The struggle to relocate after a lifetime in San Francisco
From a special edition of Crosscurrents, this is part of a series of stories from students from the San Francisco Unified School District:
My grandmother, Maria Rodriguez, couldn’t afford the mortgage for her home in Bernal Heights. Living on a fixed income, she took a loan to help and eventually lost it to foreclosure. Now, she lives with her daughter in Pinole, but moving out of her home meant leaving her grandchildren and church community behind.
Children screaming and adults conversing over the noise is just a normal dinner night with my family. But this isn’t as common of a night for me as it used to be. That’s because my grandmother’s home in San Francisco, the place where my whole family would regularly gather, was lost.
My grandma, or Nana as I call her, is the centerpiece of my Dad’s side of the family.
“Bernal Heights is the place I grew up and I loved it,” she says.
For her, the loss of her Bernal Heights home was more than the loss of a house. For me, it’s put a strain on our relationship since I don’t get to see her as often. Unfortunately, this is all due to financial reasons.
She told me that being on a fixed income made it hard to pay her mortgage. “I couldn't no longer afford my family house which was left to me by my mom,” she says. “Everybody was losing their homes back then because a lot of people took loans and I was one of them.”
Over the course of 4 generations, there were so many memories our family made in that house—from sleepovers with my cousins every weekend to easter egg hunts in the backyard. These moments are what made this house a home and what made this move heartbreaking for all of us.
The move was really emotional. “It's like saying goodbye to my mom and my dad all over again when they were already in heaven my Nana says.
She had inherited her home from her parents who lived there for decades.
“It's a lot of memories in that house—my kids were born and grew up there, and my grandkids. So it's not easy saying goodbye to that home,” my Nana says.
Moving meant my Nana had to leave everything behind including her church family. Now, in Pinole, my Nana hasn’t been a part of such a close-knit community:
“I miss bingo at our church. It was every Wednesday and then sometimes on certain days they would have champagne bingos for all the women. They had a community center as well and they had Reno trips and stuff and I miss all that cause it was like a way to get out without having a car,” my grandma says.
Since my Nana can’t drive, she really hasn’t been able to form many connections with other people here in Pinole. “Unless you drive everything is far,” she says.
Soon after losing her San Francisco home, she broke her leg. So she turned to my aunt for help. “I was lucky that I had a daughter here in Pinole who allowed me to come stay with her.”
My Nana currently lives with three other relatives, including the occasional stay by some of her grandchildren. Despite it being loud at times, the house is roomy and welcoming. “We have our problems but we all get along. We have jokes you know, we kid and everything but I think all-in-all we’re doing pretty good together,” says Nana.
Her life in Pinole is very different. She is no longer close to her birthplace, the place she grew up, the place she loved. She hasn’t been back to visit Bernal Heights in five years. “I do miss it,” she tells me.
On a Saturday I visit her in Pinole for the first time. Since I don’t drive it’s hard to see her as often as I’d like. She gives me the tour. “We have a huge yard and landscaping in front of the house so it’s a very nice home,” she says.
Pinole is the opposite of San Francisco. It's extremely quiet and no one is out walking in the neighborhood. Being there for the first time, I got the vibe that everyone keeps to themselves.
“We try and talk to the neighbors. They're not very friendly, pretty much everyone minds their own business,” my grandma says.
With Nana’s leg injury, going places isn’t easy for her. So my mom drives me and my Nana to the store so she can buy groceries. On our way to the market, I notice the abundance of stores around. It made me realize that maybe Pinole isn’t so isolated after all. It has everything you would need.
“I guess it's better here in Pinole” she confesses. “My home is here in Pinole with my daughter and my son in law.”
Despite being priced out of her home, my Nana has made the best of the situation. She sees that it’s better for her to live here with my aunt, who can help care for her and take her around.
“To me a home is where you feel comfortable, you're able to put your feet up. It’s where you should feel welcome and make people feel welcome,” she says.
It’s become clear to me, that she has made Pinole her new home. Pinole is now the place that she goes to and puts her feet up.
While me and my Nana’s relationship may not be as close due to the distance between us, I am comforted knowing that she is enjoying her life and has family members to help her.