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By Ekevara Kitpowsong, Bay News Rising Staff Reporter —
Except for those with sponsors or the status of a Keith Haring, it’s a given that artists need another source of income to get by. But in the Bay Area, land of skyrocketing housing costs, artists must log in so many hours just to generate a bare-minimum cash flow there is precious little time left over to paint, dance, or sculpt.
Los Angeles-born DJ Milan Hawthorne, 35, can speak to the exhaustion that results.
Hawthorne, aka BeatsMe, built up an enviable following after moving to the Bay Area in 2002. With a beefed-up confidence, he struck out for L.A. in 2014 in hopes of spring-boarding to the big pay day in the pop entertainment capitol.
But big time success eluded him, and he headed back to San Francisco again in March 2015.
He discovered firsthand how the city has changed.
“I was looking for a room in Oakland before I left,” he said. “It was around $700, $800. Now the same room is about $1,400. It went double in one year.”
For the time being, he is staying at his cousin’s house in the Lakeview district and paying a more affordable rent: $500,
Despite the decrease in rent, he is working hard at four part-time jobs for a grand total of 64 hours per week.
His seven-day schedule is filled with work; four days a week as a barista at Chasing Lions Café, three days a week as a bar back at Liege Spirits Lounge in Oakland, once a week as a D.J. at The Riptide bar, freelancing as graphic designer at home for 18 hours a week.
He collects minimum wage at all four. When he added up all his paychecks, he got a big surprise: just $2,500 a month, “and I am working seven days a week with no day off.”
For three years he has also been hosting the radio show “Amazing Zoo Crew” with another D.J. at All Day Play, an FM radio station in Oakland.
And it’s still not enough for that one-bedroom apartment.
San Francisco Bay Area rent prices are soaring and there is no sign that they are going down anytime soon. The latest estimated median rent for a one-bedroom apartment is $3,500, according to June 2015 Zumper National Rent Report. San Francisco is now the most expensive city in the nation in rents, higher than New York.
Ecuadorian artist Homero Hidalgo, 35, grew up in Guayaquil, and has lived in the Bay Area for 11 years. He, his wife and their 2-year-old daughter tried living in Monterey for a year before heading back to the Bay Area in May 2015.
They agreed to sublet a Sunset district apartment, thinking that once they arrived here it would be easy for them to find another rental. No such luck.
“We made a mistake before we moved here, because we signed for this sublet, but we could not find another place, we could not fill that gap,” said Hidalgo.
He and his family have so far lived in four Airbnb rentals “one week here, another week over there,” but found them too costly.
They stayed at a friend’s house in Oakland and have moved onto a college pal’s house in Russian Hill.
Hidalgo plans to move to Oakland later when his July’s sublet ends, but still doesn’t know where will be his next home, “basically we will look for a space during that time.”
“We thought it’s going to be easy to find short notice sublets in the city,’’ he said.
A deal to rent a place on Powell Street for $2,000 fell through – he thinks because the owner did not want a family with a child in his home.
A 2007 San Francisco Art Institute alum, Hidalgo currently is working as a full-time artist and part time as a courier for Postmates, an on-demand delivery service.
Hidalgo has exhibited his work widely. He is currently working and painting acrylic on canvases at a shared art studio in a garage under the upstairs flat where he stays.
It’s not that he never sells his work. His paintings sell for $300 to $2,500, but sales are unpredictable. Hidalgo just received a check from his buyers in Miami. “Yay, excellent,” he said, grinning. “It’s been a good month, but I can’t really rely on that. It is not a steady flow of income at all.”
The Bay Area leads the nation in economic productivity, making it a picture-perfect draw for many venture capital firms, startups, bio tech and tech companies, according to the Bay Area Council Economic Institute.
It’s boom time for job seekers with the right credentials, which includes locals, foreigners on work visas and recent transplants. And the high-priced apartments and high-rise condos are filling up, obscuring the fact that many in San Francisco struggle — and in fact, can’t make it with just one full-time job.
By working four days a week at Postmates, driving his 2000 Toyota Tacoma four to six hours a day, Hidalgo collects approximately $750 to $800 per week. “It’s not enough to support a family of three,” said Hidalgo. Fifteen deliveries a day could net him $150 a day.
Gordon Mar understands.
Mar, executive director of Jobs With Justice San Francisco, said he sees a rise in part-time jobs as overworked people across a wide swath of fields struggle to patch together enough man hours to earn a sufficient income.
From his organization’s perspective, employment is shifting from full-time to part-time because it is cost saving and drives up profits. By having part-time workers versus full-time workers, companies can reduce their costs for benefits, Mar said.
That means people like Hawthorne and Hidalgo will work longer and harder to make ends meet.
Hawthorne feels exhausted and has no time to go out.
“I work so much, I don’t even want to go out, or sometime you can’t even enjoy yourself when you do go out,” he said. “You come home and you just want to sleep, get ready for the next day.”