Residents of Midtown Park Apartments are seeking cooperative ownership of their building. (Amanda Peterson/Special to S.F. Examiner)

The racial contours of our housing crisis

Black residents of Midtown apartments deserve ownership

The City has never apologized for redevelopment. Politicians have continued to break promises to the affected residents to this day.

In a limited attempt to remedy the effects of redevelopment, The City designated the Midtown Park Apartments in the Western Addition as relocation housing for victims of redevelopment. The City granted Midtown residents a rent-to-own lease. After they paid off their collective mortgage, the tenants would gain cooperative ownership over the building.

But after residents paid off their mortgage in 2007, The City rescinded its promise. In 2013, the Mayor’s Office of Housing brought in the nonprofit Mercy Housing to manage the property, which made changes to rents. Tenants fought the changes, alleging rent increases violated The City’s rent control ordinance, but the Rent Board ruled that ordinance did not extend to Midtown because the property is owned by the city.

The City began to pursue plans to demolish the entire building, displacing victims of redevelopment yet again.

“Midtown is part of the last three percent of black population in San Francisco. We fight for economic empowerment of our working class community, and wholesale demolition of our apartment complex will result in the largest flight of Western Addition residents since redevelopment,” Midtown-resident Pat Smith told Roar Magazine.

It’s thanks to the Midtown Tenants Association’s militant advocacy over the past 50 years that the rent increases were rescinded and demolition plans abandoned. Mercy Housing is no longer involved with Midtown and Supervisor Dean Preston announced last month that he is drafting legislation to extend rent control to the entire building. Still, Midtown residents do not have ownership of their building.

Restrictions on black homeownership contributed massively to the wealth gap between black and white Americans. The wealth gap is a measure not just of income inequality, but of inequality in the total net worth of families, including stocks, debt and property wealth. In 2014, the average white family in America was worth over $134,000 while the average black family had just $9,000 in total wealth.

Black San Franciscans continue to be locked out of the Bay Area’s economic prosperity. Just one percent of engineers at tech companies in the Bay Area are black, according to local historian John William Templeton.

The tech industry’s failure to hire black employees in non-service, high-wage positions is not because of a lack of qualified candidates. Top universities graduate twice as many black and Latinx computer science graduates than are hired at leading technology companies, according to USA Today.

San Francisco continues to bleed black residents today, primarily low income tenants who cannot keep up with the high cost of living.

Of course, the black community is not a monolith. Despite these struggles they’ve faced, many African Americans hold public office in San Francisco, including Mayor London Breed.

But some black residents argue Mayor Breed hasn’t done enough to help them.

Despite repeated invitations, the Midtown Tenants Association says that Breed never attended any of their community meetings while she was their city supervisor.

“While Midtown tenants appreciate the need for strong black leadership in San Francisco, Breed has yet to live up to this ideal with regards to support and advocacy for Midtown,” Smith wrote in an op-ed for the San Francisco Bayview.

As a white writer covering this topic, I will have failed miserably if readers’ takeaway from this column is that black resistance in San Francisco is a thing of the past.

Pat Smith and the Midtown Tenants Association have not given up their fight for cooperative ownership of their building.

In Bayview-Hunters Point, which is 31 percent black and contains a quarter of the city’s homeless population, Gwendolyn Westbrook is agitating for a city funded homeless shelter. She houses dozens of homeless community members at her own shelter Mother Browns each night.

The Hunters Point community has been organizing for years for the city to investigate environmental pollutants in their neighborhood at the Shipyard.

Gentrification in San Francisco is not inevitable. We need to promote policies that not only halt, but reverse it. At the very least, The City needs to apologize for the horrors of redevelopment, provide reparations to those affected, and offer a well-funded right of return for those who have lost their homes.

Rather than taking my perspective at face value, seek out diverse black voices on these issues, not just the perspectives of those in power.

There are many outlets in San Francisco that publish more black voices than mainstream media. Bayview Hunters Point’s neighborhood newspaper the San Francisco Bayview has been recognized as a national black newspaper. The Street Sheet is written and edited by homeless San Franciscans, many of whom are black.

Read media written by black people. Promote their coverage.

Recognize in the same way discriminatory policies have targeted the black community specifically, solving this crisis will require radical solutions aimed at rectifying this injustice.

There’s no justice for some without justice for all.

Sasha Perigo is a data scientist and fair housing advocate writing about the San Francisco housing crisis. You can follow her on Twitter at @sashaperigo. She is a guest columnist and her point of view is not necessarily that of The Examiner.

Editor’s Note: This story was updated to include corrected information about Mercy Housing’s relationship to Midtown apartments and tenant allegations regarding rent increases.

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