Actors Andy Favreau and Molly McQueen unload WeHo bungalow

Husband-and-wife actors Andy Favreau and Molly McQueen made quick work of their West Hollywood home sale, selling the Spanish-style bungalow for $2.15 million and finding a buyer just four days after listing.

McQueen, granddaughter of the late Oscar-nominated movie star Steve McQueen, paid about $1.075 million for the property a decade ago, records show.

Remodeled during their stay, the leafy retreat is tucked between Melrose Avenue and Beverly Boulevard. It was built in the 1920s, but the recent changes brought updated style such as modern fixtures and clean lines throughout the cozy 1,120-square-foot interior.

Advertisement

An exterior of white stucco and clay tile enters to an open floor plan with two bedrooms, two bathrooms, a sky-lit living room and marble kitchen. French doors lead to the backyard, where olive and lemon trees surround a terracotta tile patio with a fire pit. Off to the side, the two-car garage has been converted into a gym.

Over the last few years, Favreau has starred in sitcoms such as “Single Parents,” “Champions” and “The Mick,” as well as the drama series “Little Fires Everywhere” and “Animal Kingdom.”

McQueen’s credits include “Community” and “Reasons I Don’t Have a Boyfriend.”

Elizabeth Puro of Douglas Elliman held the listing. Patrick Fogarty of Hilton & Hyland represented the buyer.

Source: latimes.com

Mike Huckabee hauls in $9.4 million for Florida beach house

Politician Mike Huckabee has sold his Florida beach house — a cause of headaches and controversy during the time he owned it — for $9.4 million. Late last year, he announced he was moving back to Arkansas, where he served as governor from 1996 to 2007.

It was a speedy sale for Huckabee. He listed the home in Santa Rosa Beach for $9.5 million in late December and had an offer in hand about a week later, according to the Multiple Listing Service. Records show he paid $800,000 for the vacant property in 2009 and erected the mansion two years later.

The construction wasn’t cut and dried, however. In 2014, Reuters reported that Huckabee needed political help to push the permits through since state regulations wouldn’t allow the mansion to be built so close to the eroding beach’s sand dunes.

During his time in the home, Huckabee was also engaged in a battle to block public use of the beach. In an email published by the Tampa Bay Times, he argued that his land extended to the water line of the Gulf of Mexico and should therefore be off-limits to public beachgoers.

Advertisement

According to the listing, the house claims 75 feet of sand on Blue Mountain Beach. It spans three stories with five balconies and a rooftop deck overlooking the water.

A gated driveway approaches the brick-and-stucco exterior, and inside, six bedrooms and nine bathrooms are spread across 8,277 square feet. There’s a center-island kitchen, rounded breakfast nook, scenic living room and movie theater.

Out back, a patio features a fountain-fed swimming pool and spa. A thin stretch of lawn separates the house from the beach below.

Advertisement

After serving as the 44th governor of Arkansas, Huckabee ran for the Republican presidential nomination in 2008 and 2016. The 65-year-old also hosts an eponymous political commentary show, “Huckabee,” which currently airs on the Trinity Broadcasting Network.

The Spears Group of Scenic Sotheby’s International Realty held the listing. Joe Burton of Joe Burton Realty represented the buyer.

Source: latimes.com

Trevor Noah drops $27.5 million on Bel-Air showplace

Trevor Noah will spend 2021 in style. The day before New Year’s Eve, “The Daily Show” host shelled out $27.5 million for a contemporary mansion in Bel-Air, The Times has confirmed.

The comedian must have a thing for architectural showplaces. In 2019, he dropped $20.5 million on a similarly dramatic mansion also found in Bel-Air, but ended up selling it last summer for $21.7 million.

Noah bought this one from Mark Rios, an L.A. architect who built the 11,000-square-foot home for himself. Inspired by Japanese aesthetics, he told Architectural Digest that he went through 50 plans before settling on the final design and employed dark timbers based on a room he saw in Kyoto and extra-thick walls to protect against the noise of the city below.

From the street, the home appears as a series of cubes stacked together. Aerial photos from the back reveal that the estate sprawls across its hillside lot with a series of open spaces that adjoin or overlook a scenic backyard with a lawn and infinity-edge pool.

Advertisement

Stone, wood, bronze and glass combine in the common spaces including a spacious dining room and a lounge with custom wall coverings. Spread across three stories are six bedrooms, 11 bathrooms, an office, library, elevator, gym, spa, steam room and game room.

Up top, a movie theater leads to a rooftop terrace. A cabana with a bar and sun deck adjoins the pool out back.

Linda May and Drew Fenton of Hilton & Hyland held the listing. Jonah Wilson, also with Hilton & Hyland, represented the buyer.

A native of South Africa, Noah has found success in comedy and television. After joining “The Daily Show” as a correspondent in 2014, the 36-year-old succeeded Jon Stewart as host the following year and inked a five-year extension in 2017 — the same year he won a Primetime Emmy.

Advertisement

Source: latimes.com

Developer Rick Caruso eyes $40 million for Malibu mansion

You’ve probably been to one of Rick Caruso’s properties. Between the Grove, the Americana at Brand and the Commons at Calabasas, the mall magnate’s attractions draw millions of Angelenos each year.

But you probably haven’t been to this Malibu mansion, which Caruso just listed for sale at $40 million.

Caruso, the billionaire developer who was elected chairman of the USC Board of Trustees in 2018, paid $11.3 million for the home in 2008. He’ll have plenty of other places to stay if he finds a buyer; records show he owns houses in Brentwood, Sherman Oaks and Newport Beach.

Generally speaking, Caruso’s spaces are extravagant celebrations of luxury and excess, and his oceanfront home is no different. A stone driveway approaches the column-lined entry, and inside, a checkered-tile marble foyer leads to formal rooms with chandeliers and walls of glass.

Advertisement

At the center of the 7,300-square-foot home, there’s a wood courtyard with a wet bar, swimming pool and spa. Pocketing doors line the sides, and Juliet balconies overlook the space from above.

A sweeping staircase navigates the two-story floor plan, ascending to a primary suite with a private deck and a wood-paneled theater with French doors and a fireplace. Down below, a wood deck and window-lined sun room hover above the sand.

Caruso founded his eponymous real estate company, Caruso, in 1987. The 62-year-old continues to serve as CEO, and over the last three decades, the company has opened 10 retail centers and also broke into the hospitality business in 2019 with the Miramar Beach hotel in Montecito. Forbes estimates his net worth at $3.9 billion.

Advertisement

Santiago Arana of the Agency holds the listing.

Source: latimes.com

CNN’s Don Lemon sells Harlem condo for $1.525 million

CNN anchor Don Lemon has sold his three-bedroom condo in New York’s Harlem neighborhood for $1.525 million — about $37,000 more than he paid for it in 2013.

The sale comes a few years after he picked up a place near the Hamptons, paying $3.1 million for a quaint cottage in Sag Harbor in 2016.

The condo is the smaller of his two properties, with three bedrooms and 2.5 bathrooms in just over 1,400 square feet. According to the listing, Lemon configured the space as an open-concept layout with two bedrooms during his stay.

Advertisement

An entry foyer leads to the living spaces, which take in views of Manhattan and Harlem through walls of windows on two sides. There’s a living room with built-ins, a kitchen with stone countertops and a corner primary suite with walls of tile.

In addition to the unit’s private balcony, the building offers an outdoor recreation area and rooftop deck. Records show the home was most recently listed at $1.55 million.

Lemon joined CNN as a correspondent in 2006 and began hosting “CNN Tonight” in 2014. The 54-year-old Louisiana native has won multiple regional Emmy Awards and an Edward R. Murrow Award.

Steve Cohen and Tim Malone of Douglas Elliman held the listing.

Source: latimes.com

Justin Bieber sells Beverly Hills home at a loss

Justin Bieber ended up half-a-million short in Beverly Hills, where he just sold his 1930s Colonial-style home for $7.955 million, The Times has confirmed. The pop star paid $8.5 million for the property just two years ago.

The Grammy-winner probably isn’t sweating the loss. Last summer, he shelled out $25.8 million for a much larger estate on 2.5 acres in Beverly Park, The Times previously reported.

This place is a bit smaller, centering on a 6,132-square-foot home entered by a courtyard dotted with olive trees. Recently reimagined by Hollywood production designer Charles Infante, the two-story house features a whitewashed weeping brick exterior and formal living spaces marked by white oak accents and steel-framed windows and doors.

Advertisement

Every space is stylish, including the foyer with herringbone floors, the marble kitchen, the office with built-ins and the LED-lit wine cellar with a wet bar. The floor plan also holds five bedrooms, seven bathrooms and a movie theater.

An indoor-outdoor step-down lounge opens outside, where tall hedges wrap around a lush backyard made for entertaining. The space boasts an infinity pool, lawn and cabana with a fireplace.

Josh and Matt Altman of Douglas Elliman and Dalton Gomez of Compass held the listing. Steven Schaefer and Jay Luchs of Schaefer & Luchs represented the buyer.

Bieber, who catapulted to stardom through YouTube videos, has recorded five studio albums, the most recent of which, “Changes,” was released earlier this year. In 2016, the 26-year-old singer won a Grammy for best dance recording for his collaborations on the Jack Ü song “Where Are Ü Now.”

Source: latimes.com

Cara Delevingne lists Studio City home after buying a bigger one

Cara Delevingne has been busy in the San Fernando Valley. About a year and a half after buying a traditional-style spot in Studio City, the model-actress is listing her other home in the neighborhood for $3.75 million.

The one she’s selling is markedly different from her new place, which is a dramatic 8,000-square-foot mansion purchased in late 2019 for $7 million through a limited liability company. This one’s about half the size, at 4,021 square feet, but offers a bit more flair with bold splashes of color and custom wallpaper.

She shared the home with her sister, model Poppy Delevingne. Records show they bought it four years ago from Jared Leto, with whom Cara starred in the 2016 film “Suicide Squad.”

The sisters decked out the place during their stay, adding a Playboy pinball machine, a vintage bar inspired by “Gilligan’s Island” and a custom lounge with carpeted walls, they told Architectural Digest.

Advertisement

Vibrant tiles mark two stories of living spaces that include a formal dining room, game room and screening room. The center-island kitchen has hardwood floors and splashes of marble.

Set on a leafy quarter-acre lot, the house expands to a secluded backyard with palm trees and a tile swimming pool. A wraparound deck overlooks the grounds.

Ann Eysenring of the Agency holds the listing. Records show that Ernie Carswell of Douglas Elliman held the listing on the home Delevingne bought in 2019, and Rick Tyberg, also with Douglas Elliman, represented her.

A native of England, Delevingne was twice named model of the year at the British Fashion Awards. The 28-year-old has been acting for nearly a decade, starring in “Anna Karenina” in 2012 before more recent roles in “Paper Towns” and “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets.”

Source: latimes.com

High-Low: The priciest and cheapest homes in La Cañada Flintridge

La Cañada Flintridge: home to Descanso Gardens, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and a healthy stock of hillside homes with commanding views of the city below. Between the houses draped along the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains or the larger estates on the south side of the city, it’s hard to go wrong — but it’s also hard to find anything for less than $1 million.

Here’s a look at the highest- and lowest-priced homes in La Cañada Flintridge.

High: A dazzling blend of Spanish Colonial Revival and Art Deco style, this 1920s mansion has been expanded over the years to include a pub, theater, gym, sauna and lanai. Throughout the 13,000-square-foot floor plan, one-of-a-kind spaces combine Batchelder tile, barrel ceilings, stained-glass windows and custom art such as a peacock made of colorful tile in the bathroom. Koi ponds, fountains and a swimming pool liven up the grounds outside.

Address: 607 Foxwood Road, La Cañada Flintridge, CA 91011

Advertisement

Price: $10 million

Agent: Gina Olivares, Deasy Penner Podley

Low: A fresh paint job brought this 1960s single-story into the 21st century. Perched above the street at the end of a cul-de-sac, it opens to sunny living spaces with wood floors. At the heart of the floor plan, a whitewashed brick fireplace runs floor to ceiling.

Address: 4407 Rockmere Way, La Cañada Flintridge, CA 91011

Advertisement

Price: $1.094 million

Agent: Stephanie Vitacco, Keller Williams Realty

Source: latimes.com

Depleted savings, ruined credit: What happens when all the rent comes due?

Millions of Americans unable to pay their rent during the pandemic face a snowballing financial burden that threatens to deplete their savings, ruin their credit and drive them from their homes.

A patchwork of government action is protecting many of the most financially strapped tenants for now. But it could take these renters — especially low-income ones — years to recover, even as the rest of the economy begins to rebound.

“Even if they say we can pay [missed rent] back in two or three years — that’s money we don’t have,” said Kelly Wise, a 32-year-old resident of L.A.’s Westlake neighborhood. After losing jobs selling merchandise at concerts and cutting fabric for Hollywood sets, she is more than $10,000 behind on rent.

Debt threatens to hit renters in several ways. Some have kept up with their rent payments but have turned to credit cards and high-interest loans. Others owe mounting bills directly to landlords that must be paid back when eviction moratoriums expire, opening the possibility — if the debt goes unpaid — for evictions and court orders for back rent. That could erode credit scores and lead to wage garnishments and more.

Advertisement

“We are setting up millions of people for long-term harm and a cycle of economic and housing instability,” said Emily Benfer, chair of the American Bar Assn.’s COVID-19 Task Force Committee on eviction.

Renters across the nation are dipping into 401(k)s, taking on higher-interest debt, and scrambling for risky, essential-worker jobs to pay the rent. Research from Moody’s Analytics and the Urban Institute estimates 9.4 million U.S. renter households owed an average of $5,586 in back rent, utilities and related late fees as of January, for a total burden of $52.6 billion.

Other estimates show a smaller but still significant amount of rent debt. The full scope of the problem isn’t clear because the situation is fluid, and estimates so far are based on surveys and models, rather than hard data.

“[Bad] debt affects your credit score, and credit scores affect everything in your life,” said Yuval Yossefy, a manager at the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles, a nonprofit law firm.

Advertisement

Federal, state and local officials are grappling with how best to help people stay afloat — including keeping them housed — amid job losses, slashed incomes and pervasive disease. A second year of the COVID-19 pandemic has brought little reprieve, with new variants of the coronavirus threatening to accelerate the virus’ spread and cause longer disruptions to the economy and everyday life.

States are planning to get federal aid funds, which have begun to flow, into the hands of landlords to reduce the debt load on tenants. California, where median rent is 50% higher than in the nation at large, has passed what state leaders characterize as the strongest statewide measures to address the crisis, providing a potential model for how states could distribute rent funds.

The California measures, approved by the Legislature last week, extend a statewide moratorium on evictions for people with pandemic hardships through June. Significantly, they bar landlords from using rent debt accrued between March 2020 and June of this year to deny future housing — a nod to fears that unpaid rent may affect people’s housing for years to come.

Advertisement

And to protect the most vulnerable, they establish a program that uses federal stimulus money to encourage landlords to forgive debt accrued by low-income tenants over the span of a year: April 2020 to March of this year.

Whether California landlords opt in, exactly how the program will be implemented, and if it will make a significant difference for those most in debt are still open questions. Nonprofit groups that work with low-income renters say the measures could be hard to enforce and, in terms of altogether forgiving some debt, rely precariously on optional landlord participation.

Eviction and debt can make it difficult to find new housing, take out loans, get some types of jobs or budget for necessities like food. In California, where rent was unaffordable for most tenants to begin with, the debt pile-on compounds a long-brewing problem.

Illustration: a man and a woman weighed down by balls and chains representing their debt.

Eviction and debt can make it difficult to find new housing, take out loans and get some types of jobs.

(Nicole Vas / Los Angeles Times)

Advertisement

“A family that makes less than $30,000 a year, they are going to be on the verge of homelessness for the next 10 to 15 years because of this huge debt,” said Ana Grande, associate executive director of the nonprofit Bresee Foundation in Los Angeles, which provides assistance to low-income families.

Making matters worse: Studies show those with debt are least likely to afford it — even if they regain their old incomes. Compared with all L.A. County renters, households that earned less than $25,000 in 2019 were more than twice as likely as all renters to not pay their rent during the pandemic, according to a joint USC-UCLA survey. Households that earned between $25,000 and $50,000 were the second most common group to report not paying.

Nonpayment was also highest among Latino and Black Americans who, compared with white Americans, have been hit harder by the health and economic effects of the virus. They are also less likely to have family who can lend financial help given the country’s long-running racial wealth gap.

An eviction ‘changes the trajectory of a life’

Across the country, a series of problems can unfurl from a single eviction.

Advertisement

Some landlords refuse to take tenants with an eviction on their record, while those who do are likely to charge more, fail to keep up their properties and have units located in dangerous neighborhoods, according to housing attorneys and other experts.

Studies have found people who are evicted are more likely to experience depression and to die of any cause. People move far from their support networks, or miss work while trying to find new housing and lose their jobs. Kids fall behind at school.

“An eviction is not a single event in a person’s life,” Benfer said. “It actually changes the trajectory of a life, because it has such catastrophic implications for fiscal and mental health.”

In a pandemic, experts say an eviction is particularly dangerous, leading a person to double up with friends and family in crowded housing situations that accelerate the virus’ spread.

Advertisement

Absent an eviction on a person’s record, debt and poor credit scores can impede the ability to find housing, often leaving people to live in lower-quality conditions, said Ariel Nelson, an attorney with the National Consumer Law Center.

Poor credit scores also limit the ability to take out car, home and other loans at reasonable interest rates, putting homeownership further out of reach.

Past-due debts on a credit report may lead some employers to turn down a candidate for jobs that involve handling money, such as a bank teller or a cashier at a restaurant, said Bruce McClary, spokesperson for the National Foundation for Credit Counseling.

If debts continue to go unpaid, creditors can garnish wages, though restrictions exist on how much disposable income creditors can take.

Advertisement

To preempt this, people might dip into savings or cut back on food. They may take out the only loans available to them: sky-high-interest products that critics say are nearly impossible to pay back.

Some tenants have already headed down the debt spiral. The USC-UCLA study found 8.5% of surveyed tenants paid some rent with a credit card in July, compared with 3% normally. Nearly 8% used a payday or other emergency loan.

An out-of-work graduate student in Lakewood told The Times she requested and got a budget increase for her student loan to pay rent, adding to her total student loan load. A laid-off worker in the concert industry said they used a 401(k) loan. Some people interviewed said they had already dipped into their savings.

Lamonte Goode, a 44-year-old dancer, says he may tap his savings to begin paying the roughly $10,000 in back rent he owes. With COVID-19 restrictions halting TV shows and theater performances, Goode said he hadn’t found steady work since March and was looking for a job outside his field to pay bills. Unemployment hasn’t been enough to cover expenses, including the $1,800-a-month rent on his one-bedroom in West Hollywood, he said.

Advertisement

Asked if he thought he would be able to repay the debt, Goode said he didn’t know and that he was trying hard to come up with the money. He also raised the question: Should the burden fall on him? “I am not the reason COVID is happening. Yet I still have to pay the debt for something I am not in control over.”

“The fact that someone lost their job and couldn’t keep up on rent is a very unique and extreme circumstance and does not and should not have a bearing on their creditworthiness for this next almost-decade,” said Nisha Kashyap, a staff attorney at the pro bono law firm Public Counsel, citing how long bad debts typically stay on a credit report.

“This is a global pandemic that came out of nowhere.”

Sid Lakireddy of the California Rental Housing Assn., which represents landlords in the state, says he believes fears of mass evictions and long-term harm to credit are overblown. Most landlords would rather work with their tenants on repayment plans than fight in court over an eviction or debt, he said, particularly since vacancies have risen in many cities. “The last thing we want is to put a good tenant out on the street.”

Advertisement

The federal government and state and local officials say they are trying to help both tenants and small landlords, who are also struggling.

Then-President Trump signed a bipartisan stimulus bill in December that approved $25 billion in rent and utility relief funds nationwide. President Biden extended the national eviction moratorium for people with pandemic hardships until the end of March, though critics say that ban is weak.

The new California law is stronger and contains provisions to reduce the likelihood that pandemic debt will have wide ripple effects.

Under the law, landlords cannot sell or assign any rent debt accrued during the pandemic until July 2021.

Advertisement

Russ Heimerich, a spokesman for the state’s Business, Consumer Services and Housing Agency, said the law goes even further for low-income tenants with pandemic hardships: It forever bars landlords from selling rent debt accrued through June.

That would prevent a primary way credit scores could take a hit, since it’s usually debt collectors rather than landlords who report to the credit bureaus, said Nelson, the attorney. Heimerich said the law also included several incentives for landlords to participate in the rent relief program for low-income tenants, and that making it mandatory would have been legally impractical.

Still, critics of the law say it relies too much on tenants knowing their rights and having the means to exercise them, putting the least-resourced in a weak position to benefit.

Advertisement

Some tenants have already been evicted, said Stephano Medina, an attorney with the Eviction Defense Network, during a recent news conference held online by tenant advocates on their concerns about the law. Moratoriums don’t stop landlords from filing cases, and tenants sometimes don’t realize they need to show up in court to defend themselves, Medina said.

One part of the law that is likely to be particularly hard to enforce is a clause that prohibits landlords from denying housing based on rent debt accrued during the pandemic, said Leah Simon-Weisberg, legal director with Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment, an organizing group that advocates for low-income households. Prospective landlords often screen tenant candidates through their former landlords, allowing them to learn of debts they aren’t supposed to base decisions on.

It’s also unclear how many landlords will participate in the state’s rent relief program, which will pay landlords 80% of what they are owed if they forgive the remaining 20%. Lakireddy said that’s a good deal, and many landlords are likely to accept it.

California’s rent-control laws may complicate the landlord’s decision, said Tina Rosales, a lobbyist with the Western Center on Law and Poverty. Under state law, landlords can charge as much as they can get for a rent-controlled unit once it becomes vacant. So it could be more lucrative to pursue an eventual eviction and not forgive debts if a tenant is paying significantly below market rates.

Advertisement

“It has the potential for landlords to pick and choose which tenants they will participate in the program with,” Rosales said, potentially affecting the most vulnerable.

Another outstanding question is how far California’s rental relief funds will go, given the range of estimates of how much rent people owe. Some tenants, for example, might miss out on debt forgiveness — not because their landlord won’t participate but because the pool of money runs out.

For many who can’t work from home, the cost of staying housed becomes a choice between incurring debt or accepting the risk of contracting COVID-19 on the job.

One family’s hard choices

The Buenos, a family of five in Los Angeles’ Koreatown neighborhood, were like many of the country’s hardworking households. Fernando prepped fish for a sushi chain. His wife, Maribel, cooked at a downtown L.A. brunch spot.

Advertisement

Maria, 23, the eldest of three sisters, worked at a big-box retailer and helped out with the family bills. She set a goal to own her own home by 30.

The Buenos are now scattered. A promotion sent Maria’s father to New Jersey before the pandemic, but his hours were soon cut as lockdowns were put in place. Her mother lost her job and moved across the country with her youngest daughter to join Fernando.

At home in Koreatown, the bills fell on Maria, who stayed behind with her 18-year-old sister, Pamela. Their parents send money, but even coupled with Maria’s $20-an-hour wage, it’s not enough to cover the $2,500 in monthly rent. She exhausted her $3,000 in savings and is still $15,000 behind on rent.

Maria worries about how she’ll protect her younger sister and keep both of them from becoming homeless.

Advertisement

James Engel, a principal with the company that manages Bueno’s building, said the company planned to work with residents on multiyear repayment plans when rent protections expire, rather than pursue evictions and collections. He wouldn’t comment on individual tenants’ cases.

Maria says she doesn’t want to risk having the debt over her head and is looking for a second job during the pandemic.

The possibility of getting sick is a sacrifice she’s willing to make.

Source: latimes.com

Cheaper rent in San Francisco? For some Oakland tenants, the city across the Bay is more affordable now

Even on a foggy San Francisco morning, the view from Scott Simmons’ 25th-floor apartment stretches from downtown to Golden Gate Park. The home of the 42-year-old tech worker is also spacious for a one-bedroom, featuring hardwood floors, new appliances and granite countertops.

A year ago, when he was sharing a two-bedroom place with his brother, Simmons couldn’t have imagined living in an apartment like this one. But last fall, when Simmons heard about big rent declines during the COVID-19 pandemic, he discovered he could get way more for his money in the heart of San Francisco than in the neighborhood where he was doubling up in Oakland.

“It’s bananas,” Simmons said. “I never thought I was going to be someone who was going to have a nice view. It’s a luxury.”

Since March, when government stay-at-home orders began emptying downtowns of workers and shoppers, the average rent for a one-bedroom apartment in San Francisco has dropped nearly 30%, the largest decrease in the country. The tech capital has hundreds of thousands of employees well positioned to work remotely, and they have. Outside the city.

Advertisement

Advertisement

The pandemic’s toll on San Francisco has created a scenario long unthinkable in the Bay Area. For some renters — mostly middle- and upper-income earners — it’s now more affordable to live in the famously expensive city than in its bluer-collar neighbor, Oakland.

Scott Simmons at his one bedroom apartment balcony overlooking City Hall and other buildings in San Francisco

Scott Simmons, a manager of information technology security, at his one-bedroom high-rise apartment at Fox Plaza in San Francisco. Simmons moved in November from Oakland to the high-rise, where he pays $2,800 per month in rent. City Hall is seen in the background.

(Gary Coronado/Los Angeles Times)

“If you would have told 15-year-old me that 15, 16 years down the road that Oakland was going to become more expensive it would have been literally shocking,” said Amar Saini, 32, an Oakland native who moved into a 12-story apartment building near the Bay Bridge this month to save money. “I just don’t believe it.”

San Francisco, even as rents decrease, remains the nation’s costliest big city. A one-bedroom apartment still typically rents for almost $2,000 a month, putting it far out of reach for many residents. But the steep drop in prices has surprised real estate watchers for both its depth and scale. Even landlords in tony neighborhoods like Pacific Heights and Russian Hill, who once were charging $4,000 a month for one-bedroom apartments, are lowering their prices and offering incentives like months of free rent to get tenants in the door.

The rent declines are a direct result of the pandemic. More than half the city’s employees are able to work remotely, according to the Bay Area Council Economic Institute, and tech firms like Twitter and Salesforce — the city’s largest private employer with more than 9,000 workers — have said employees can stay away from the office even after the pandemic ends.

Additionally, the pandemic has closed restaurants, bars and museums, while putting a premium on locales that offer people more space to work or their kids to attend school virtually. For San Francisco, a dense city that long has had some of the nation’s highest rents, all the changes have taken away many of the amenities that make city life vibrant. Data from the U.S. Postal Service show that 56,000 more people requested address changes out of San Francisco in 2020 than those moving in.

Advertisement

“Every man, woman and their dog is saying there’s no point living in downtown San Francisco if you’re not going into work,” said Nicholas Bloom, an economics professor at Stanford University who is studying remote work during the pandemic.

California Street in downtown San Francisco with buildings and cars but no cable cars on its tracks.

The San Francisco cable car system is not operating along California Street downtown, shown in February.

(Gary Coronado/Los Angeles Times)

The stillness of once-bustling San Francisco neighborhoods can be jarring. In Union Square on a recent weekday, a handful of masked pedestrians and homeless residents roamed silently amid hotel lobbies, restaurants and luxury stores largely empty of customers. Closed businesses along Market Street, one of the city’s main commercial boulevards, were boarded up with plywood. Shops that remained open had signs displaying reduced hours.

A year ago, only about 1% of the units managed by members of the San Francisco Apartment Assn., the city’s largest landlord group, were vacant, said Janan New, its executive director. Now, she said, nearly a quarter are empty.

At a new, upscale apartment building across from Twitter’s headquarters on Market Street, the sales office is offering up to three months of free rent. If that’s not enough incentive, new arrivals can also get a year of free cable and internet, several personal training and massage sessions or have the landlord donate $1,000 to a local charity on the tenant’s behalf.

Such efforts to attract middle- and upper-income residents reflect the pandemic’s uneven economic impact. White-collar employees who are able to work from home have been far less affected than lower-income workers in service and hospitality industries.

Maria Marin and her family sit on a bed.

Maria Marin, 35, and husband Francisco Rodriguez, with daughters Vanessa Rodriguez, 9, Tiffany Rodriguez, 11, and Keily Rodriguez, 30 months, at an apartment they share with extended family near San Francisco’s Portero Hill neighborhood in February.

(Gary Coronado/Los Angeles Times)

Maria Marin and her husband, Francisco Rodriguez, were once able to crowd into a one-bedroom apartment near Bayview with their three young daughters. But after the pandemic hit, Marin lost her job as a housecleaner, and then her husband got COVID-19 and lost his warehouse job.

Unable to pay the $2,000 monthly rent, the family moved in with Marin’s mother near Potrero Hill. Ten people now share the three-bedroom home while Marin and her husband seek employment.

“In my situation, it’s not true that the rent is down,” said Marin, 35. “They ask you to make two or three times the rent to qualify for an apartment. And when you don’t have it, they hang up the phone.”

Advertisement

Rents have decreased in Oakland as well with the average one-bedroom now going for $1,625, according to Apartment List. But the 18% gap between Oakland and San Francisco prices is the narrowest since the real estate firm began tracking rents in 2017.

Before his move, Simmons enjoyed living in Oakland’s Uptown, a walkable community not far from the Fox Theater, and first looked for a new place around there.

But he found nicer apartments in San Francisco, and living there meant he could ditch his car. Simmons signed a lease for $2,800 a month in a 29-story building also across the street from Twitter. The landlord gave him $2,000 in debit cards as a bonus.

“I like walking places. I like meeting people. I like the busyness,” Simmons said. “This is the life I want.”

Soon after last spring’s stay-at-home orders went into effect, Armand Domalewski and his girlfriend decided to leave their roommates and look for an apartment together. They searched around Oakland’s Lake Merritt in the hopes of living near open space.

“Then we looked in San Francisco,” said Domalewski, 31, a data analyst. “Not only were the prices lower than I ever expected, they kept getting lower.”

The couple found a bright, second-floor apartment on a narrow, red brick street near Duboce Triangle for just under $3,000. “I walked in and said, ‘There’s a dishwasher, my God,’” he said.

A few months into their lease, another tenant in their building moved out and they got a call from their landlord. Domalewski feared the worst.

“You’re so conditioned to think, ‘Oh, my God, am I getting evicted?’” he said. “And then she was like, ‘I’m unilaterally lowering your rent.’ And we’re like, ‘This is crazy.’”

Advertisement

Rents have even become affordable for recent college graduates.

Sarah Abdeshahian sits on the window sill of her apartment.

Sarah Abdeshahian, 22, a recent graduate of UC Berkeley, at her one-bedroom apartment in San Francisco’s Nob Hill neighborhood in February.

(Gary Coronado/Los Angeles Times)

A few months after graduating from UC Berkeley, Sarah Abdeshahian got a job as an organizer with the Tenderloin Housing Clinic in San Francisco. She was astounded to be able to find her own one-bedroom apartment near the top of Nob Hill for $1,900 a month, a price that had been reduced by $400.

“The idea of an entire apartment to myself is an insane luxury to me,” said Abdeshahian, 22. “I thought of San Francisco as a place where only wealthy tech people could live, not someone working at a nonprofit just out of college.”

Even though rents have plummeted, they could bounce back. Tenants with long memories plan ahead.

Simmons said he could have moved into a newer apartment complex for the same money.

But he opted for an older building. It came with rent control.

Source: latimes.com