Last week, the San Francisco Chronicle reported that another Local 21 member employed by the City of San Francisco has been pushed out of the city she knows and serves. Kelly Dwyer, At-Large Local 21 member, works for the City of San Francisco and is a mother of two. She will soon become a new resident of Vacaville, a town located nearly half way between Sacramento and San Francisco on Interstate 80, 55 miles outside of San Francisco, which means Kelly must commute over an hour and a half each way in traffic to and from work.
The abrupt life change for Kelly’s family came about when a letter arrived in the mail from her landlord who lives in China, notifying her of a sudden $900 monthly rent hike on her single-family home in the Sunset District. For her, it might as well have been an eviction notice.
The contract compliance officer, together with her husband, a Vacaville firefighter, both make what Kelly describes as a good living. But after an exhaustive search for a two-bedroom home with rent low enough so the couple could not only afford childcare and save some money they found out that not even the previous bastions of San Francisco rent refugees – Berkeley, Oakland, and San Mateo – were likewise out of their reach. According to an update to the story in the Chronicle, due to such high rents, families need about $200,000 in household income to live comfortably in San Francisco.
So Kelly and her husband opted to become homeowners in Vacaville rather than remain renters in such an inhospitable market. The family decided to buy a four-bedroom house with a front and backyard for a monthly mortgage of $2,400, about half the median asking rent in San Francisco, which is now at $4225 a month.
The decision to relocate was a hard one. Kelly says that moving to the far-reaching suburbs has put the kibosh on her original plans to be politically active in San Francisco.
Five years ago, Kelly was elected to the San Francisco Democratic County Central Committee, where she had originally wanted to run for the City’s school board or for supervisor. But now she will have to rethink her plans, and Kelly has just given up her seat on the DCCC. Her frustration at being forced out of the city she works for lingers.
“I’m an elected official who can’t even live in the city,” she told the Chronicle. “The voters elected me to do a job, and I can’t even do it because I can’t afford it.”
But Kelly remains undeterred in her desire to stay politically active. As she takes time to get her children settled in Vacaville, Kelly plans to use her acclimation period to become better informed with the issues affecting her new community by sitting in on city council and school board meetings. She hopes that by initially doing a lot of listening, she will be better prepared for local political involvement down the road.
“I hope to run for another local office or Solano County Democratic County Central Committee,” Kelly told the Local 21 Express. But being a newcomer to Vacaville will not make it easy to plug in. “The move makes it hard as I don’t have name recognition and I have not been involved in local politics,” she said.
Asked for suggestions to other L21 members for navigating the tough housing market in the Bay Area, Kelly had some advice to give. “I think we just had to make some hard choices,” she said, adding that those decisions should depend on what members’ prioritize and their individual family situation. Another tip might be to explore flex-time options or rescheduling with your employer to better accommodate the commute. She also added that the Bay Area housing crisis presents opportunities for future union activism around the issue.
“Housing should be a big priority for unions with advocacy around developing and retaining affordable housing sites and ensuring new developments have sufficient housing for lower incomes,” Kelly said. “Also support for the housing bond in November, stricter rules on AirBnB and any rent control expansion measures are important.”
In addition, Kelly suggested various ways that L21 could help members stay involved in their communities, as well as navigate the difficult rental and housing terrain, including job search assistance for members moving to new areas and endorsing political candidates who strongly back affordable housing measures to support lower and middle class families. She added that Local 21 should continue to get members involved in union-wide campaigns, wherever the members may be and in whichever chapter or jurisdiction they belong.