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San Francisco's housing costs are among the highest, if not the highest, of any of the nation's large cities. The Planning Department's annual report indicated that the median monthly rent in 1999 for a two-bedroom apartment was $2,500. An early 2001 Chronicle feature reports that the average rent for an apartment of this size is $2,752. (Hartman et al 44) What is astounding is not only the high rents—in a city where some two-thirds of the residents are tenants—but also the staggering rapidity with which rents have risen in just couple of years. Low income housing system inn the Bay area, while providing affordable households to low income people, still lacks the capacities needed to satisfy the growing demand for subsidized housing. After careful analysis of the information on low income housing in san Francisco Bay area, it is apparent that in order to satisfy the growing demands of city’s residents, three key things need to be taken into consideration: redevelopment efforts need to take into account the position of the local poor, the state funds should be allocated more efficiently for low income housing programs and non profit groups facilitating interests of the low income people should be engaged in the city planning efforts.
The 1997 median figure for a two-bedroom unit was $1,600; in 1996, it was $1,350; in 1995, $1,100. (Hartman et al 46) To be able to pay even twenty-five hundred dollars a month as rent, using the federal guidelines (for subsidized housing) of 30 percent of income, a tenant needs an annual income along the order of $100,000. Looked at from the another angle, HUD's 2000 annual State of the Cities report concluded: “A person earning the minimum wage in San Francisco would have to work the equivalent of 174 hours a week six more hours than there are in a week just to pay the median rent. ” (Hartman et al 70) A September 2000 study by the National Low Income Housing Coalition reported that a renter in San Francisco would need to earn an hourly wage of $28.06 to afford a modest two-bedroom apartment—the highest figure in the nation in this report on nationwide housing problems. (Hartman et al 74) The gap between salaries, at least at the lower end, and housing costs is staggering.
In mid-2000, the City finally (after two years of hard-core lobbying and delicate negotiating) enacted a “living wage” law of the type more than eighty cities and counties now have, mandating an hourly wage of nine dollars, plus benefits, for employees of City contractors and leaseholders, nonprofit agencies with City contracts, and businesses at San Francisco International Airport—affecting an estimated twenty-one thousand workers in all. In 2001, the living wage rose to ten dollars, to be followed by 2.5 percent raises in the three following years. But Ammiano pointed out this San Francisco reality: “Everyone knows it's not a living wage. It's still a minimum wage. ” (Hartman et al 31)
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A far more realistic take on the city's income problem is provided in the “Self-Sufficiency Standard” developed by Diana Pearce of the University of Washington: “how much money is needed, for a family of a given composition in a given place, to adequately meet its basic needs—without public or private assistance.” (Hartman et al 57) For San Francisco, using just one example of household type, a single parent with a preschooler and one child in school would require an hourly wage of $24.64, yielding an annual income of $52,040—three-and-a-half times the federal poverty standard for a family of three, more than two-and-a-half times the new City “living wage. ” (Hartman et al 58) Add to this the fact that Money Magazine in 2000 rated San Francisco as “the best place to live” among all U. S. cities. (Hartman et al 58)
The result is pathetic absurdities like this: fifty-seven hundred applicants for fifty-five affordable housing units (three-bedrooms for $693 a month, courtesy of City, state, and federal subsidies) at the new Bay area development. (Hartman et al 116) Another sad tale, as headlined in an April 4, 2000, Examiner story, “Hot S. F. Rent Market Is Cool to Vouchers: Hundreds of Section 8 Families Can't Find Housing”. (Hartman et al 116) This federal-local program, run by the Housing Authority, covers the gap between the market rent (with a federally set local cap) and 30 percent of the tenant's income, but a shortage of available units (plus occasional landlord discrimination against certificate holders) turns the program into a cruel joke for all too many families.
Home ownership is an increasingly wild financial stretch for most fmilies. The median price as of February 2001 for new and existing homes and condos was $512,500. (Hartman et al 120) The so-called “affordability index” published by the California Association of Realtors—the percentage of households that can afford to purchase a median-priced home in their area—was a staggeringly low 10 percent for San Francisco in December 2000, the lowest of any county in the state (San Francisco is a county as well as a city; the index is created for counties). By comparison, the figure was 32 percent for the state as a whole, 55 percent for the entire United States. (Hartman et al 113) A similar type of index published by the National Association of Home Builders—the Housing Opportunity Index, which measures the percentage of homes sold that a family earning the median income can afford to buy—showed the San Francisco metropolitan area as the least affordable in the nation: Only 11.9 percent of homes were affordable in the third quarter of 1999 (a steep drop in just three months, from the 15.7 percent second quarter figure). (Hartman et al 113)
This enormously popular and attractive city has seen much of its lower income housing lost to wrecking balls, both in redevelopment areas like Yerba Buena Center and Western Addition A-1 and A-2 (over ten thousand units in these three areas alone were demolished—a portion was replaced, but mostly for different income groups and after passage of many years) and via private market redevelopment activities, as well as to gentrification and conversion of rental units into condominiums. Planning Department data show that in the 1975–85 decade alone, more than seventeen thousand affordable rental units were demolished, converted to condominiums, or converted to commercial use. (Hartman et al 140) New housing is being built, although at a rate far below what is needed (and offset by losses to the stock, due to demolitions, conversions, code enforcement, mergers, and fires); for the most part, however, these additions are at prices and rents affordable only by the upper-middle class. Mayor Dianne Feinstein's planning commissioner, Jerome Klein, stated it well as far back as the early eighties: “It appears very difficult to get any housing built where it is needed.” (Hartman et al 141)
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Pressures on the city's housing stock come from many sources. Demographic changes such as marital breakups, a more independent elderly population, and children leaving home earlier all lead to an increased number of small households. Foreign immigration, particularly from Central America and various parts of Asia, adds to demand, as does the city's role as the “gay capital of the world”—another source of immigration, by small, relatively affluent households. (Zarembka 61) But the principal pressures stem from expansion of the downtown office-based economy, which brings new workers to the city, increasing the effective demand for existing housing by corporate employees who can outbid older residents, and in recent times from the “Silicon implants” (in the Bay Guardian’s felicitous phrase): young affluent professionals from the new industrial sector who prefer San Francisco to living on the Peninsula (even if there were enough housing for them there). (Zarembka 64)
People have been forced out of the city in vast numbers or have doubled up as the only way to stay in San Francisco. Eviction data are not systematically collected (a major issue is how to define evictions—whether to count only those who leave after formal legal processes have been initiated or to include as well those who “voluntarily” depart under the threat of eviction or because rent increases make their unit unaffordable). Formal evictions rose from slightly more than two thousand in 1971 to nearly six thousand in 1983. (Rodriguez 112) The San Francisco Tenants Union, which monitors this issue most closely, states: “We have maintained a periodic watch over court records and our most recent informal count has showed Municipal Court evictions in the 6,000–8,000 annual range since 1986. A 1992 survey of three months of court data, however, projected 1992 evictions at about 9,500. ” (Rodriguez 114) While the very “cleansing” process that gentrification causes has already cleared out the easiest to expel tenants, eviction rates are still high. The San Francisco Tenants Union reported in late 2000 that there are 7.5 evictions a day, or more than twenty-seven hundred annually. (Hartman et al 94)
The virtual disappearance of direct federal subsidy programs for new housing has of course exacerbated the problem. Entire neighborhoods of San Francisco, a city known for its diversity and pluralism, have become largely enclaves for households known as “DINKS” in planners' jargon—double inccomes, no kids. (Rodriguez 85) Current changes in the Bay area are in sad contrast to the neighborhood's antigentrification efforts in the late sixties and early seventies. As community organizer Mike Miller, staff director of the Mission Coalition Organization from 1968 to 1971, describes it in his unpublished November 1999 paper, “Creating an Atmosphere Inhospitable to Investment”: “Since the late 1950s, when the Bay Area Rapid Transit system was on the drawing boards, the Mission District has been targeted for speculative investment as well as being an attractive place for gentrification; it was threatened with urban renewal and red-lined by lenders.” (Rodriguez 92)
During the 1966–71 period, two community organizing efforts—first the Mission Council on Redevelopment (MCOR), later the Mission Coalition Organization (MCO)—were able to forestall speculators, urban renewal, and invasion by yuppies, and preserve the affordable housing stock for the neighborhood's multiethnic, multiracial residents—at the time, large numbers of Irish and Italian families in addition to the predominant Latino population. MCOR was able to defeat before the Board of Supervisors a bulldozer urban renewal project, and, later, MCO was able to control Mayor Joseph Alioto's Model Cities project by becoming the official “citizen participation” component required under federal law. (Hartman et al 99) Contrary to what Alioto envisioned, the Model Cities program pumped millions of dollars into the neighborhood for community preserving activities and helped spawn such organizations as the Mission Housing Development Corporation and the Mission Hiring Hall.
In both cases, victory was possible because the organizations represented a coalition—formed by good community organizing—that included conservative white ethnic and Anglo homeowner and small merchant associations, Catholic and Protestant churches, and a variety of Latino and other nationality, social action, and civic associations. MCO came to encompass more than one hundred churches and block clubs and homeowner, tenant, senior citizen, youth, community social agency, small merchant, and other groups. Their tactics embraced militant marches and demonstrations—rent strikes, sitins, and other disruptive actions—mixed with lobbying based on careful research.
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There has been some community organizing against gentrification, but it likely is too little, too late. The Mission Anti-Displacement Coalition, an association of more than a dozen local organizations, formed in mid-2000, held community meetings, testified before public bodies, and otherwise sought to create a force to stop the financial bulldozer. One such event, a Planning Commission hearing on a plan to convert the National Guard Mission Armory, at Fourteenth/Fifteenth and Mission, into offices, got citywide publicity when it turned pretty raucous, with dozens of sheriff's deputies and police and a wrestling match that ensued when a Mission activist was ordered to stop speaking after exceeding his allotted testimony time (by less than ten seconds). (Hartman et al 122) Other forms of protest have emanated from the Mission Yuppie Eradication Project (mentioned in the Washington Post excerpt above), which puts posters advocating vandalism against upscale vehicles and restaurants on mail boxes, telephone polls, and utility boxes. (Hartman et al 123)
While the armory issue remained unsettled as of early 2001, other major neighborhood projects are done deals. Bryant Square, a fivestory, six-building, square-block complex (bounded by York, Bryant, Nineteenth, and Twentieth Streets) will provide 150,000 square feet of office space. Opposed strongly by area residents, it was a slam dunk before Mayor Brown's Planning Commission; the $100,000 contribution to Brown's 1999 reelection campaign by the developer, Dan Kingsley of SKS Investments, is a not irrelevant tidbit. (Hartman et al 131)
Perhaps saddest, and most telling, of all is the tale of the Bay View Federal Savings & Loan building, at Twenty-Second and Mission Streets, the neighborhood's sole high-rise. In late 1999, its two dozen tenants—community newspapers and radio stations, small business associations, child care referral agencies, social service groups, health agencies, family and immigration lawyers, and bilingual accountants serving the neighborhood's Latino community—were given six-month vacate notices so the building can be converted to more upscale commercial office use. This enormously popular city has seen much of its lower income housing lost to wrecking balls, both in redevelopment areas and via private market redevelopment activities, as well as to gentrification and conversion of rental units into condominiums.
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