Housing In San Francisco Is So Expensive Some People Live On Boats (#GotBitcoin?)
Move onto water is latest sign of affordable-housing crisis. Homelessness has become such a big problem in the San Francisco area that waters outside the city are increasingly crowded with people living on makeshift boats. Housing In San Francisco Is So Expensive Some People Live On Boats (#GotBitcoin?)
Housing In San Francisco
The homeless population floating off the coast of wealthy Marin County, just north of San Francisco, has doubled in recent years to about 100, according to authorities. The ragtag collection of some 200 barges, sailboats, and other mostly decrepit vessels in which they live and store their belongings is a sign of an affordable-housing crisis in California that is being felt particularly acutely in the San Francisco Bay Area.
The boating homeless include some who are employed but say they can’t afford to live on land, some who prefer the independence and others who are jobless or mentally ill. The seafaring life isn’t easy for any of them.
“It’s not a free ride. It’s a lot of effort to be out here,” said Kristina Weber, who moved onto a 54-foot vessel she purchased for $15,000 because she couldn’t afford rent for a studio apartment in Sausalito, a town 10 miles north of San Francisco, that had grown to $3,000 a month.
People who live on the land nearby complain Ms. Weber and her neighbors have brought crime and poor sanitation, the same problems that accompany homeless encampments in nearby cities that have sprung up amid soaring housing prices driven in part by the region’s technology boom.
The median price for an existing single-family home in the San Francisco Bay Area has nearly tripled to $940,000 from $327,000 since 2009, according to March data from the California Association of Realtors, amid a surge in technology jobs over the same time.
Local residents complain that boats sometimes break away from anchor lines in storms, endangering the occupants as well as the properties of waterfront homes into which they can crash. Many aren’t securely anchored and are attached to smaller vessels in which residents store gear and other belongings.
Authorities call these water-dwelling homeless “anchor-outs,” because they permanently anchor their crafts outside of marinas in violation of local laws that typically set mooring limits of about three-days. They have become a growing problem in pricey coastal locales from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., to Honolulu, Hawaii.
In San Francisco Bay, anchor-outs have been a tradition since the California Gold Rush. But local authorities have been moved into action as the numbers have grown over the past decade.
More than 40 boats were removed after a multiagency crackdown along the Oakland waterfront in 2013 and another nine were sent away in April of this year, said Brock de Lappe, harbor master for five Oakland marinas.
“They are taking over a public resource,” Mr. de Lappe said.
With crackdowns elsewhere in the area, many anchor-outs started showing up in the waters between the Marin County cities of Sausalito and Belvedere over the past few years, said Beth Pollard, executive director of the Richardson’s Bay Regional Agency, which has jurisdiction over the area.
Rather than push the homeless out, her agency is trying to make sure the boats stay secured to authorized moorings.
That approach has infuriated people like Jim Robertson, who said runaway boats have collided with his home 16 times over the two decades he has lived there—including one collision with his dock that cost $20,000 to repair.
“Nobody is looking for special treatment, just the enforcement of laws on the books,” Mr. Robertson said.
His neighbor, Connie Strycker, said anchor-out residents come up on her deck asking for food and water. “They’re all filthy, because they have no place to bathe,” said the 86-year-old.
The city of Sausalito in 2017 withdrew from the Richardson’s agency in protest of its hands-off policy. Since then, it has reduced the number of anchor-out boats in its waters to 20 from 77.
This summer, Sausalito plans to start a pilot program of subsidizing marina space to eight of the boats.
Sausalito Police Chief John Rohrbacher said many in the latest influx of anchor-outs are dangerously inexperienced on the water. “There are some really good people out here, but they’re just living a hard life,” he said.
Ms. Weber said she has found living on the water to be more difficult than she expected. The 40-year-old has to row a small boat to shore a quarter mile away for supplies. Three days after moving aboard the “Phoenix” last October, it sustained extensive cabin damage from a fire she alleged was intentionally set by another anchor-out.
Few anchor-outs have been on the water as long as Greg Baker, who lives alone in a 41-foot sailboat called the C.A. Marcy that is anchored in several feet of mud.
The former tugboat captain agrees there are too many people on the bay who don’t know what they’re doing. He hopes to change that through a community association of anchor-outs he helped form recently to push for safer practices.
Moving, he said, isn’t an option for him.
“There are two ways I’m leaving: in a black body bag or handcuffs,” said the 80-year-old, rubbing his whiskers as a stiff breeze tossed the surrounding waters.