Former Mission District family finds peace amid housing crisis and their new neighborhood

It’s been three years since Dale Duncan, Marta Muñoz and their 10-year old, Emilia, were forced to vacate their Mission District home by a notorious landlord, yet against the odds, they relocated within city limits and peace has been restored to their lyrical, San Francisco lives.

“We drove past the old place the other day and asked Emilia if she still missed it and she said, I’m kinda over it now,” said Muñoz, a preschool teacher originally from Chile who despite the disruption is starting to feel more at home here.

“My social life was very reduced with a little baby and I didn’t have friends around. Everything started to feel better when I started taking classes at City College,” she said. “I felt worse for Dale. His whole life was in the Mission.”

“Marta caught a little bit of the old Mission,” said Duncan who’s lived in The City since the ‘80s. He came to attend college, play in bands (Love Circus, Flying Color, Map of Wyoming) and work odd jobs, back when artists could do that. Eventually he learned the construction trade, specializing in custom woodwork, and his business booms as The City does. The couple were introduced by mutual friends in Mexico where Muñoz was working and Duncan was building what he called a “surf shack.” After a long distance romance, they married and settled in San Francisco with their daughter in 2010.

“It’s easy to get sucked into the past driving around, remembering the smell of roasting coffee by the Bay Bridge,” said Duncan over lunch at Gus’s Community Market on Harrison Street, not far from his woodshop and the old roasteries.

“I’m in the process of making peace with the change. Like, at first I wasn’t sure about this place,” he said, pointing toward the market, “But once I got to know Gus, I remembered, this is a part of the San Francisco I like. I still have to deal with the lines of tech workers at lunch, but there’s a happy medium,” he said.

Duncan and I used to live in proximate neighborhoods and move with the same crowd — some are still here while others have moved out or passed on. I ask him to describe a bit more about what it was like here, back when he delivered wine to restaurants like Jack’s and Capp’s Corner in North Beach and we were, well…young.

“I feel really lucky because I caught the tail end of the old San Francisco,” he said. “I used to see Enrico Banducci every Wednesday morning. Sometimes I still think it takes 15 minutes to get across town,” he said.

“I paid $150 a month to share a Victorian in the Lower Haight with a few friends. Even with a basic job like I had, you’d still have beer and burrito money leftover. But mostly, you had so much more time to devote to being creative,” said Duncan who doesn’t play much music anymore.

“The Mission was paradise for so long, a mixed community with relatively cheap rents, but by ‘93-’94, I knew I wouldn’t be finding anything better than what I had. That’s when the market first changed,” he said. “By the mid-’00s, and again in 2012, you could feel the squeeze.” By 2015, his landlord was full steam ahead, serving her evictions that were eventually challenged in court.

“Many times I’d wake up at three in the morning and he’d be sitting up, planning our next move,” said Muñoz

“I was in shock,” said Duncan. “But after a few days, I realized, I had to be lighter on my feet. I rented a storage space, started packing boxes, and throwing stuff out. We didn’t know if we were staying or going,” he said. After serious consideration, the couple decided to be named in the suit filed by the City Attorney’s office against their former landlord, Anna Kihagi, who the city attorney once said “has a special place reserved for her in San Francisco’s abusive landlord hall of fame.”

“We wanted people to know, especially the Spanish language speakers, they have rights,” said Muñoz.

The couple found a home to rent in Sunnyside/Miraloma Park. “Once we found a new place,” We started to sleep and dream again,” Duncan said. If ever they see money from the lawsuit, “Our dream is to buy a place,” said Duncan, though whether they stay in San Francisco has yet to be determined. Still, there may once again be time for Duncan’s music. Muñoz would like that.

“Every time I ask him to play he says, Marta, I can’t just do it, I have to feel it,” she said.

“I have to work up to it,” said Duncan. “Only eight more years until Emilia goes to college. It all goes by so fast. Everything has a built-in goodbye.”

Denise Sullivan is an author, cultural worker and editor of “Your Golden Sun Still Shines: San Francisco Personal Histories & Small Fictions.” Follow her at www.denisesullivan.com and on Twitter @4DeniseSullivan.

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