Poetry Priced Out: Rent Hike Forces Emeryville Laureate to Move

Sarah Kobrinsky, Emeryville's poet laureate, was forced to move by a 38 percent rent increase. (Dan Brekke/KQED)

Yes, it’s a little bit of a surprise that Emeryville, a town that many Bay Area residents probably associate with the massive yellow-and-blue Swedish furniture store adjacent to the MacArthur Maze, has a poet laureate.

But in the interest of enriching the local cultural landscape, the city created such a position. And a couple years ago, Sarah Kobrinsky, a Winnipeg native who came to Emeryville by way of Fargo, North Dakota, was appointed to the position.

“Wherever I’ve lived, I’ve loved to connect somehow to the artistic community and to play a part in that,” Kobrinsky says. “I like to bring people together and organize events and make things happen.”

Kobrinsky’s day job is helping run her family’s small ceramics business. She applied for the poet laureate’s post after she saw a posting on a local bakery bulletin board. In addition to writing poetry for community events, she conducts workshops for residents and has started a project to distribute poems on the Emery-Go-Round, the city’s shuttle bus service.

But now, Emeryville’s poet laureate, whose verse touches on subjects like the town’s long-vanished Native American shellmounds and the presence of that big Swedish furniture store, can no longer afford to live there.

Kobrinsky recently joined the growing ranks of Bay Area artists who have been priced out of their homes — in this case, a 1-bedroom flat she shared with her husband, a potter, and their young son. At the end of last year, their landlords, who live in an adjacent home, notified them via letter of a 38 percent rent increase. They had 60 days to move from their home of five years.

“It was actually very scary,” Kobrinsky says. “I remember getting the letter and breaking down in tears because its something so primal — your sense of shelter, your home.”

She and her family landed just up the Eastshore Freeway in Richmond. She recognizes there are plenty of people in the same boat.

“A lot of the young creative folks I’ve met recently — the ones who are able to stay are the ones who are lucky enough to secure a situation,” Kobrinsky says. “Either they end up living in a warehouse or they find a room in a house that people have been able to hang onto for years so the rent has stayed low. I know people who are at the top of their fields who are struggling every month to make their ends meet.”

And she wonders aloud about the health of a region that’s seeing so many people, artists and non-artists alike, pushed out.

“It’s a real sickness in the Bay Area,” she says. “Seeing human beings as dollar signs and not as human beings — that’s a sickness.”

Kairee Tann, one of Kobrinsky’s landlords, said Tuesday she didn’t want to discuss the situation. A Bay Area News Group story on Kobrinsky earlier this week quoted Tann as saying the rent hike was “standard operating procedure” and that she was not “aware of any issue regarding the rent increase.”

Kobrinsky’s response might also be regarded as standard operating procedure, for her. Reflecting on her experience and what’s happening across the Bay Area, she wrote about it. In the audio clip below, she reads her poem “Aftershock”:

In another time and place,
we are better people.
No one lies. The Earth
never shakes.
Somewhere else,
we are stronger still —
When we say we are sorry,
we honestly mean it.

Poetry Priced Out: Rent Hike Forces Emeryville Laureate to Move 23 April,2015Dan Brekke

  • Bert Macklin

    The Bay Area is very expensive, you don’t have to live here

  • teejay

    The Bay Area doesn’t need culture. It can be perfectly happy without it. Like Roseville.

  • i_witness

    Unfortunately, one reason for the displacement of low- and medium- income perons is the loss of redevelopment funding to cities. This source of funds once allowed cities to construct affordable housing. In turn, this increased supply put less pressure on high rents.

    Richmond’s gain – Emeryville’s loss.

  • -Rev Michael

    “guest” is shilling for some “work-from-home-and-make-millions-in-just-a-few-hours-a-day” phishing scam. “iwitness” is a victim of short term thinking. Redevelopment never made anything less expensive. Have you ever seen “affordable housing” that actually was? We don’t need more housing = that’s like adding more lanes to the freeway to reduce traffic; I believe we need less greed. Ben lives in another world, obviously not here, where the solution is live somewhere else – like Roseville!

  • Kathy Long

    38% hike? “Standard operating procedure”? It’s greed. But can’t blame them either. Landlords are in it to make money. I’m hoping big businesses will move out of the area and reduce the pressure for housing. You’d think recruits would be happy with that. After all, they’d be able to afford a 2000 sq. ft home instead of a 300 sq ft studio closet in the Tenderloin. (Yes, I know this is Emeryville, but the same thing is happening in San Francisco which is quickly becoming rich men’s town as the poor get displaced there for the same reason. So sorry for your loss, Sarah.

  • Lea Cox

    Whatever happened to Rent Control? What is it going to take to fire up communities to do something about Affordable Housing? I live in Santa Cruz, and commute to Los Gatos. There is no affordable housing in Silicon Valley. Now, the overflow from Silicon Valley is raising rents in Santa Cruz and surrounding communities. This is a crisis. Communities need to get together and make some radical changes. Laissez Faire in housing just doesn’t work, just as it doesn’t work in medicine. Wake Up, World!!


Dan Brekke

Dan Brekke is a blogger, reporter and editor for KQED News, responsible for online breaking news coverage of topics ranging from California water issues to the Bay Area’s transportation challenges. In a newsroom career that began in Chicago in 1972, Dan has worked as a city and foreign/national editor for The San Francisco Examiner, editor at Wired News, deputy editor at Wired magazine, managing editor at TechTV as well as for several Web startups.

Since joining KQED in 2007, Dan has reported, edited and produced both radio and online features and breaking news pieces. He has shared in two Society of Professional Journalists Norcal Excellence in Journalism awards — for his 2012 reporting on a KQED Science series on water and power in California, and in 2014, for KQED’s comprehensive reporting on the south Napa earthquake.

In addition to his 44 years of on-the-job education, Dan is a lifelong student of history and is still pursuing an undergraduate degree.

Email Dan at: dbrekke@kqed.org

Twitter: twitter.com/danbrekke
Facebook: www.facebook.com/danbrekke
LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/danbrekke

Sponsored by

Become a KQED sponsor