When my family first came to the U.S. we lived in a one room apartment. Not a one-bedroom apartment — it was one room.
But my parents never complained about the conditions in our home, which included mold and rodents, because we lived in fear of eviction — neighbors who complained were evicted.
For anyone who has never felt the fear of losing your home to eviction — I have some trouble describing it now, even so many years later.
It is a fear that lives in your stomach. A fear that gnaws. It feels a little like hunger — except no meal makes it go away.
I am remembering that terrible fear as I watch San Franciscans debate a high-rise development proposal that both neighbors and experts say will lead to gentrification of one of the small remaining corners South of Market that is still home to low-income families. This community includes one of the few remaining Filipino-American communities in San Francisco, and Filipino leaders have spoken out again and again against the project because they know it will lead to displacement.
The proposal is described by proponents as housing in a former parking lot. But that parking lot is in a neighborhood — a community teetering on the edge of displacement. Of the proposed development, only 14.7% of the on-site units are affordable — meaning 85% will be luxury housing in a luxury high-rise. Yes, there is a promise of additional fees to fund additional off-site units, but that is not a guarantee of homes. Of the few affordable homes actually included in the project, just 40% are reserved for people from San Francisco — meaning less than 6% of the units could possibly help house the working people of our city.
That’s not good enough. And that’s just a fraction of the percentage of affordable housing negotiated by the former Supervisor from District 6, Jane Kim, who routinely secured between 40 and 50 percent affordable housing in new projects in that same neighborhood.
The pro-developer proponents say the eight members of the Board of Supervisors who voted against certifying the Environmental Impact Report are anti-housing.
That is wrong.
Being anti-displacement is not anti-housing. Being anti-gentrification is not anti-housing. Listening respectfully to a community in fear of losing their homes is not anti-housing.
San Francisco needs new homes of all types. Certainly many of these homes can be market-rate, in part because market-rate housing helps fund affordable housing.
But just 6% for San Franciscans? Ignoring the pleas of fearful neighbors just trying to hang on in the city they love? A city these low-income neighbors help make work as they wash our dishes, clean our offices, and care for our children and parents?
As Board of Supervisors President Shamann Walton said, “it’s very clear to me that this will have a very significant displacement and social economic impact on the Sixth Street corridor, on the Filipino community, and the broader low-income community here.” District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman has added that leading researchers at UCLA & the London School of Economics support President Walton’s contention, and that while San Francisco has produced 148% of its regional market rate housing target, it has produced only 35% of its below market rate target. Like many others, Supervisor Mandelman also faults the Planning Department’s Environmental Impact Review for failure to address neighborhood impacts and seismic safety.
Being pro-developer is not the same thing as being pro-affordable housing. After I served as a San Francisco Supervisor, where I worked to protect renters and prevent displacement, I went on to a position where one of my key responsibilities was implementing one of the largest affordable housing bonds in the Bay Area’s history. We worked hard to build new housing that was affordable to the people who needed it most. Housing that kept people in their communities and didn’t drive them away from the neighborhoods they called home. I know we can have new housing — without displacement — because I helped make it happen.
We can create new housing that is affordable to all San Franciscans — without driving low-income people from their homes. We just need the courage to fight harder for it, and the grit and tenacity to get the work done. People like my parents — low-income, immigrants, renters living with a constant fear of eviction — might not fill up campaign accounts with massive donations. They don’t spend all day on Twitter. But they do deserve a champion. And I have been, and will never stop being, their champion.
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