Join the discussion on ‘The State of Black San Francisco’ – screening of ‘Straight Outta Hunters Point’ and panel discussions – at Bayview Opera House, 4705 Third St., SF, Sunday, Feb. 13, 2-5 p.m., child care provided
by Macio Lyons
Estimates put the remaining African American population for the city of San Francisco at around 3.9 percent! I hope that is just a low-ball estimate and those numbers will be revised upward, but still, my question is how did we get to this point?
Why are we leaving this city in such droves? Why isn’t City Hall doing more to stop the mass exodus of African Americans from this city? There was “The African American Out-Migration Report” commissioned in 2009 by Mayor Gavin Newsom’s office and the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency, but there has been little in the way of policies by either of the two to stem the tide. If this was taking place with any other ethnic group, a citywide state of emergency would have been declared.
When I heard those numbers, I immediately put up a post on Facebook declaring my frustration. From there a great conversation started. Many people began to weigh in on what the problems were and what some of the solutions could be.
Mr. Kip Fuller, a Western Addition resident who owns an insurance business that offers State Farm Insurance, touted the importance of Blacks patronizing Black-owned businesses. He pointed to the Chinese community and their successful model and how as a group they have grown and thrived in this city.
He also made the assertion that many Black professionals sold their homes in San Francisco and relocated to places like Antioch, where they thought they were getting more house for their money. This is also true, but I think it is a lot more complex than just that.
While many Black homeowners made the move to other cities willingly, they weren’t the majority of our population. Historically, a very large percentage of our numbers have been based in public housing. As it stands now, about 50 percent of those who remain live in public housing.
Seeing that the housing projects in San Francisco are going the way of the dinosaur, what does that mean for our people who live there? The powers that be have had a long standing practice of systematic gentrification – i.e., dismantling public housing and only allowing a small number to return once the new units are built.
One of the tactics was making the re-entry requirements too stringent for them to return. Another practice of the City and the Housing Authority was to dangle the Section 8 carrot in front of people. Who could resist the opportunity to move to the suburbs and live in a 2,000 square foot house for $150 a month? There’s only a limited amount of affordable housing in San Francisco, and 80 percent of landlords don’t want anything to do with Section 8. Thus we have flight to places like Antioch, Pittsburg, Vallejo, Fairfield, Stockton etc.
While many Black homeowners made the move to other cities willingly, they weren’t the majority of our population.
Another tactic that is now being employed is gang injunctions. This in many cases breaks up families, and if the tenants are found to be in violation of the injunction, they themselves will be evicted.
There have also been many complaints of frivolous eviction policies by the SFHA for some of the most trivial reasons. Right now there is a very important piece of legislation about to come to a vote before the Board of Supervisors that will address this disturbing practice. The proposed bill is known as “The Right to Remain” and was shaped in large part by Osiris Coalition members and sponsored by Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi. This law will add many protections for the current residents and ensure their return as long as they left in “good standing,” and we are still working to make sure that bar isn’t set prohibitively high for most current tenants.
According to some other disturbing numbers, we have close to 1,800 people returning from prison to Bayview Hunters Point every year. Where are they going to live? In many cases they can’t return to public housing because there are certain restrictions against people with felonies living in HUD-subsidized housing.
Some are also under these gang injunctions. Many of their relatives run the risk and have been evicted for allowing former prisoners to stay with them.
It is understandable that authorities want to stop the violence, but to ban someone from one area without addressing their issues only makes them someone else’s problem where they land. Look at the rising crime and murder rates for the suburban Bay Area cities that have received many of our former residents because of gentrification and recolonization.
Of these 1,800 or so parolees, 71 percent – 1,278 – will return to prison within a year of being released! This is due to the lack of economic opportunities. And that is one of the reasons the new Construction Local Hiring legislation is so important.
It will be imperative that we stay on top of City Hall and insist that the community remains a part of the equation in seeing that the new law is implemented fairly and correctly. Our community-based organizations need to step up to the plate in linking this population with services and job readiness training or they WILL re-offend!
BVHP gets around $110 million a year in funding for community-based organizations (CBOs), but, I ask, what is the impact? There is also a need to make sure that the community benefits agreement between the Alliance for District 10 and Lennar (AD-10 Lennar CBA) money earmarked for job training, affordable housing, and other community benefits is not squandered on misguided ventures like land trusts – look at the failure of Oakland’s land trust experiment! – or put in the hands of the usual suspects with no measurable accountability or outcomes.
With all of this talk about Gov. Brown dissolving the Redevelopment Agency in its current form, I think there is a great opportunity for the City of San Francisco to re-create the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency into an entity that is geared towards creating the benefits it was supposed to bring to the residents of the project areas it targets.
Isn’t that what a redevelopment agency is supposed to do: Revitalize and rebuild the project area to stimulate economic activity and create workforce and business opportunities for those in the project area? Is that what we saw in the Fillmore? Yes, but for who? Was it for the benefit of those who lived there, or was it a land grab while the Black population was scattered to the four winds?
Bayview Hunters Point is the largest redevelopment area in San Francisco, and if the SFRA was revamped and put under City jurisdiction and was accountable to us, then all of the redevelopment going on in this area would fall under the 50 percent Construction Local Hiring Law. One of the biggest misconceptions is that the 50 percent mandate covers everything that is going on over here, but the fact is it doesn’t!
The redevelopment projects are exempt from the 50 percent mandate. While the SFRA does have a 50 percent Local Hire goal, it is based on “good faith.” Well, we see how that “good faith” is working out for us, right? I think that a locally accountable and controlled redevelopment agency is definitely worth exploring.
The lack of public safety is another great concern. Who wants to spend $450,000 on a house then have to worry about someone doing an armed home invasion or catching a stray bullet? The police’s response to the crime problem has been cookie-cutter and does nothing in the way of preventive solutions. Their answer has been to “lock ‘em up.” They come in to pick up the bodies after it’s over.
There is a strong belief in some circles that the rampant violence and lawlessness that went on during the mid ‘80s up until recently was allowed to continue unchecked by the “powers that be” so that we would remove OURSELVES from this city. Many of our population fled San Francisco to escape the violence and heartache of the loss of loved ones to street violence.
The last item that I want to mention, which probably should have been mentioned first, since this is what it all begins with, is education, or should I say the lack of quality public education in this city. Bayview Hunters Point has some of the worst performing schools in the City. This is due in large part to lack of proper funding. So what has the SFUSD’s response been? Bus our young residents all over the City to so-called “better” schools. This policy creates a number of problems:
1. People from other parts of the city don’t want our kids coming into their neighborhoods and schools, so this creates an environment of mistrust and suspicion. The moment our kids do anything wrong, they are dealt with very heavy-handedly, and in many cases are criminalized.
2. If a child’s school is all the way on the other side of town, it creates a hardship for low-income parents to go up to the school and be hands-on in their child’s education. It is also very difficult for concerned parents to stay engaged and, if need be, hold their child’s teachers and school administrators accountable. The SFUSD’s school assignment system is one of the most confusing in the country to navigate.
3. While schools are to some extent tied to the property tax rolls, the money follows the children! So wherever that child goes to school, the money allocated for their education will go with them. This means that the money is following our children out of our neighborhood schools, where it is desperately needed. And it leads back to a very important question: Why can’t every neighborhood have their own quality neighborhood schools? Schools in close proximity to students’ homes will foster more parental involvement and reduce excessive absences and truancy. It may even reduce some of the gang violence and “set trippin’” over time, because these kids will be around each other. It’s a lot easier for them to hurt someone they don’t know, even if he only lives around the corner. Once upon a time they would’ve gone to the same school, but that’s not necessarily true anymore with the current school assignment procedures in place.
Osiris Coalition members were instrumental in helping to get the “Students First for Quality Neighborhood Schools” initiative introduced and on the ballot for this coming November. This bill, if passed, will give back to San Francisco parents more control in school choice for their children and put quality schools back in their own neighborhood. This is imperative for Bayview Hunters Point children, because they are suffering the most. Just look at our dismal truancy, special education and high school graduation rates.
There are so many variables to the problems we are facing in this city. We have to come together and find solutions to these problems because only WE can save ourselves! We need to focus on identifying all of the variables in order to counter them to preserve the remaining population, and create a situation that will make it attractive enough for many of those who left to return. Our mission is to push a political agenda that will benefit African Americans in this city.
On Sunday, Feb. 13, 2-5 p.m. at the Bayview Opera House, 4705 Third St., San Francisco, the Osiris Coalition will be hosting “The State of Black San Francisco 2011.” This is an annual event that we started hosting about three years ago that explores some of the pressing issues affecting our remaining population. We will feature noted moderators and keynote speakers and there will be two discussion panels – one titled “Economic Equity in the New San Francisco” and the other called “Organizing for the Future.” You can log onto Facebook or Google Docs for more information. We hope to see you all there so we can pick up the discussion.
Macio Lyons is director of the SouthEast Community Development Corp., (415) 524-5861, firstname.lastname@example.org, http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=134575429909950&ref=ts.