The rent is too high in San Francisco — even for software engineers.
When Katharine Patterson first considered moving to the city, she told friends she’d rather live in a van than pay rent here, according to a piece she wrote for Quartz. She proved as good as her word, moving into a red 1969 Volkswagen camper van after landing a software engineering job at an unnamed “multi-million dollar office complex” in Silicon Valley.
Patterson notes that a single room with a shared bathroom in San Francisco can go for $2,000, a bunk in a “hacker house” is $1,000 and a studio apartment is out of reach for the non-millionaires among us. Even if she was willing to pay rent here, she wrote, she would resent being unable to put that money toward student loans.
“And as a software engineer, I’m one of the lucky ones!” she wrote. “Imagine those who aren’t lucky enough to be on the tech payroll.”
Patterson spent the equivalent of three months’ rent to buy her current home, which came with two holes between the engine and the interior, broken gauges and a temperamental ignition, according to her blog. She ripped out the carpets, spent three hours sweeping and dusting and scraped a “strange velcro-esque material” stuck to metal interior parts of the van.
Then she went to IKEA. Patterson picked up a dresser, carpet and crates. She made her bed. Patterson named the van Jamal Junior, after a bike she had in college named Jamal, and took up residency on Oct. 11. Since then, she’s made renovations such as fixing locks, adding curtains and installing bolts on her dresser drawers.
In addition to her blog, Patterson has used Instagram to share photos of her experience. There’s Jamal Junior parked next to a van with a HIPPIE5 license plate. There’s the dresser, bed and a bright backpack. Comments are generally supportive, with people praising her Quartz article, wishing her luck and directing her toward resources on fixing a Volkswagen or living in one.
Patterson acknowledges in her Quartz piece that the van’s spiders have “more of a right to be here than I do,” since sleeping in a car on public property is illegal in California. Still, she hasn’t been harassed for pulling up and parking her van in places.
She, understandably, does not say where she parks the vehicle at night.
Patterson does not identify her employer, although a LinkedIn member with her name and job works at Google. (An attempt to contact Patterson was not successful.) She writes that she has access to food, showers and laundry at work. She has friends who can help in a crisis.
Patterson seems aware that she brings a certain amount of privilege to her van residence. When one Instagram follower asked, “Kappi what happens if you wake up in the middle of the night and you’ve gotta pee?” Patterson replied, “Gotta shamelessly use white girl privilege to access the grocery store bathroom, only option.”
She notes that there are many Bay Area residents living in their cars because they can’t afford rent.
“I am not technically one of them, and in doing this by choice I am inevitably appropriating their hardships,” she wrote on Quartz. “However, I am also saving hard, trying to pay off my debts, and learning a few invaluable life skills — like carpentry and how to be a fairly competent mechanic — in the process.”