Jaime Maldonado straddles two worlds. The self-proclaimed “mayor of the Mission” has owned La Victoria panaderia at 24th and Alabama streets since the early 1990s, and it has been in the family for three quarters of a century.
As the Mission gentrifies, many businesses catering to Latino and working-class residents have shut down. But La Victoria has tried to evolve. Maldonado now lays out traditional empanadas alongside vegan carrot cake and pricey organic coffee. He’s also planning to give the bakery a face-lift.
“We are going to renovate and retool to cater to the needs of the new community,” he said, flipping beignets browning in a large pot of oil. “How much more blunt can I be?”
With wealth pouring into the Bay Area, San Francisco’s middle class is shrinking, especially in certain neighborhoods, according to newly released census data. Between 2009 and 2014, the the number of San Francisco households earning $75,000 to $100,000 — a range that includes the median income of $78,400 — dropped by 1.2 percentage points, from 11.8 percent of the city to 10.6 percent.
The number of households making $50,000 to $75,000 fell nearly 2 percentage points, from 15 to 13.1 percent of the population.
Meanwhile, the number of San Francisco households pulling in $200,000 or more increased sharply — by 3.7 percentage points. Those wealthy families now account for 15 percent of the city. For perspective, just 6.7 percent of Los Angeles households make $200,000 or more, and 13 percent of those in San Jose recorded such high earnings.
A bigger trend
The changes are especially dramatic in the census tract surrounding La Victoria, in which the median household income climbed from roughly $71,083 in 2010 to $93,750 last year.
The shift may seem rapid to some, but the pattern has been unfolding for decades: As the cost of living skyrockets in San Francisco, those making mid-range incomes either can’t afford to live in the city or choose to move to cheaper, more spacious parts of the Bay Area.
“It’s a trend that’s happening nationwide,” said Cynthia Kroll, chief economist at the Association of Bay Area Governments. “There has been more growth at the top and bottom than in the middle, and San Francisco is an exaggeration of that.”
While a 1.2 percent dip in middle-range incomes may not seem like much, it has a big impact in neighborhoods that have seen larger declines. In the census tract surrounding La Victoria — bordered by 23rd and Cesar Chavez streets and Bryant and Harrison streets — 18.5 percent of households earned $75,000 to $100,000 in 2009. That number dropped to 16.1 percent last year. The tier of workers just below that, those earning $50,000 to $75,000, saw the steepest drop-off, falling from 21.6 percent to 7.4 percent during the same time period.
S.F. getting richer, poorer
On the flip side, the number of households in that micro-neighborhood earning $200,000 or more jumped from less than 1 percent to 16.1 percent. Census-tract data has relatively large margins of error due to the small sample, but the trend still shows a sizable boost in wealth and a loss of middle- and lower-middle income residents.
In the bigger picture, as San Francisco has gotten richer, it has also gotten poorer. In 2009, 11.5 percent of city residents fell below the poverty line. Just five years later, that number jumped to 13.3 percent.
Some of the newfound prosperity could be due to better wages and salaries for longtime residents. But plenty of observers think the shift is more likely due to newer, wealthier residents moving in, as well as the loss of blue-collar jobs, growth in the tech economy and the lack of adequate housing for people making mid-level incomes — both in the small slice of the Mission and in the city at large.
“The middle class has moved out altogether, and you have a city of highly educated, highly paid people and the low-wage workers that support them,” said Malo Hutson, a UC Berkeley urban planning professor.”
As the economic landscape shifts, the effects reverberate throughout the community.
“If you put luxury condos somewhere, it’s not like they’re going to exist on an island. Those residents are going to demand goods, services, transportation and other support,” said Gabriel Medina, policy manager at the Mission Economic Development Agency. “You’re seeing a loss of history, a loss of culture, a loss of social capital and a loss of economic opportunities for immigrant communities.”
The Mission isn’t the only part of San Francisco where wealth is growing and the middle class is shrinking.
Since 2010, the proportion of households earning $200,000 or more increased in three out of every four San Francisco census tracts. Meanwhile, the proportion of those making $75,000 to $100,000 declined in the majority of the city. Parts of Noe Valley, Dogpatch and Potrero Hill experienced especially large ups and downs.
Ideas from City Hall
Mayor Ed Lee recently rolled out a few plans to try and boost San Francisco’s shrinking middle class, including building housing for public-school teachers, offering loans to 1,500 middle-income families to help them purchase homes, and constructing 30,000 housing units by 2020, with half affordable to low- and middle-income families.
As the city tries to solve what many call a housing crisis, Maldonado — and other businesses — scramble to adjust. He has already been priced out of the Mission District himself; he lives in the Ingleside neighborhood nearly 5 miles away. If his family didn’t own the bakery, Maldonado wonders if it would still be up and running.
“My family isn’t going to kick me out,” he said. “But if you don’t own the building then you’re moving out — or you already moved out within the last 15 years.”
The remodel is the latest tweak Maldonado will make to try and cater to a community that seems to change daily. “It’s exciting,” he said. “We’re not going to make a place that doesn’t cater to the community. We’re going to make a place that caters to the old and the new.”