Journalism of Note: The Economic Cleansing of San Francisco
In its 33rd Anniversary Issue, the San Francisco Bay Guardian (10/7/98) highlights the city’s growing gentrification. Fueled by the influx of young professionals, a proliferation of cafes and sushi bars signals the change of once working class neighborhoods like the Mission District and Bernal Heights. In the past three years, more than 8,000 residents have lost their homes to evictions and rents have skyrocketed. The National Association of Home Builders ranks San Francisco as the least affordable metropolitan area in the country. Today, less than 40 percent of the city’s households could afford the rent for a vacant one-bedroom apartment, based on income projections from the 1990 census. Roughly 10,000 San Franciscans are homeless (at a time when the city has adopted a tough new policy toward the homeless). It all amounts to “a socioeconomic transformation that threatens to destroy the heart and soul of one of the world’s great cities,” Bay Guardian Executive Editor Tim Redmond contends.
Michael Rios, an urban designer working with Mission District residents and community groups on public improvement projects, told the Bay Guardian, “All the people I talked to acknowledge that there is an increasing displacement of low-income families, and they all regret it. But no one is really talking about how to curb that displacement while still ensuring that a place like the Mission can improve.”
What’s more, Senior Reporter Daniel Zoll writes that no public agency is tracking how much the city is changing, or how fast. To document the problem, Bay Guardian staff reporters spent four months investigating the city’s housing crisis. They conducted door-to-door surveys and interviews, analyzed available data, and held discussions with dozens of housing experts and activists.
Redmond points to a 345 percent increase in owner move in evictions between 1996 and 1998 as one of the culprits in rent increases. He reports on a study by City College students that suggests that many landlords are abusing the law by evicting tenants and putting their apartments back on the market at higher rates.
True to its activist roots, the Bay Guardian isn’t content to merely report the bad news. It offers a long list of actions city residents can take, both individually and collectively, to stave off gentrification, including passing a proposition restricting owner move in evictions, fighting the intrusion of chain stores and supporting locally owned businesses instead, and joining the San Francisco Tenants Union or other tenant group.
Information: The San Francisco Bay Guardian, 520 Hampshire, San Francisco, CA 94110; 415-255-3100.
HUD Conducts Inspections and Bias Study
HUD recently embarked on two national studies, one to inspect every privately or publicly owned development that receives federal subsidies or tax breaks to house low-income residents, and another to test race bias in housing.
HUD doesn’t know which of the 370,000 properties it subsidizes are safe and fit for human habitation, the St. Petersburg Times reports, but hopes to find the answer with a $24 million study cataloging which buildings have problems threatening the health or safety of residents.
“All we’re asking for is what we have already paid for,” HUD Secretary Cuomo told the New York Times. “And this is the problem the American taxpayers have with HUD. They have paid for a product, and we haven’t delivered.”
As the St. Petersburg Times notes, beefed-up inspections are a good first step, but they will ultimately mean little unless fraudulent or callous landlords and housing directors are forced to correct problems the checks turn up.
HUD is also beginning a $7.5 million yearlong study to document bias against African-Americans, Hispanics, Asians, and American Indians in housing. The study will include more than 3,000 individual tests of mortgage lenders, rental agents and real estate agents to see whether customers are treated differently because of their race or ethnic origin.
Testers will look for evidence that lenders and others have: steered minorities to certain neighborhoods and lending institutions, provided less favorable credit assistance, quoted higher deposits and fees to minority renters, and withheld information about the availability of homes or rental units.
While the study comes at a time when the nation’s homeownership rate is at an all-time high of 67 percent and more minorities than ever are buying homes, The Sacramento Bee reported, wide disparities still exist between the percentage of white and minority homeowners. Currently, 72.5 percent of white households own their homes compared with 45.3 percent of African-Americans and 43.9 percent of Hispanics. And only 26 percent of whites are denied conventional mortgage loans compared with 53 percent of African-Americans and 52 percent of American Indians, according to 1997 data from the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act. The rejection rate for Hispanics was 38 percent. Asian-Americans had the lowest denial rate, 13 percent.
Cuomo said the study would be the most comprehensive analysis of housing discrimination ever conducted. Congress recently increased HUD’s fair housing enforcement budget from $30 million to $40 million for fiscal year 1999.