is getting more "beautiful hipster kids" in their 20s and 30s, for its diversity,

McKay, who is white and identifies as lesbian, lives in a three-unit Edwardian tenancy-in-common that she bought with a lesbian couple and a straight man for "just a little over $1.9 million."

As for evictions, the former New Yorker said, "I can absolutely appreciate that's happening. This city is one of the most competitive and overpriced real estate markets I've ever lived in."

Leigh Burrill, who moved to the city in 1996, remembers the term "Mission dykes" from that time �" women in their 20s who rented in the neighborhood.

"There are still lesbians in the Mission," Burrill, 38, said. "It's just that now we're older and we're buying stuff."

Neighbors Carla McKay, left, and Leigh Burrill live in the Mission District. Photo: Jane Philomen Cleland

Burrill, who is also white, has been in the Mission since July and lives with her fiancee Jen Olson, 38, in the same building as McKay.

"I empathize with people not being able to buy," Burrill said. "I was one of those people for 20 years."


Another neighborhood that is attractive to the LGBT community is the Tenderloin. But at least one gay man decided not to stay.

Dario Jones, 36, moved to the Tenderloin in 2006 from the Castro, where he had wanted to move into a tenancy-in-common. He said there were units for sale, but they were out of reach for him. He found a condo ("actually a studio," he said) for $300,000.

However, Jones felt the drug activity and prostitution in the Tenderloin outweighed the benefits of the neighborhood's restaurants, stores and "amazing" architecture.

About a month ago, he moved into a house in Twin Peaks.

Christopher Dodenhoff, 48, has lived in the Tenderloin for about 28 years. For about the past five, he's lived at the Elk Hotel, which he said is "one of the better hotels."

Dodenhoff, who is gay, said the neighborhood still has a heavy crack problem, but there are less homeless people.

When asked if he plans to ever leave San Francisco, he said the weather and number of things to do will keep him here.

"This is where I'm going to die," he said.