Opinion: A generational opportunity to address historic inequities facing Black residents in S.F.

More of the $45.7 billion California budget surplus must be used to close the racial wealth gap

By Brett Andrews, Tomiquia Moss and Al Gilbert

Special to The Examiner

For the first time in a generation, we have an opportunity to bring forward true prosperity for Black San Franciscans. Plagued by a longtime crisis of social determinants and behavioral health, Black San Franciscans remain on the receiving end of criminalization, social stratification, misdiagnoses and punitive legal measures. Available social services have also woefully missed the mark on providing culturally informed and appropriate mental health or substance use treatment, often causing irreparable harm.

These are daunting challenges, which we founded the Black Leadership Council to address, and Governor Gavin Newsom’s proposed state budget represents an historic moment to confront these longstanding injustices. California boasts a staggering $45.7 billion budget surplus and while the governor is funding several programs that will support underserved communities, there are significant gaps in his financial blueprint that deserve additional resources.

The COVID-19 pandemic has not only robbed the lives of countless African Americans, but it has also exacerbated the wealth gap in San Francisco for Black residents, a daunting disparity that is reflected in homeownership rates: African American homeownership in San Francisco stands at just 34.9%, the lowest among all metro areas, while white homeownership rates are 58.6%, a gap that is among the largest in the nation, according to U.S. Census Bureau statistics.

CalHome remains one of the only state funding sources available for new construction of owner-occupied units, home preservation and access to homeownership for low- and very low-income households. A minimum increase in CalHome funding of $200 million should be directed for construction of these homes throughout the state, resulting in more opportunities for lower income Black homebuyers in cities like San Francisco for generations to come.

Similarly, the Governor’s $300 million allocation for public health includes no language that addresses racial health equity and injustice. That’s why we are working with the State Legislature to request an additional $100 million in funding for the Health, Equity and Racial Justice Fund, which will provide resources to community-based organizations, clinics and other organizations to identify pressing health and racial justice issues in metropolitan areas such as San Francisco.

The Governor’s budget has identified historic allocations for housing and homelessness initiatives, but it does not address the chronic under-investment in Black communities throughout California, particularly in the Bay Area. In fact, California’s Black homeownership rate is now lower than it was in the 1960s, when it was completely legal to discriminate against Black homebuyers.

To confront these ongoing inequities, the state should invest $500 million in a one-time pilot to support Black-led housing solutions and underserved neighborhoods throughout the region, which includes numerous communities in San Francisco. The funding should support capacity building, down payment assistance for Black homeowners and predevelopment, acquisition and rehabilitation support for African American development corporations.

We also believe that $2 billion should be directed to the Homeless Housing Assistance Program and $500 million for Homekey Supportive Services. Black or African American people in San Francisco represent just 5% of The City’s population but comprise 37% of the total homelessness population, according to a report from the San Francisco Department of Public Health. Historic investments must be made to bridge that unsettling disparity in The City.

The Black Leadership Council played an essential role in the passage of AB3121, which created the Reparations Task Force, and our organization has backed successful legislation that expanded broadband infrastructure, required implicit bias training for frontline health workers and eliminated discriminatory housing covenants. But there is still so much work left to do.

We understand that we are seeking major reforms, but these upheavals are necessary to improve the broken systems that have failed Black families across generations. We have an unprecedented moment to change that dispiriting narrative. We must not squander this opportunity.

Brett Andrews, Tomiquia Moss and Al Gilbert are co-chairs of the Black Leadership Council, a collection of leaders seeking to improve conditions for Black Californians and other vulnerable populations across our state.

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