Althousing odyssey

Pub date June 11, 2008
SectionSF Blog

Marianne Moore takes you on a guided tour through the often confusing, always thrilling world of Bay Area alternative housing

We all know San Francisco housing is murder, with median rent for a one-bedroom apartment going for nearly $2200. So when I came home from college for my sweet but unpaid SF Bay Guardian internship, I knew I would have to be resourceful. I was prepared to live anywhere and do (almost) anything, as long as it was cheap. If you’re a local reading this via free wireless in your rent-controlled apartment (enjoy it while it lasts!), you may find this information irrelevant and stressful; or maybe you’ve been through it all. But if, like me, you can visit the beautiful Bay only for too-short summers, or you’re passing through or in transition, read on.

USA Hostel.jpg
Home sweet hostel? Not if you’re local.

The USA hostel on Post, like most hostels, will sometimes let you work a certain number of hours per week in exchange for a free bed. You have to work at least 24 hours and the nightly rate is $25 for paying guests, so it comes out to about $7.50 an hour, well below minimum wage in San Francisco. When I tried to arrange things over the phone from New York, I was told by the bored-sounding receptionist that I would just have to show up for a couple nights so they could “see if they liked me.” That made me a little nervous, but since I’m not totally unlikable I still thought it was worth a try. When I checked in and presented my California driver’s license, I was told that I wouldn’t be allowed to stay unless I could show an out-of-state ID. Apparently the company has a policy against boarding California residents, a policy specifically designed (it seems to me) to keep out homeless people. This isn’t typical for hostels; places I’ve stayed in New York City are regularly used as stopgaps by people between apartments. I couldn’t help but think that the hostel shuts out native Californians to protect their guests (mostly drunk-ass Eurotrash on holiday) from the realities of life in SF, presenting a tourist experience in line with trips to Ghiradelli Square and Pier 39.That, plus the popularity contest application process, had me heading straight for the nearest internet café and the dizzying wilderness of options that is Craig’s List .