Friday, May 4, a special
session of the supervisors’ Rules Committee threatened to blow the
roof off City Hall. The occasion: a hearing called by Matt Gonzalez
to explore the possibility of replacing the present seven-person
Housing Authority Commission, which reports to the mayor, with an
eleven-person commission responsible to the Board of Supervisors. A
key, new provision would require the commissioners to possess
specific qualifications: six, for example, would be current or
former Housing Authority tenants.
A power move? Admittedly so. But also an attempt
to fix an institution that has existed on shaky ground for years. In
1996 newly elected mayor Willie Brown asked HUD to take control of
the “troubled” agency; the city resumed management a year later.
Since then, three successive audits have turned up a system of poor
contracting practices and inflated salaries. For the past six
months, Acting Executive Director Gregg Fortner has tried to bring
order to the result of years of chaos.
At the Rules Committee hearing, as the media
dutifully recorded, an audience of several hundred African Americans
listened — and generally applauded — as a procession of speakers
accused Gonzalez of racist attacks on their landlord. But in fact,
the situation is far more complex than a simple pitting of black
Because the white press rarely notices communities
of color unless violence commands its interest, their concerns tend
to be missing from the mainstream news sources. The following pieces
are intended to outline, very sketchily, some of the many factors
that led to Friday’s confrontation.
of black residents of San Francisco accelerates
News Service article that appeared in the Atlanta Voice of June
Stylish and energetic Willie Brown has drawn
attention across the nation as the first black mayor of this diverse
city. Behind the scenes, however, his administration pursues a
program that is contributing to the exodus of black residents —
part of a process that some observers call the “whitening” of
The story of the city’s Hayes Valley housing
projects offers a telling window into what’s going on. A year ago,
the projects were off-limits to outsiders, two square blocks of
contested turf in the retail drug wars.
Today, there are holes in the ground where the
projects were, and 300 black families have been blown out of town.
Real-estate prices on neighboring blocks have gone through the roof,
and privately owned townhouses are planned for the site.
Public housing is disappearing from San Francisco,
and the city’s social and economic structure is being transformed
as poor people of color move to towns 10 to 50 miles away in search
of jobs and affordable housing.
Since 1970, San Francisco has lost one-quarter of
its black community: 25,000 people. They have been pushed out by the
high costs of living in one of the world’s most beautiful cities
— low apartment vacancy rates and a dearth of space for new
construction have kept rents among the highest in the country.
The exodus also reflects a political decision to
cut San Francisco’s public housing stock.
This is not a purely local decision. Rather, the
city is implementing a national policy. In 1995, the federal
department of Housing and Ur ban Development (HUD) proclaimed, “The
single most pressing problem facing America’s cities today is the
concentration of poor people, particularly poor minorities. Now “deconcentration,”
a term first coined by a Rand Corporation consultant in the early
1980s, has become the catchphrase of both housing policymakers and
developers as inner-city housing projects are eradicated.
The story has a particular twist in San Francisco.
Brown won his narrow victory with the help of an unprecedented
turn-out of black voters. Yet his administration has undercut the
pressing housing needs of his most loyal constituency.
Some 60 percent of San Francisco’s black
population lives in subsidized housing — and that housing is on
increasingly scarce and valuable land. So the national agenda of
urban deconcentration fits hand-in-glove with the city’s growing
need to house burgeoning numbers of high-income professionals.
Hayes Valley tenants were lured into approving
redevelopment plans and leaving their homes with promises of jobs
and a chance to move back in when new units were built. But the jobs
— in demolition and construction — never materialized. And the
finished project site will have at most 117 public housing units to
replace the 294 units that were on the site. In short their “temporary
relocation” turned into permanent displacement.
Some former Hayes Valley tenants say the city’s
Housing Authority deliberately allowed their buildings to fall into
utter disrepair. In fact HUD, instead of forcing the Authority to
properly police and maintain public housing developments, waited
until living conditions had become unbearable, then injected $100
million to demolish and rebuild this and two other projects.
Meanwhile, the developer of the site pays only a $1 yearly rental
for use of the land and is forgiven $35,000 in property taxes each
year as well.
During the Bush administration, HUD Secretary Jack
Kemp promoted “resident empowerment” in public housing, and Home
Ownership for People Everywhere (HOPE) programs pumped millions into
“resident management councils.” The idea was for public housing
tenants instead of Housing Authorities to maintain and operate their
own communities through democratically elected boards.
The program collapsed, largely due to the
intransigence of 3,000 local housing agencies, who correctly viewed
real tenant power as a threat to their jobs. Some 400 resident
councils were funded, but only one was ever allowed to manage a
Under Clinton, HUD shed the rhetoric of
empowerment and fired up the bulldozers, transforming HOPE into a
juggernaut (demolishing 30,000 inner-city public housing units
across the country in just two years).
Tenants of Bernal Dwellings in San Francisco’s
Mission District learned from witnessing what happened to Hayes
Valley tenants. They formed an alliance with a consortium of
neighbors and local developers, and after dozens of community
meetings, the coalition presented a professional architectural and
financing plan to the Mayors Office and HUD. Tenants were to oversee
and benefit from the redevelopment process, from design input to
working on construction crews.
Mayor Brown killed the proposal. Two hundred
Bernal Dwellings families were summarily evicted in January .
Most left town in search of new lives, though some were relocated to
other housing projects, to await another HOPE-sponsored eviction.
Don’t let the Third Hand move us around like chess pieces
From the February 21, 2001 issue of the San
Francisco Bay View
On the streets throughout this city are many
memorials. Bayview Hunters Point has more than its share. No one
tries to hide them. No one tries to explain them. They are in many
cases the only thing left to note that a life has been taken and
that someone cared about that life.
There have been so many young lives lost to
something that no one wants to give a name, or a cause. Yet they are
someone’s children, someone’s father, someone’s little brother
or big brother. Someone loved them, yet no one is doing anything
that I can find to stop the taking of another life.
In the past few days I have talked with the
mothers and girlfriends of some of the young men whose lives were
taken, much too early and for no good reason that I have heard.
Friends and neighbors all seem to know something but are afraid to
One mother explained, “Every day before I go to
bed now, it is with the fear that someone will call or come to say,
‘Your son has been gunned down. He didn’t make it.’ Or that he
has gunned down someone else. If I don’t help get him out of town,
I’m afraid he will be next, or maybe his younger brother will get
in the way of someone else’s anger, or they may come to the house
not caring who’s in the house and we will all get killed.”
The neighbor who sat in on this conversation
turned to me and said, “You know there must be something that you
can do. You know everybody. The police in most cases are as bad as
these young people out there, so we can’t call on them. The
churches aren’t doing anything. Most of them won’t even talk to
these kids. And those groups that came to the church last year only
came out to see if there was going to be any money given out to
anyone. You know that’s right because I was there just like you,
and I could see it on your face when some of them started asking for
money for their group, for things like taking kids to Great America.
Those aren’t the kids who are doing all this killing.”
So what I can do right now is to put it out there,
show everyone what I see and what I think we can do. But it is going
to take all of us.
Let’s start with the numbers from the San
Francisco Police Department website. Go to www.ci.sf.ca.us/police
and click on Crime Statistics, then on Monthly Crime Statistics by
District. (You can see the police district boundaries by clicking on
Weekly Crime Summaries, then on any date. The Bayview District is
about the same area as District 10.)
While you’re there, check out the SFPD home
page. What caught my attention was the police badge with the Spanish
motto, “Oro en paz, fierro en guerra.” It means, “Gold in
peace, iron in war.” War? Are the police at war? With us?
The statistics show 41 homicides in the year 2000
for the entire city. The Bayview District had eleven, by far the
highest of any district. Southern District, South of Market, was
next highest with seven.
So when the talk is about drive-bys and other
shootings, Bayview always seems to come up and for good reason: It’s
happening here, it’s happening to our children on our side of
town, and we need some real ideas on how to stop the violence.
Before I list some specific ideas, I want you to
remember the Third Hand. That’s the force that wants our lives to
get so hard in Bayview Hunters Point that we’ll all just pack up
and leave this priceless land that we’ve called home for
generations and let the gentrifiers take over.
For most of us, running away can’t be the best
option. Instead, let’s find ways to take control — to support
our families and own our own homes.
Meanwhile, tell me what you think of these ideas:
1. Take a good look at these pictures of
memorials, then ask yourself what can I do.
2. If you are the mother and it’s your son out
there, go get him. Remind him that you are still the mother and if
he won’t abide by your rules then he can be sent away. Find a
family member who lives outside of California. Don’t ask him to
go. Send him. It may save his life.
3. Fathers, it doesn’t matter that you are not
in the same household. If he is your child, then you must step into
his life as his father. It’s never too late.
4. City service providers are not offering the
kinds of services that will help solve the problems that are facing
our children and their families. Social workers have failed to bring
families together or keep fathers involved in the wellbeing of their
children. Educators and job trainers have not prepared our young
people for well-paying jobs inside or outside the community they
There have been far too many deaths without the
grief counseling needed to help people adjust to these losses. The
faith community has failed to reach out and touch the minds and
hearts of the young men whose lives are at risk.
Many service providers are more protective of
their paychecks than of the lives they are charged with serving.
They need to throw away the handbook and bring on people with new
ideas who have experienced the lives that these young people are
living. In many cases, this may mean working alongside people whose
vision extends beyond traditional services, with the hope of
reaching the root of the problems that are plaguing our community.
5. Don’t overlook the obvious: It is now and has
always been about economics. Most of these young people come from
households headed by single mothers. If they work, it is at minimum
wage jobs that leave them very little quality time with their
children. Then there may be those parents who have taken a vacation
from family responsibilities and in some cases need as much help as
their kids do. We need to be there with the help needed.
6. Don’t sign up for training if there isn’t a
job at the end or a job while you’re being trained.
7. Brothers and sisters, if you are among those
who have escaped the despair and survived in this world despite the
many hardships of growing up poor, black and unwanted — if you are
a Michael Jordan or a Maya Angelou, a doctor, a lawyer, or maybe a
big-time actor — hear the call for help. Come home. Let each one
8. For the brothers in the ’hood, you are not
immortal, and unless you start to think more of yourselves than you
have been, then no matter what we do, you are not long for this
On one of the memorials in our community, up and
down Haight Street, and down Third Street to Evans, you’ll find
flyers on white paper with big black letters that say, “Thanks for
doing our job for us, niggers. — KKK.” One very young lady
ripped one of these flyers off a memorial and put a match to it.
Hurt and angry, she cried, “Doesn’t it make you mad?” I had to
say no. You see, the truth is, we are doing their job for
Our young folks act without thinking, and each
time we lose one more, there’s one less who can wake up and see
the Third Hand moving them around like chess pieces. We need to see
that none of these young men dying or killing has anything to show
for it. They don’t own anything, most never leave the area where
they hang out, they’ve never bought anything other than a car, and
when they are gone they’ll leave nothing more then one or two
people who will miss them.
Our lives, our children, our families, and our
neighborhoods matter. Let’s stop fighting each other and fight for
what we love and what we deserve.
I leave you with pictures of the last acts of
kindness that these young people will know. R.I.P.
Call Marie at (415) 822-8126.
Marie Harrison, Director,
is back on the scene
From the San Francisco Sun-Reporter of May 6,
2001. To read the entire piece, go to www.sunreporter.com/headlines.html
When Dr. Amos Brown lost his race for Supervisor
in District 11 against Gerardo Sandoval, many people thought it was
the end of his San Francisco political career. Brown, who is also
pastor of Third Baptist Church, has been an ongoing presence in San
Francisco’s politics for the last 30 years, as an activist, a
community college board member and as a Supervisor.
Brown would keep a national profile as a national
board member of the NAACP, and he would still pastor his church. He
has kept his national presence speaking out nationally on various
media outlets, and he is still trying to save souls in the streets,
but Brown has been very visible politically in San Francisco. He is
helping to reinvigorate the activist spirit of San Francisco's Black