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A Way To Make Housing More Affordable

Rent-or-BuyAbout eight years ago I was unemployed for almost two years. A friend of mine told me that I wasn’t unemployed, but that I made $40,000 per year. I looked at him and shook my head. That made no sense, but he pointed out that because I had been lucky and inherited my parents home I didn’t have to pay rent which [at the time] would have worked out to about $40k/year.

While that number has increased nowadays, it hit me hard. There are some things that many people don’t understand about owning a house that is different than renting and I feel that should change. While it’s a change that should happen nation wide, it’s something that makes a lot more sense in San Francisco.

If you own a house you must pay property tax. The thing that some of you might not know is that property tax is tax deductible. I met a woman who recently bought a house and is paying over $11k/year just in property tax. All of that is deductible from her tax return every year as a living expense. With rental rates at an all time high in San Francisco this is a bit of a drop in the bucket, but getting to cut $11k+ off your yearly income is still nothing to sneeze at. She can also claim her mortgage payments as a living expense and deduct them from her income.

This is why I believe that rent should be tax deductible as a living expense. I recently saw an article where an elderly couple in the Sunset District who were paying $2100/month in rent had their new landlord remove an in-law apartment from their house thereby making the home a single family dwelling. The landlord was then able to increase their rent because the home was no longer under rent control to $8900/month.

San Francisco is one of the few places in the United States where something like this could happen, but there are places where it is happening more often. Most of the Bay Area is quickly approaching the rental prices of San Francisco because when you leave San Francisco the homes are bigger thus demanding a higher price. Even the apartments are larger outside of San Francisco.

So why isn’t this happening? I can only make a guess, but let’s use San Francisco as an example. If residents were to be able to deduct their rent from their income as a living expense San Francisco would look like a very poor city. Yes that new techie family that’s paying $10k/month for a house in the Mission would suddenly have a $120k deduction from their income each year which would probably qualify them for financial aid unless they were pulling in closer to $200k/year in salary. This also probably wouldn’t help reduce rent because hey, it’s a tax deduction.

Overall, San Francisco has for a long time been difficult to live in due to the increasing rental prices and that also increases expenses in the Bay Area. To make this change so that rent was tax deductible would probably make a large number of people in the U.S. look much poorer than we realize, in California where Proposition 13 is in effect so that property tax can only increase by 1.1%/year, home ownership even with these high purchase prices currently has advantages over other parts of the country. Perhaps this is more of a state wide thing, but I believe it’s something a lot of our politicians should start talking about.




Affordable Housing In San Francisco

Hunter's Point Open SpaceThere has been a lot of talk lately about building affordable housing in San Francisco. I’m not exactly sure what the right answer is [although my suggestion is below], but so far I’m not sure it’s going in the right direction.

Out in the Sunset District there is the Sloat Garden Center. It’s currently the largest of it’s locations and now the owners are going to sell it. I can understand that since they can get a good deal of money for that, but the problem is that it has been labeled as the perfect spot for affordable housing to go in and by affordable housing they’re talking about a ten to possibly twelve story building in an area that is zoned as NC-2 which is mixed commercial/residential with a height of no more than three stories.

Here’s where it gets interesting. I can’t prove they want to build a ten to twelve story complex, but there is a height limit code of A100 which I can’t get a definition for and everyone seems to believe that means 100 feet. I can see that, but there comes another problem with what is defined as a story. Typically in the past a story was defined as twenty feet, but now through the process of downsizing a story is being redefined as ten feet. This is another part where that could mean that 100 feet could represent a five story complex or a ten story complex. The twelve story came from someone who has been pointing out the requirement of 20% low income housing to all building in San Francisco, but misses the point that that doesn’t allow them to add on.

My overall thought is that while yes, there are few buildings that somehow got past the strict coding over the years and are more than three stories they are the exception rather than the rule. To build a 100 foot building out by the beach would be ridiculous in my opinion because it just would not fit with the character of the other buildings around it. They might as well relocate Coit Tower to the Sunset District if that height is fine for a spot in San Francisco that after it was just a bit of sand had been dubbed, the suburbs of San Francisco.

Candlestick ParkSo what is the answer? OK, just bear with me for a moment because this is going to sound a bit NIMBY, but it’ll make sense…Hunter’s Point.

Yes, I’m suggesting if they want to build affordable housing that they look into Hunter’s Point. They’re already planning on building a shopping center, or at least they’re seriously talking about putting one where Candlestick Park used to be so it makes sense. It especially makes sense when you look at the picture in this article. There’s is tons of open land in the Hunter’s Point area [and Bayview as well] where you can even see the former foundations of buildings.

Hunter’s Point was always considered a bit of a scary place in San Francisco, but with the influx of people to San Francisco there are a lot more people that are buying homes and new condos that are being built in the area and it’s starting to come up…albeit slowly, but it IS happening. I am more frequently having to drive in that area and I’m pretty surprised at the changes I’m seeing. San Francisco isn’t seeing how much of a clean slate and lack of opposition or at least much less opposition that they would get from a currently populated part of San Francisco.

There is no reason for our politicians to destroy the character of San Francisco’s existing neighborhoods when there is a good amount of open space in the city where they could develop a whole new neighborhood from the ground up.

Happy Mother’s Day!

High School Graduation: Marge Kauschen

Every day is Mother’s Day. That’s what my Mom probably should have said. From the time I was born, looking back on all the pictures she was always there for me. When I was sick, when I was sad, when I was happy. She was always there.

Unfortunately all good things must come to an end and I lost her four years ago. I honestly think that she reached a point where she realized that I could make it on my own. She taught be to look out for myself, pay the bills get things done that needed to be done. She taught me to cook so that I’d never go hungry. She fought for me so that I would get good teachers and schooling.

I probably could have done more. I think the last thing I did for her was make her a grandma. Granted, I had help in that aspect. I had a lot of help and it wouldn’t have happened without Wife. I’d include a picture of her, but she doesn’t like to be in the limelight. She has that same aspect as my Mom. She never wanted to or tried to replace her and that’s a good thing. Wife is a smart cookie like my Mom and I think I did a good job in conning her into spending the rest of her life with me.

So today if you have a Mom that isn’t with you anymore I want you to think about her and what she gave up to make you who you were today. If you have a Mom that is still with you or you’re married to just take the time to remember that they’re doing an awful lot to keep you and your family on the right track.

Where Have All The Fish Geeks Gone?

Home AquariumI was looking back in time yesterday when I turned on the lights of my old sturdy 55 gallon fish tank. The fish had finally all died off after close to 15 years and there were just plants in the tank that didn’t need too much light so I had left the light off to save a bit of money [note, even if I left the lights on it would only cost 11¢/day] and I started to wonder where all the aquarium people had gone to?

Granted, I’ll have to take a step back in time to the 80’s and 90’s when I was involved with the San Francisco Aquarium Society. I wasn’t just involved, but I was the President for four years and on the Board of Directors for eight. The original story is linked above. Back then when I got involved with the SFAS, it when from a casual 50 members which we might get 20 to show up to over 500 members and we would be able to pack the old auditorium at the Academy of Sciences. I became known for being a fish geek. I would get calls from newspapers and local stations would have me be on a show to talk about the popularity of aquariums. I was on a trip in the 90’s to London and while walking around the London Aquarium I asked one of the workers about one of the tank set ups and after a couple of minutes was recognized and got the full behind the scenes tour of the aquarium [it’s good to be the fish geek].

Back then there were loads of aquarium stores around the city some small some huge [R.I.P. Nippon Aquarium] and you could find fish from all over the world available to you. The aquarium clubs had all the interesting fish that you’d never see anywhere else. In addition to the SFAS, there was also the Pacific Coast Cichlid Association, the Bay Area Killifish Association and the just started Bay Area Aquatic Plant Association. They’re all still around, but they aren’t as big a pull as they used to be.

Needs a little work don't it?Back then we had the true fish geeks who would have home setups that would rival some public aquariums. They would breed fish, sometimes producing strains that you hadn’t seen in the hobby. Many of these people were breeding fish that had come from collections years ago of fish that were endangered [I’ve seen more Devil’s Hole Pupfish bred in home tanks than there are in the Death Valley]. Those of us who bred fish back then could bring some into the meetings and easily leave with $100 in our pocket to spend over the weekend. My goal back then was when I retired I would breed fish and sell them at the club meetings to supplement my income. I had a friend who was importing plants and selling them to the stores around the Bay Area while he was living out of his car for awhile. He built a nice nest egg for himself and I thought I would too.

Now, that’s not so much the case. Fish I could have gotten $20-$30 for a pair are now selling for $5 for three pairs at some club meetings. The public shows such as the SFAS show at Tanforan every year is gone. It seems that people don’t think about home aquariums as much anymore. They’re easier to take care of than cats and dogs. True, they won’t curl up on your lap [unless you keep eels in a tank next to your bed. True story], but they do have personalities and a nice lush tank has been shown to lower blood pressure and give people well, warm fuzzy feelings. You can get into it as much as you want. You can start with a small 10 gallon tank and then move up to home installation if you get really into it.  The SFAS Home Shows were where people got to show off what they did with their tanks and gave the rest of us ideas to build on. There were a few people who always tried to out do everyone else. One friend who passed on had a 250 gallon coffee table with small sharks swimming around [no lasers on the sharks though].

I strongly recommend people try out aquariums at least once to see if they like them. The aquarium fish trade could use a boost and it would be great to bring it back in San Francisco.

Dealing With Old Houses

No this is not my home.Pretty much everyone here is from somewhere else. Especially today. I think I’m one of the few people left over 40 who was born in San Francisco and one of the even fewer who is living in the house he grew up in now. My family inherited the house after my Mom died [well not really, my name was on the house since I was 18]. There’s a difference though when you live in a house that your parents bought in 1954 and have been the only family to live there.

Before my wife and I moved back into the house my Mom was the only one left and didn’t get around much so there were lots of areas that she never looked at. When we moved in we realized that the double paned windows upstairs caused about a 15° difference when you went downstairs where we only had single paned [old single paned] windows. In the winter like now. It gets cold downstairs and nothing short of a space heater will warm the place up even though we have central heating. This is something we’re working on figuring out how to fix at the moment because we can’t afford to replace the downstairs windows.

The shower in the downstairs bathroom leaks to the point that when you take a shower water soaks through the wall and runs out into the basement. This is going to be fixed today. You have to re-caulk old caulking every couple of years because with the old tiles and worn marble floor [which I’m also in the process of refinishing] doesn’t always seal up completely.

Dust, OMG DUST! This is an old house by San Francisco standards which means we have wall to wall carpeting. You can vacuum the floor for a half hour and then go over it with a small hepa filter vac and notice you get more dust out of the carpet. Our dryer downstairs is in the back of the basement so it doesn’t vent outside so you get lint everywhere. It must have been about 1″ of 30 years of lint that I had to work with my hand before being able to vacuum it off the cabinets next to the dryer because my Mother never used the lint trap. Lint gets everywhere and you have to move stuff and get behind it to suck it all out.

Walls, I have no idea what made the marks and stains, but the walls have gotten rather dirty so I’ve been trying a few things to clean the walls which are working somewhat well. The Magic Eraser pad works, but we have to go over the walls a couple of times to get all the spots off. This gives you a good work out if you’re doing it right. Your arms should be tired after you’re finished.

Carpeting in general get dirty and we’ve had carpet cleaning companies come by that have still left the stains after the carpet dries. I actually used some oxy-clean on one particularly dark spot going into the kitchen and now it just shows how much dirt has collected over the years because we have a nice clean bright patch of carpet surrounded by dark beat up carpet. In reality, the carpet is close to 30 years old and should be replaced because there are areas which haven’t been walked on that stand up more than others. When we can afford it we’ll do that.

Bannisters. These are fun because you don’t realize that when people grab onto them the oils and dirt from their hands sticks to them. I tried three days of goo gone and that wasn’t enough so I finally stripped the lacquer off and refinished them and they look brand new.I’ve learned in the past to  start with rough sandpaper and work down to the finest you can to get it smooth and have a good tack cloth ready.

The kitchen. Nope we don’t have granite counter tops we have the old tiles everyone used to have. The tiles have held up quite well, but the grout has worn or gotten stained from coffee spills to the point that I had to re-grout most of the tiles. This isn’t that hard and we had at one point the the mortar in front of the sink wear out so I had to hammer out the old mortar and glue the tiles back in place and then grout when they were set. In some places the grout has worn out to the point that it’s not grout anymore, but  dirt and grease that’s collected that you can gouge out with a screwdriver. If you have one of those hand held steamers that will sanitize the area before you grout and get some more dirt out of the cracks. Eventually we’ve get new countertops when we can have the cabinets refinished. I happen to like the Zodiaq quartz counter tops because they’re easier to deal with and they’re cultured quartz. We’ll definitely need someone to put those in along with a new sink to replace the 1954 porcelain sink that’s been worked over with comet a little too much.

As for furniture, we’ve got such a mixed group of items that you just have to shake your head. We have side tables and a dinner table from the late 1800’s. A chair that was purchased from a Charles Lutwidge Dodgson [i.e. Lewis Carroll] in 1850 which fix well together [if it’s your grandma’s house], but then there’s this horrible faux-asian bamboo printed couch that’s gotten stains from over the years and the springs need replacing, a high back faux Victorian chair which while I love it because it’s comfortable and if I fall asleep in it I’ve got those side thingies so my neck doesn’t get crunched. It’s kind of like a car seat for lazy adults, there’s another chair that I don’t know the time period, but it looks like around the 30’s and a lazy boy recliner that’s electric and I’m willing to sell it to get it out of here.

Other general things that we’ll need to call in outside help for is the dry rot that we’ve developed in the corners of the living room windows. I could sand a lot out, but that won’t fix it. I think we could handle the painting ourselves, but we have a guy down the street who painted the outside of the house who would do the inside better than us. There are also cracks and holes that have developed over the years that I’ve been spackling over and I’ve gotten pretty good at dry wall work. Thank you youtube.com for all the helpful videos.

It’s a lot of work, but I’ve never been one to buy a house and flip it in a few years for a profit, especially now with prices going up or down in six months. I like the place because I grew up here. Now it’s just time for us to make it ours. And that is why you haven’t heard from me in awhile. I’ve been so busy fixing up the house instead of other New Year’s resolutions that people break that I’m doing pretty good.

Building REsources

Sometimes you make stupid mistakes. I was fixing one of my toilets yesterday being all plumber like and had the misfortune of shattering the tank cover. Now my house was built in 1954 and not too much has changed since then. Our downstairs toilet is a 1963 American Standard model #4043. Searching for replacements found me seeing $50-$275 price ranges and I just didn’t want to spend that kind of money. Then I came across Building REsources.

Building REsources is a non-profit group [701 Amador Street, SF, CA] that accept donations of things like old sinks, windows, shutters and yes, toilet tank lids. It’s actually a pretty awesome place to walk around and just look at all the stuff that’s available there. I saw a collection of light fixtures, table lamps, a really nice pair of huge Koss speakers, tumbled stone, piping, etc. The list could continue on forever. The best part is you’re buying something that was previously owned by someone else and most of the stuff is in pretty good condition.

You will get dirty there so don’t go picking around in your white Sunday suit, but what you’ll find there is a steal. I saw a Mom and Daughter who were obviously picking out stuff for art projects. I’m sure a lot of the Burning Man people have made many a visit to the place. Every time I’ve gone there I’ve found it to be rather warm, surprisingly so even. That doesn’t mean it never rains there as I found while looking through toilet tank covers and picked one up off the top shelf outside only to find out it was filled with water.

That was the only time I can say I got soaked at the place. In the end, I didn’t find a #4043, but I was able to find an American Standard #4050 which is almost the same dimensions as what I needed, just a 1/4″ deeper, cost – $10. So my tank cover sticks out a bit, but that works fine for us. If you go by be sure to ask for Wayne, he said he’d give you a 10% discount. He might have been joking, but things are so cheap there it won’t hurt if you don’t get it. They had some nice bathroom sinks already installed in granite countertops. I might go back and check those out and see if I can find a replacement for my downstairs bathroom vanity.

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Anchor Steam Beer

In my misspent youth I had a hobby of brewing beer. The ingredients were legal to buy and it was cheap to make and seeing as there was a home brewing shop three blocks away from me just made it easier. This got me thinking about a little talked about San Francisco tradition, Anchor Steam Beer.

I’ve drank a lot of Anchor Steam beer over the years, but I have yet to tour their brewery which I think I’ll have to do sometime in the near future. What always caught my ear was the fact that the word steam was included in the name. What exactly is steam beer? Now when I brewed beer you boiled the grains and hops on the stove [know by brewers as the wort] for a certain length of time that did produce steam and made the whole house smell like a telephone booth on a hot day [I’m dating myself here, but some of you well know what I mean.] You then strained this into your primary fermenter added water to cool it down and added the yeast.

When I first started brewing beer I used ale yeast because I was told it was easier to deal with. It turns out that steam beer uses a lager yeast that ferments on the bottom and you don’t get the foamy top on your batch. Steam beer using lager yeast is fermented at a cooler temperature more indicative of San Francicisco. As to why the term steam beer is used has a lot of debate. Some say it was because the Anchor Brewery lacking ice to cool the wort would pump the hot wort up to holding tanks at the roof of the building where the cool Pacific air would cool it down causing steam to rise off the building. Other’s have said that it produced a lot of carbon dioxide and it was necessary to let off the steam during the fermentation process. This I can believe because the first time I actually brewed a lager and bottled it up I stored the bottles in my garage and found that my Dad who used to spend his evenings working in the garage would have a few WWII flashbacks when a bottle or two would explode from too much pressure.

Steam beer was started here in San Francisco in 1849 a year before California became a part of the US and the start of the California gold rush when a German named Gottlieb Brekle decided to start a business to help the working man unwind. Steam beer [also known as California common beer] was not the best stuff around at the time. It was cheap to make, cheap to purchase and didn’t taste that great, but got you drunk. It’s a far cry from what the Anchor Brewery makes today. Anchor Steam is still their best known, but they make a much larger selection including ales and barley wines.

Anchor has evolved over the years to become probably one of the first micro-brews commercially available. I’ve had friends who have taken the tours and they’ve said that they’re a lot of fun. Apparently so much fun that you have to book the tour six month in advance now because of the popularity. You also get a taste of the beer at the end of the tour so I’d say give them a call now and book a trip. They only take reservations by phone though so if you’re planning on making the trip call them at 415-863-8350 now. Don’t forget to press extension 0 when you call.