Affordable (to Who).. Housing and other myths of Redevelopment


root - Posted on 02 November 2006

Hundreds of poverty scholars, activists and residents oppose the San Francisco Redevelopment agencies' Mid Market Redevelopment Plan

by Tiny/PNN

The room was small , way too small- the chairs were even smaller and the distance between me and my table neighbors was, quite frankly, far too little. Now I don't have anything against rich white business people, ( well, actually I do - but I try to keep an open mind) but when they are all in one room and a large majority of them resemble Dick Chenys' golf buddies I get a little nervous. So there I was, in that little tiny meeting room of the Mid-Market Project Area Committee joined by fellow POOR Magazine staff members; my hella ghetto, outspoken mother and co-director Dee and sometimes too soft-spoken, Mid Market SRO resident Joseph Bolden.

We spent a whole hour and a half in that painfully small and stuffy room listening to the corporate interests of multi-million dollar redevelopers talk about, you guessed it, parking and other important issues to such people, such as, "cleaning-up the streets", "blight" and other hygienic metaphors all meaning the same thing; getting a large majority of poor people out of the Mid-Market area of San Francisco.

POOR staff was first alerted to the exclusive PAC process one month prior when corporate media, (The Fang family owned Examiner) wrote a front page series called: THe Mess on Market Street ( the mess - being the poor housed and un-housed residents of Mid-Market street) to which we responded with our own series on poormagazine.org called The Myth on MArket Street.

Just as the PAC members were about to open the agenda to comment - Dee, couldn't hold herself back any longer, seeing as we came to the meeting, on behalf of the poor residents of the Mid Market area, including ourselves and many of our staff writers and membership who were never genuinely included in the supposedly open PAC meetings she blurted out, "Excuse me, what are the plans for really low-income housing, i.e., not just so-called affordable housing that is really only affordable to a few people"

I don't remember exactly what the response was to her comment but suffice to say, an awkward silence of almost a minute fell on the room, followed up by some kind of empty promise meant to placate us momentarily. That was almost three years ago and we have since seen the lies unfold about the Mid Market Pac and its mother ship the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency (RDA).

"There's just two words to describe the redevelopment agency, notorious Liars", long time Tenderloin resident, Prince Bush, was one of over 400 Mid- Market community members that spoke at a hearing last week of the San Francisco planning commission against the proposed plan created by that very same Mid-Market PAC and the RDA

Prince continued, "You may remember what they said they were going to do in the Fillmore - whole communities were moved out permanently - places where there are now businesses used to the homes of families"

As Prince spoke I was reminded of the impenetrable PAC/RDA. To be fair to the rhetoric of the PAC process, the PAC have been holding weekly and bi-weekly meetings for several years to create this plan. All the meetings are in fact, open. But the reality is, hardly any poor and working class people or grassroots non-profit organizations like POOR or POWER who provide services in the Mid-Market area, can afford to attend those endless meetings.

As well, 35% of the PAC (10 seats ) are limited to commercial property owners, social service and community development groups have one seat each. The "community development seat" is held by an employee of a private developer. The only community election for PAC members occurred in 1997 and of the 28 PAC members only four seats were elected by the community, and finally, Union Square merchants and ACT have a seat on the PAC but there is not representation from tenant or homeless advocacy groups, (not that we could fund a staff persons' time to attend) So, in the end our voices, the voices of the real Mid-Market are in fact, not represented in their plan.

" I am wondering where you are getting your idea of low income, i.e., that low-income is someone who earns 20,000 to 60,000 a year…", Prince continued, "The people I know in the area living and working are making minimum wage, or less, so I am wondering where you got that idea, and I am wondering why there are no low-income people on the (redevelopment) board, or even people that work with low-income communities.

Before Prince and all the other speakers that night, there was a presentation by Richard Marquez, with the coalition to save mid-market, who along with several other community groups and low-income residents have been meeting over the last several weeks and months in the places that the residents actually live like the Baldwin Hotel, an SRO in Mid-Market and have created their own- people-friendly, and small business-friendly plan that sustains the areas’ housing and includes a modest level of redevelopment.

"It’s a neighborhood, it’s a place where people live and labor" Richard spoke while presenting pictures of small businesses and residents like Sean Williams, a victim of Fillmore gentrification who now resides in the Mid-Market area, which oddly enough is the situation with many of the Mid-Market residents, including POOR’s own Po’ Poet Laureate. Richard continued by breaking down the real demographics of the area, "almost everyone in mid-market can barely pay $500 dollars of rent, now rents are under $561 and will skyrocket with the proposed plan."

Richard continued with a series of demographic charts, " the current plan calls for 12% of affordable housing, our plan, the community plan, calls for 25% percent affordable housing. In terms of medium income, our plan would put the area medium income at 40% allowing people who make less than 20,000 to stay there, The current plan would make it so that people would have to make $40,000 or more medium income …"

Next up was tireless housing advocate and economic justice activist with the SRO Collaborative, Sam Dodge, "Justin Herman was quoted as saying - the land in San Francisco is to valuable for the poor to park on it- he was referring to SOMA and what followed was the demolition of thousands and thousands of units of affordable housing"

Sam continued,"The backbone of this RDA plan was created by a group called spur - and in their own words - spur has stated they have had the aspiration of redevelopment in Mid Market for over 50 years- so the kinds of harmful gentrification that happened in SOMA continues with SPUR's efforts in Mid-Market"

Kathy Looper, a native San Franciscan spoke next, "in the 50's when I was a young child my father took me on a farewell trip to grand central station, a beautiful market that sold everything under the sun and was demolished soon after by redevelopment then -- he also took me to theatres and clubs to visit his Greek expatriate friends - so many places including the Beautiful Fox theatre which is no longer there - so after the history of destructive redevelopment - it has taken years for communities like Fillmore and SOMA to recover from the horror of redevelopment, why are we proposing to do the same thing all over again in Mid-Market? "

"Over half of the residents of Mid-Market are African-American and Asian and the majority of these residents live on less than federal poverty guidelines" One of the other speakers in opposition to the RDA plan was civil rights attorney with the Asian Law Caucus, whose offices are in the Project Area, "The Asian Law caucus is opposing the plan because most of the residents who live there now will not be able to live there once the plan is implemented"

Susan Overa, a slight, soft-spoken woman, with deep brown hair, eyes and skin, who identified as an Eskimo from Alaska spoke next, "I live in the rose hotel - if this mid-market plan goes through I will be forced out of my house and I will have nowhere to go"

She was followed by Marie Gomez who implored the now bored looking planning commission, " I am an IHHS worker, please do not approve this plan as it will be affordable to other people - not poor people like me and my neighbors -

I spoke in favor of truth and the real voices being heard in this debate as well as low and/or no cost office space for grassroots non-profit arts organizations, which is always bandied about by PAC’s and developers and never actually comes to fruition.

Darryl Cornelius, another long-time resident spoke the truth to the commission, " I am a San Francisco resident - I have been here since the 50's - I can remember when mayor cristopher was the pioneer bringing - redevelopment here- he conceded when redevelopment demolished the fillmore - the whole western addition - right out from under me - it was a cultural mecca - Asian and African American landowners were all forced out - I can also remember when redevelopment stepped in and promised people in Potrero Hill, a six block area - from Wisconsin to Rhode Island where they would put affordable housing - instead now there is six square gated community - with astronomical rent with low-income housing surrounding it -that is now called southern heights court - Redevelopment has never been in the best interests of improving the community - only dismantling it - I can always remember the Fox theatres - the paramount theatres- when redevelopment stepped in they all disappeared" Mr Cornelius paused for a breath, "I work as a service provider in the mid market area- - I provide services for people in this area- these people are displaced already and now you want to take the little that they have and return them to homelessness- they all live on fixed income, with mental health issues, - there is no way that redevelopment is going to consider these people - history has shown that.."

There were many PAC members who spoke in favor of, you guessed it again, parking, as well as many anti-parking folks from the Bicycle Coalition, and other organizations concerned about the environment and pedestrian safety, As well as developers and sold out corporate non-profits who spoke in favor of the meager offering of so-called affordable housing, which should be re-named, only affordable to a few housing,

And a eloquent presentation from the brilliant houseless poet and activist, Keith Savage who warned the commission to not approve the RDA plan as it would send a lot of poor folks into the streets who are not "trained in outdoor survival" like he is

For me though the night of truth before the commission was closed out by Stafford Parker, a young African Descendent man with a huge smile, proudly sporting a shiny 49ers shirt, " I have lived in San Francisco all my life - they (redevelopment agency)
Don't know what we, the people want- we want low-income housing, we want schools, small businesses, we want parks, we don't want no towers, we don't want no condo's, I can't afford one, my friends can't , or my co-workers or associates, - listen to us - not with your brain - with your heart and your soul- this is our town - our city - our home.!!"

Notwithstanding all of the voices in opposition, the plan was approved by the commission with one dissenting voice. There is still a chance to get involved and fight this plan as it will hit the board of Supervisors in the Fall., To get involved call Sam Dodge at SRO collaborative at 415-775-7110. To read more journalism and poetry from poverty skolarz from Mid-Market and beyond go-on-line to www.poormagazine.org

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