It's official. The rent here in San Francisco is too damn high.
We know it's true not because of the data—but because we just got off the phone with Jimmy McMillan, who told us so. McMillan, New York City's populist ex-candidate for mayor, shot to fame in 2010 on his mantra. You know the one—something about the rent being excessive? Now that San Francisco has surpassed New York City as the metropolis with the country's highest median rent, we thought we might press McMillan for his diagnoses—and solutions.
But before we could get there, before we could open our mouths, actually, McMillan answered the phone by singing a few lines from I Left My Heart in San Francisco. "That song was written a little prematurely," he says. "Many more will soon be leaving. San Francisco is going to be deserted" thanks to—you guessed it—the rent being too damn high. We sing a few bars together, and then get down to brass tacks.
McMillan has tough words for politicians whom he thinks are only addressing "the accessories" rather than "the necessities." Would a raise in the minimum wage help? "How can you talk about that when mom and pop businesses can't even afford to operate in your city? Which businesses would be able to survive a raise? Walmart and Burger King."
What about an increase in affordable housing? "That's like breaking your foot and going to a mechanic. Politicians talk about low income housing to get votes. Affordable housing just makes real estate developers like Donald Trump rich."
How about Richmond's plan to buy underwater mortgages away from the banks? McMillan can barely control his exasperation. "I say to the people in California—do not trust your government. If they own your house, it will set you up for a critical disaster if you lost your job or business. The Green Party is suckering people."
It isn't until the Ellis Act—the California law that allows no-fault evictions when a property owner wants to exit the rental market—comes up that McMillian unleashes the full weight of his Old Testament style jeremiad. He's never heard of the law before, but once he understands the basics, it's Charlton Heston time: "A corporation can't throw people out. That's the 14th Amendment—those people are protected. Let me be clear. If they do, they are not throwing out those people. They are throwing out the United States of America."
So what's his solution? McMillan lays out a solution that involves using federal power over the banks—which he thinks it already has through the 2008 bank bailouts—to eliminate mortgage payments (and student loans, by the way), while lowering property taxes. "Those mortgages are already paid for," he says. "The President of the United States is mathematically illiterate."
McMillan says the full details are on his website. There's lots more there too. "We've got autographed pictures for sale. Copies of my book. We even have dolls. It's $49 for the one that talks, which is too damn much. So I think we're going to do a holiday special deal on that."