‘Sophie, you sold us out again!’

Screen-Shot-2020-02-12-at-1.52.10-PM, ‘Sophie, you sold us out again!’, Archives 1976-2008 Local News & Views

Hunters Point Redevelopment Project Area: AIMCO gets $85 million, 604 families get threat of homelessness

by Willie Ratcliff

Espanola Jackson was furious. “Sophie, you sold us out again,” she shouted into the microphone last Wednesday when the Land Use Committee, chaired by District 10 Supervisor Sophie Maxwell, sent $85 million in tax exempt bonds back to the full Board of Supervisors for a final vote Tuesday, Aug. 15. The bonds are a sweetheart loan to AIMCO, now the owner of the homes of 604 families in four Hunters Point apartment complexes – Shoreview, Bayview, LaSalle and All Hallows.

Yesterday, the 11-member Board approved them unanimously, inciting fury among the small army of tenants who had come to oppose them but were not even allowed to speak. “Supervisors, what were you thinking?” demanded Marie Harrison later. “Let the mayor do his own dirty work!”

Now let me break this down. Where is this happening? In the existing 137-acre Hunters Point Redevelopment Project Area that the Redevelopment Agency will expand by adding to it another 1,361 acres, nearly all of Bayview Hunters Point, unless our referendum petition drive – the most popular petition drive in San Francisco – succeeds.

Who are the players? On one side is AIMCO, which describes itself on its website as “the nation’s largest owner/ operator of apartment homes” and which took control of the four complexes in a secret, under-the-table deal in 1997. On the other side are 604 low-income families, many of whom have rented their homes since they were built 30 years ago and have long planned for the day when they could turn their complexes into co-ops and become the owners of their homes.

What’s the beef? A massive transfer of wealth from the poor to the rich – from those 604 low-income tenant families to their mega-bucks landlord, AIMCO. That $85 million comes from the property taxes collected out of the rents the tenants paid over the 30 years since the four complexes were built in 1976. In a Redevelopment project area, the tax increment, representing the increase in property value since the neighborhood became a project area, can be loaned as “tax increment financing” to a developer that promises to “improve” the property.

Both Marie Harrison and Espanola Jackson were once Hunters Point tenants, both are now proud homeowners, and both have fought long and hard to enable other Hunters Point tenants to become homeowners. Both are now candidates for Sophie Maxwell’s District 10 seat on the Board of Supervisors, running in an anybody-but-“sellout Sophie” race. San Francisco’s ranked choice voting lets voters vote for both of them, ranking them their first and second choices.

As candidates, they were notified the other day that Sophie had opted out of campaign spending limits, having already stuffed her re-election campaign war chest with a reported $83,000. The timing is curiously coincidental with AIMCO’s $85 million windfall, a maneuver captained by Sophie.

How do we know? The paperwork behind that dirty deed is posted to the Board of Supervisors’ website; just click on the agenda item. In the packet for AIMCO’s $85 million “gift” of the tenants’ hard-earned taxes is a letter to Sophie from the Mayor’s Office, which begins: “Thank you for agreeing to introduce the Board of Supervisors resolution approving, for the purposes of the Internal Revenue Code, the issuance of bonds (for) AIMCO.”

With apparent pride, the Mayor’s Office declares, “AIMCO is the nation’s largest owner and operator of apartment communities … (comprising) approximately one million residents.” And it describes the tenants’ $85 million “gift” to AIMCO as extremely desirable “fixed-rate tax-exempt revenue bonds … with a term of 30 years.”

Why couldn’t those bonds fund resident ownership? Tenants of HUD-financed low-income housing have the “right of first refusal” written into federal, state and local law, a right triggered by a sale – in this case, as AIMCO representatives testified, the sale of the complexes to itself. But these 604 Hunters Point families were cheated out of that right – given inadequate notice and no help from City Hall or anyone else to compete with AIMCO for financing.

Ironically, City Hall and AIMCO just settled a historic war, a lawsuit filed by the City over the toxic mold that sickens these same 604 Hunters Point families because slumlord AIMCO refuses to maintain their homes. That suit cost the City over $1 million, according to BeyondChron.com, “likely more than any building department in the nation has committed for a code enforcement lawsuit on behalf of low-income tenants.” AIMCO is estimated to have spent $5 million defending itself from the City’s lawsuit.

The settlement makes AIMCO pay the City about $3.5 million and spend about $30 million for repairs – money now supplied by the City, well, actually, by the tenants out of the rents they’ve paid for 30 years. At the press conference announcing the settlement nearly two years ago, according to BeyondChron, “Mayor Newsom spoke of a tour of the AIMCO projects that he claimed to have taken early in his tenure as supervisor. Newsom stated that ‘there were bathroom conditions I could never imagine. At the time, we kind of felt hopeless.’

“But Gavin Newsom never lifted a finger to help those AIMCO tenants after his tour,” observed BeyondChron. Nor has he lifted a finger any time since then. Instead, he’s pushing, with the huge new Redevelopment project area, to “repeople” all of Bayview Hunters Point. Allowing 604 Hunters Point families to become homeowners is not in his ethnic cleansing game plan.

In fact, built into this $85 million wealth transfer from the poor to the rich is the likelihood that the 604 families will soon be forced out of their homes altogether. In the “150-day” notices delivered to the tenants on June 6, AIMCO wrote: “Payment of the mortgage could result in an increase in rent.” One tenant who is already struggling to pay $900 a month was warned her rent would soon rise to $1,500.

Remember the Redevelopment Agency’s promises this spring when it sugar-coated the poison pill of its Bayview Hunters Point Redevelopment Plan by telling us the tax increment financing would benefit us? Well, we don’t need to remember back decades ago for an example of Redevelopment’s cheating, “repeopling” ways.

With sellout Sophie fronting for the mayor, Redevelopment grabbed our land – our people’s right to own the homes they’ve lived in and paid for for decades – just yesterday! That puts the lie to Sophie’s statement quoted in a San Francisco Sentinel story published Monday.

The story, headlined “Maxwell decries Bayview Redevelopment Plan opponents as untruthful and unfair,” says, referring to our referendum, “The ballot measure unfairly plays on the fear of displacement which changed the face of the Western Addition in the 1960s, alleged Maxwell.

“’This is not the Redevelopment Agency of 30 years ago,’” Sophie, who looks sad and defeated in the Sentinel’s photo, is quoted as saying.

No, today’s Redevelopment Agency is even worse, grabbing far more Black-owned land than it did when it bulldozed the Fillmore – known worldwide as the Harlem of the West – and renamed it the Western Addition. Bayview Hunters Point has the highest rate of homeownership in San Francisco – thanks to Blacks who bought homes from their hard work in the toxic, radioactive Hunters Point Shipyard.

Mayor Gavin Newsom, with the help of Sophie Maxwell and AIMCO, has just insured that 604 Hunters Point families can’t join the proud ranks of Black homeowners but instead may be about to join the 25 percent of the Black population currently being pushed out of San Francisco. Or maybe onto the streets and into homelessness.

What are we going to do about it? 1) Sue the bastards; we’re looking for lawyers now. 2) Pass the referendum to stop the Redevelopment land grab; call the Bay View at (415) 671-0789 to sign or circulate a petition today – time is running out. 3) Unite as a community to develop our own property, hire and train our own young people, stop the killings and despair and make Bayview Hunters Point once more a beautiful land of peace and prosperity.

Are you with me?

Email Bay View Publisher Willie Ratcliff at publisher@sfbayviewnews.wpenginepowered.com.