In its unflinching commitment to being a sanctuary city, San Francisco has taken an important political and moral stand. Our collective character as a community is ultimately measured by how we treat the most vulnerable among us.
Yet taking sanctuary in a wider sense, as I believe we should and must, we have to ask ourselves: What protection are we affording one another when we allow inequality to grow so extreme that many of our poor and working people struggle, and frequently fail, simply to keep a roof over their heads?
Affordable housing is an equally urgent political and moral issue before us, and San Franciscans understand this. A strong majority of voters turned out last year in support of more affordable housing across the income spectrum — passing Prop C in June and rejecting Props P and U in November.
So, it is distressing that San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors may vote to downgrade The City’s Inclusionary Housing Program (which sets aside a fixed percentage of affordable units in all new housing development) by sacrificing low-income units and turning them into middle-income units.
More than half of the 15 percent of new housing dedicated to low-income working households could be taken away. Families earning less than $59,000 would be half as likely to be able to find a place to stay. It’s hard to offer sanctuary with policies that remove safe and decent living spaces for those most vulnerable.
Surely San Francisco must guarantee more affordable units for all San Franciscans, and not merely those making just below or above the Area Median Income (AMI)?
We believe in housing for everyone, including the middle class. But we can’t take it from the poor. The lower a family’s income, the more housing becomes crucial for job access, education and stability.
To turn our backs on those individuals, couples and families making due with half as much would be wrong, and would constitute a step backward in this city’s attempt to pull itself out of a very serious housing crisis.
It risks displacing more members of our community, sending them far away. We at GLIDE have seen the impact of such out-migration, particularly among the African-American members of our congregation, and we feel that loss of history, culture and diversity acutely.
And we must also admit that such displacement in many cases also means pushing residents with minimal resources onto the street, adding to the human and moral catastrophe of homelessness across San Francisco.
As a pastor at GLIDE Memorial, I serve a congregation that looks like all San Francisco, all the Bay Area, in fact all the world, because we are blessed to be a home and beacon for everyone.
We welcome people from all walks of life and every persuasion, even folks who don’t identify with a particular religion.
We like it that way. In that diversity and inclusion there is greater strength, inspiration and wellbeing for us all as a community, a community that takes care its members and thrives together.
Because we want a society where everyone has a safe home in which to grow up, thrive and grow old; because this is the foundation of any community that can move beyond competition and isolation and want; because this makes for a city that works better for all of us: Our rallying cry to the Board of Supervisors must be, “Housing For All.”
Rev. Angela Brown, JD, is a former Assistant District Attorney for San Francisco and is Associate Pastor at GLIDE Memorial Church.