In 1993, when Catherine Lee purchased one of the two Mission apartments she owned until recently, the monthly mortgage was $570 on the $90,000 2-bedroom condo. “It was a different era,” Lee tells San Francisco Magazine. “We were the only bid.”

As we're all too aware, during Lee's more than 20-year stay in the Mission District, the real estate market for prime locations like Alabama and 23rd Streets — especially for units with hardwood floors, high ceilings, a marble fireplace, garage parking, and a backyard, all of which Lee's has — has been explosive. By the magazine's wager, a sale could have netted Lee tenfold what she paid originally.

But that's not what this seller from "working class Palo Alto" — she insists this used to exist — had in mind. Of her changing neighborhood, the filmmaking teacher for developmentally disabled adults says she had been feeling "terrible that people feel besieged," by those who would presumably buy her apartment as a pied-à-terre, or worse, a playground. "We have to figure out a way to pass these houses back and forth, to find new paths for people to do this together," Lee added, and decided to try to do so herself.

Lee posted her condo to Craigslist for $650,000 — the price was non-negotiable. “Normal people can’t get in a bidding war,” she says, “I had a certain number I needed to extract," and that's the number for which she found it appropriate to ask. But at that price, which the magazine puts in the 2005-era range, Lee wanted something more. The buyers had to prove themselves with a binding 10-year commitment to provide something of cultural value to the community and, by extension, Lee herself.

The lucky — or plucky — winners? A couple of native San Franciscans, writer Salena Watrous and husband Matt Shumaker, a composer.

“It’s crazy to say this,” Watrous confesses, “but at $650,000, there had to be issues.” But that wasn't the case. “The place was great," Watrous says. “That fear that we would be pushed out of the city was getting to us... Now we can’t wait to get home—and stay home.”

Their winning bid, the magazine writes, was "a Mission cornucopia: a yearly free writing conference at Modern Times bookstore; a “bestseller visionary” membership to Litquake; tickets to cultural events of Lee’s choosing to the tune of $660 a year; a course at Stanford Continuing Studies, where Watrous teaches; and a donation to La Cocina."

In the end, their "cultural promissory note" is just informal, and Lee doesn't expect too many others to change hands in similar transactions. Still, it's made an example, not to mention a few people very happy.

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