San Francisco Fights HUD To Save Black Community In Gentrified West Addition

Low-income housing in San Francisco operates very much like it does throughout the nation where a select amount of properties are reserved to people under a low-income bracket, who enter “lotteries” for which the cities are subsidized to fill properties from. However, a plan put together last December by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors to keep minorities in gentrified areas has been rejected by The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) this week.

Gustavo Velasquez, who is the Assistant Secretary for fair house and equal opportunity for The Department of Housing and Urban Development, sent a letter to the head of the mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development, Olson Lee, saying that San Francisco’s proposed housing plan was likely in violation of the Fair Housing Act of 1968.

A neighborhood preference plan was passed by The Board after months of trying to figure out a law that would provide affordable housing for minority residents who were leaving the area in droves over gentrification.

Gentrification projects have been spreading throughout the urban sprawl nationwide, where real estate developers will restore, renovate or attempt to stimulate communities with new businesses, running out residents and former business owners who become overwhelmed in uphill battles over rising rent from the increasing property values, making it harder for people under a certain income bracket to remain.

An article published by The San Francisco Chronicle reported on the rejection of the city’s plan by the federal government, which the city says they put together carefully, to prevent a mass exodus of those residents.

It describes how the plan was to set aside 40 percent of subsidized units for those who qualified in the areas of development, more specifically for the Willie B. Kennedy development at Turk and Webster streets in San Francisco’s Western Addition.

The fed’s argument is that the city’s proposal “could limit equal access to housing and perpetuate segregation.”

San Francisco trying to do something about black residents.
Gustavo Velasquez of the Department of Housing and Development sent the letter to Olson Lee rejecting San Francisco's plan. [Image by Charles Dharapak | cropped and resized /AP Photo]

The response to HUD’s decision in San Francisco has been described as “devastating,” according to the President of the Board of Supervisors London Breed.

“This is more than a huge disappointment. These are seniors sleeping on friends’ couches, staying with their kids, living in (residential) hotels. This community has been falsely promised so much. With the neighborhood preference they thought they would have a real shot.”

The report says that since 1970, the black population has plummeted in San Francisco from 13.7 percent to 5.7 percent today. The proposal is also said to target that population to make the gentrified community more diverse, which the article points out.

Low-income housing i investment projects are going through changes through HUD.
Department of Housing and Urban Development headquarters in Washington D.C. [Image by Kjetil Lee via Wikimedia/This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic, 2.0 Generic and 1.0 Generic license]

“In particular, supporters of the plan hoped it would help African Americans improve their odds in lotteries used to fill most below-market units in market-rate developments and 100 percent subsidized projects. Just 4.7 percent of privately developed subsidized units created between 2008 and 2014 went to African Americans.”

Even more, the San Francisco development building project — which is due to open this fall — was funded by HUD with $15.2 million for seniors, who were no doubt helped to be placed in those units by the local community board. The article states that the Kennedy project was the last one to receive federal funding from Section 202, which suggests that the recent decision might have been made since the department has cut funding to low-income housing projects.

San Francisco appears to be a special case and they intend to continue talks with HUD to see what they can do about holding onto local black residents, with the help of fair housing advocates and the outraged local president of San Francisco’s NAACP, who feel that they cannot ignore the growing lack of diversity in the area. The city of San Francisco has even agreed to let HUD scrutinize the project and even look at it as more of a pilot program.

[Image by Ken Lund via Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0]