Why you can’t afford to live in San Francisco…

03 Apr
Why you can’t afford to live in San Francisco…

I stumbled upon this link online.

After interviewing for a job with the Academy of Art and finding out at the end of the interview that the pay is $13.50/hr, I wrote a nice thank you note: “Thanks for speaking with me today. After looking over my expenses, $13.50 will not be enough for me to live on. The average rent for a one bedroom in San Francisco is $2,897, and $13.50 an hour would only amount to $2,160 per month. Only if you increase the rate to at least the living wage, or offer housing, this will not work for me.”

Her reply: “At this time, the pay rate for the role is $13.50.”

My reply: “I suggest your institution reconsider its priorities. As one of the largest landowners in SF with a real estate portfolio worth at least $320 million, and annual revenues more than $247 million, you would think you could spare enough to pay full time labor enough to afford to live in one of the Academy’s overly priced buildings. Just sayin.”

Greed on both sides of the equation, the landlords and the employers, makes for a citizenry forced to depend on loans and credit which, surprise, just funnels more money into the pockets of the wealthy.

This is not a thank-you note. It’s a snarky entitled rant. I have read my share of snarky entitled rants, and this is one of the snarkier and more entitled ones. But because you didn’t question my sexuality (true story), there might be hope for you.

I’d like to think that I’m better at responding to these types of notes now than I was in my early managerial days. Let’s see..

Your expenses are never your employer’s responsibility. This is why they rarely give raises if you suddenly develop a cocaine or gambling addiction. Your compensation is based solely on your value to the company. Negotiating a salary increase is a vital skill when interviewing, but you should restrict that negotiation to what you can bring to the job (experience, dedication, drive, ambition, and so on) that would warrant spending more on your salary than what they’d pay the many other people they likely interviewed.

I’m not sure what your salary expectations were, but if you hoped to earn enough to afford, on your own, a one-bedroom in San Francisco for $2,897, you’d have to make roughly $120,000. Most landlords like their tenants to have an annual salary of at least 40 times their monthly rent. That’s about four times what you were offered. I want to be fair to your point of view, but I am skeptical that you interviewed for a six-figure position. You applied for a job at the Academy of Art University. Any one of those words in a company name usually means freeze-dried coffee in the break room, but all three combined ensures penury. I’m even skeptical that the person who interviewed you makes six figures. He or she probably lives in Oakland and has a crummy commute (an hour in theory, hour and a half… maybe two in practice).

When I lived in New York, I knew thirtysomething professionals who lived in one-bedroom Manhattan apartments for $2,896. They had “esq.” after their names (and significant law school debt). I am the last person to pretend that $13.50 an hour is a ticket to easy street, but I strongly believe it’s insulting to so many who barely survive to equate access to an apartment in one of the most expensive cities in America to a “living wage.” Those of us who advocate for a “living wage” are thinking more of the single mother who skips dinner herself so her kids don’t go to bed hungry or even has her kids snuggle in bed with her because she can’t afford to leave the space heater running at night.

I checked on Glassdoor, which is not the gospel on these matters but provide some insight, and no one is making six figures at this company. And even if they were, a salary adjustment for your role couldn’t occur in a vacuum. It would mean increasing the salaries of everyone senior to you. And eventually, you’d be back where you started.

By this, I mean: San Francisco is a city where lots of people want to live. The vacancy rate is 4.5 percent. When you have limited supply and increasing demand, real estate prices increase. That’s why more middle income residents are being priced out. Heck, there are bankers living in the Mission. Times have changed, so I don’t think it’s accurate to blame expensive real estate entirely on the “greed” of landlords. Unless you resort to lotteries or some Hunger Games scenario, the only way to cope with demand exceeding supply is to raise prices. This has nothing to do with a living wage.

What’s happening in San Francisco is unfortunate, if not inevitable, and I do believe that economic diversity in a city makes it more vibrant overall. However, ultimately, that’s not your potential employer’s responsibility to fix. I’d like to know what your goal was from the “thank-you note”? If the original response had been worded more professionally and focused more on what you could do for the Academy of Art, you might have persuaded the hiring manager to increase your compensation by a reasonable amount. However, you went for a number well beyond any discretionary range the manager might have had (please note, that anyone who interviews applicants for a $13.50 role is usually not in a position to make drastic alterations to compensation structure).

I have noticed a lot of young, talented people resorting to the “mic drop and swagger off the stage” approach to conflict. This won’t help you professionally. This won’t help you personally. This won’t help you at all. You might get a lot of traffic on your site, but I don’t think those people will hire you.

By the way, did notice a studio in Lower Nob Hill for $1,495. You might want to consider a roommate. If it’s any consolation, I shared a one-bedroom in Manhattan with an assortment of roommates until I was 29 and graduated to a studio with a sloping floor and a wet bar sink and dorm room fridge. And I loved it. It was mine.

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Posted by on April 3, 2014 in Social Commentary


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