Jen Devine and her roommates have seven days to scrounge up $18,000 or risk losing their home. So they’re doing what anyone would do: Having a barbecue. Oh, and you’re invited.
Devine and her four housemates, who include a part-time machinist for the Exploratorium and a UCSF lab teacher, have lived in the “Bayview Barnyard,” a 108-year-old, five bedroom house on La Salle Avenue, since 2008.
“We needed a place with five beds, a two-car garage, and a garden,” says Devine, a freelance sex ed teacher (she teaches a four-day course at a different Bay Area school every week, to kids ranging from 10-18). “We typed that into Craigslist and this was the first place that came up.”
[jump] The rent was only $580 apiece. The landlord, Charles Brown, was an old-time, working-class San Franciscan, who came to the city as part of the migration of black laborers who worked the factories and shipyards during World War II. He eventually acquired 18 properties around the city, but still drove a rusted pick-up and had holes in his jeans.
Brown was apparently a saint, as far as San Francisco landlords go: he never raised the rent, even as the market exploded; he turned the adjacent empty lot over to housemates to use as a garden and a feedlot for chickens; and when the place needed work, he did the repairs himself.
“One day we had a leaky roof,” says Zeke Cullen, Devine’s partner, who works part-time at the Exploratorium. “I see Charlie eyeing it and I say, ‘You’re not thinking about going up there?’ ‘I went up there and fixed it when I was 60,’ he said. I told him, ‘Yeah, but you’re pushing 80 now.’”
When Brown died last summer, all of his houses were turned over to a trust and put on the market. Money from the sales will be donated to Doctors Without Borders. Devine et al assumed they would have to move — shunted into a rental market that now chews up and spits out people like them .
Then, someone had a crazy notion: buy the place. The price tag was intimidating — three quarters of a million dollars, “More money than I think I’ve made in my entire life,” as Cullen put it — but the down payment would be only about $200K. An anonymous do-gooder offered the roomies half, and Devine scraped together another $50,000. For the rest, they turned to Go Fund Me.
“About 500 people posted messages of support on my Facebook page,” Devine says. “If all of my friends had $100, that’s all it would take.”
Digital hat in hand, they’ve made nearly $32,000 as of today. But the deadline is January 15, and there’s at least one other buyer vying for the place. The crew will host a pig roast on Sunday by way of a fundraiser.
So, how about it? Do you have a little to spare?
The “Barnyard” has high ceilings, wood floors, and furniture salvaged from the original Exploratorium and the Power Exchange. It represents exactly the kind of quirky, funky stripe of San Francisco that we’re always fretting will soon go extinct. Well, here’s your big chance to do something about it. We can’t save everyone, but it wouldn’t be such a bad thing to save this one.
And there’s a roast pig in it for you, if that sweetens the deal.