by Amanda Smiles for Poor Magazine
Across the room, the words “Shipyard News” call out to me from the suspiciously crisp newspaper. At the top of the page, in rich colors, are sketches of a community that looks as if it belongs in a fairy tale – or in any cookie cutter redeveloped town in America. Below is a headline, “Abandoned and neglected shipyard set for renewal.”
On the front page, words like “hope,” “parks” and “jobs” buzz in glossy black text and on the bottom of the page is “Hunters Point Shipyard Today.” Here the pictures are slyly cropped to show dilapidated buildings, rows of broken windows and construction trash lying in the streets. Somehow I feel as if I’m not getting the complete picture.
Then, in quiet letters at the very bottom of the paper are the words “Lennar Homes of California, Inc.,” and I realize this “newspaper” isn’t a paper at all. Instead, it is a cleverly disguised advertisement for Lennar Corp.’s newest housing project and most recently targeted gentrification and displacement zone, Bayview Hunters Point.
Lennar, one of the nation’s largest homebuilders, specializing in redeveloping ex-military bases, has a history of building shoddy homes on toxic land throughout the country. Due to the toxicity of the land, Lennar is able to acquire land in poor areas, such as the Bayview, for next to nothing. Lennar then develops the area, building market value homes that current residents cannot afford, driving them out of their neighborhood.
In the Bayview, Lennar has already acquired 500 acres of land that makes up the Hunters Point Shipyard and is expecting to receive hundreds more if their June ballot initiative, Proposition G, is passed. This initiative not only would give Lennar access to hundreds of acres more land but would also provide millions more in taxpayer dollars for the project. The initiative makes no guarantees about providing jobs or affordable housing to Bayview residents, but instead works to promote Lennar’s own self-interests.
The word community is smeared all over Shipyard News, citing the broad support Bayview residents have given the project. From all indications, however, most Bayview residents aren’t exactly supporting the project; in fact, Bayview residents are fighting back.
Residents of Bayview Hunters Point have created their own initiative – Proposition F – to accompany Lennar’s on the June ballot. This initiative demands that 50 percent of any new housing is affordable to existing residents of the Bayview, that homes can be rented or sold to families with incomes at 30, 60 or 80 percent of the area median income. If passed, this initiative would play a vital role in protecting Bayview residents, most of whom live on much less than San Francisco’s median income line, from displacement.
The slow deliberate process of gentrification, which begins years before ground is broken, has already begun in the Bayview. This process, which has targeted many Black communities for extinction, such as San Francisco’s Fillmore, West Oakland and New Orleans, occurs in areas where market values are high and land is scarce.
“We call it ethnic cleansing, to push people out and not give them anything and no say,” says Willie Ratcliff, publisher of the San Francisco Bay View newspaper. “The whole city is pushing people out so rich developers can come in and have wealthy people move in. They squeeze the poor and push them out. It’s happening all over the country.”
One of the elements that cause gentrification is unemployment and the resulting poverty, specifically by taking and keeping jobs out of the community while rents increase. In Bayview Hunters Point, 10,000 jobs were lost when the Shipyard closed, the unemployment rate is at least 30 percent and the city offers few services, forcing residents to leave the city in order to survive.
For decades, “the jobs have never been up here,” says Ratcliff. “There’s a conspiracy to keep jobs out of here so they can get the land. They keep jobs away from Black people and if you don’t have a job, you can’t live in San Francisco.”
Take the hotly debated T-line for example. Initially the project to connect this southeast corner of San Francisco with downtown via light rail promised jobs to Bayview residents and was touted as a way to bring both employment and better transit to the area. Once ground was broken, however, no neighborhood faces were seen working on the line. Instead, in an area that is primarily Black, the majority of the construction workers were white.
Jobs weren’t the only sacrifice Bayview residents made for the line. In exchange for the T-line, Bayview residents gave up the 15 bus line, which ran every 15 minutes. The T-line runs chaotically and some residents have experienced waits up to three hours, leaving them stranded without a dependable way to get to work or school.
“I think cutting off the service to that area is a way to strangle the existing community,” says Laure McElroy, a former Bayview resident. “Once they get the people out of there they want, then service will get better.”
Violence also plays a crucial role in the displacement of communities where developers and city governments have residents trapped on all fronts. Violence feeds violence and whole communities are killing each other off in desperate and ill fated attempts to negotiate the poverty in their area.
Much like the Tenderloin, Bayview Hunters Point is treated like a containment zone, where violence is tolerated in order to prevent it from spreading to other, wealthier parts of the city. The city’s refusal to unlock the doors of opportunity that would alleviate it leaves a poor community to wage civil war on itself, destroying itself from within.
To survive the violence in Bayview Hunters Point, many families see only one option to stay alive: moving out of the area. Mass media plays a role by advertising sensationalized stories about the violence, ensuring that, while families move out seeking sanctuary elsewhere, no one else moves in until the district is thoroughly “cleaned up.”
For those families who are victims of violence, Victim Services is an attractive avenue for help. However, in California, anyone applying for Victim Services is required to move out of their county. This is under the guise of being for their own protection, but most people applying for these services are from poor areas like the Bayview. For them, support services come at a cost: their homes and community. It is no coincidence that the way the government deals with violence that occurs in a marginalized community is by getting rid of the community itself.
Then there the actual evictions, which at best are contrived and manipulated and at worst downright illegal. One former Bayview resident was evicted from her apartment days after a rental assistance agency attempted to pay her back rent, offering a guarantee to assist her monthly with her rent payments. The landlord refused, and a day later sent the sheriff to the resident’s house, giving her 20 minutes to pack her belongings before being shuttled with her family to a nearby shelter.
“I’m reliving it every single day,” she says, “When is it going to come to the time of living like a normal family again – as a mom, going back to work, to school?”
For the residents in public housing, such as Hunter’s View, a 267-unit development with picture postcard views of the bridges and the Bay, the evictions are far more backhanded. These residents, who are facing the destruction and reconstruction of their current units, are asked to sign agreements and pay down payments to rent their future homes.
The residents who refuse will be evicted and will not be accepted to live in the new units. Those who do sign are agreeing to additional fees and new criteria and, if unable to meet these conditions, they face eviction and will not be allowed to live in the new community either. Very few existing residents will be able to meet the criteria on these contracts.
There are promises in Shipyard News, promises of a new and shinier era in Bayview’s history, when more green space will be available, the 49ers will have a new stadium to call home, and jobs and housing will be in abundance. Who knows if Lennar intends or will be able to keep these promises.
Who knows whether Lennar will even remain in Bayview Hunters Point much longer. Its CEO calls the community’s Prop F a “poison pill” that will deny it the 25 percent profit it expects from developing land it got for free, thus killing its incentive to build anything at all.
But if Prop F fails and Lennar remains in charge, it does have one promise it can keep: that when ground breaks on its grand plan, no existing Bayview residents will be “dislocated” … because, at the rate displacement is going in Bayview Hunters Point, there will be no residents left.
Amanda Smiles is a race, poverty and media justice fellow at Poor Magazine. To read more of Poor’s revolutionary journalism on issues of poverty, racism and displacement, go on-line to www.poormagazine.org.