Gentrification Under the Veneer of Revitalization

root - Posted on 09 July 2001

.Westpoint will become the sixth neighborhood in San Francisco to be "revitalized" with the HOPE VI program, leading to the forced displacement of several hundred low-income African-Americans.

by kaponda

In 2002, 267 families who have bathed in the golden rays sprinkled lavishly from the illustrious sun will be relocated to other parts of the city of San Francisco and state of California. The spirited cadence to which these families in Hunters View once strutted will be reduced to a drone, and they will march to the tune of a dirge. Immediately after these families have gone, their 350 aged houses located on 22 acres of hilly coastline off the San Francisco Bay will be demolished and replaced by 442 newly developed homes. In 2005, after the new homes have been constructed, 117 families will be permitted to return. The other 150 families will have the only housing they have ever known taken from them, as lions steal both the wildebeest and its terrain.

But the lion is not masked, and neither is the plan that will aid in the permanent displacement of the 150 families. The national action plan to eradicate severely distressed public housing arose out of recommendations by the National Commission on Severely Distressed Public Housing. The plan, dubbed HOPE VI, has always been met with vehement opposition throughout the country and has been described as a device used for gentrification under the veneer of revitalization.

In June of 2001, the San Francisco Housing Authority submitted a HOPE VI 2001 Revitalization Application to the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to create a “traditional San Francisco neighborhood of attached town houses and flats to replace the existing barracks style ‘public housing,’” located in Hunters View, which is commonly referred to as Westpoint, in San Francisco, California. If the application is approved, Westpoint will become the sixth neighborhood to be revitalized with HOPE VI funding. North Beach, Valencia Gardens, Bernal Dwellings, Hayes Valley and Plaza East have also been funded through the HOPE VI Program, causing a critical reduction in the number of African American families in San Francisco.

“There is no truth to this assertion that residents are permanently displaced,” stated Salem Prouty, General Engineer with Public Housing in San Francisco. “The rules and regulations for HOPE VI state that anybody displaced will be given first opportunity to return. If a tenant does not choose to return to the new house, then the unit will be given to the next person on the waiting list -- just like any other public housing,” Prouty stated as we spoke in his office at the Federal Building in San Francisco.

An application has been submitted for HOPE VI at Westpoint. Based on the one-for-one policy of the San Francisco Housing Authority, each HOPE VI unit that is demolished has to be replaced by a newly developed HOPE VI unit, “ensuring full opportunity of all existing residents in good standing to have first choice for the new units.” But if only 60 percent of the newly constructed housing will be made available to residents, it would be mathematically impossible for every resident to return to the new dwellings that will be perched atop the ridge at Westpoint. “Is this correct?” was the dilemma I propounded to Salem Prouty.

“Well, if you put it that way, yes,” replied Prouty, in recognition of the oblique language which allows for an agency to employ methods associated with corruption in its selection of which families and individuals it will designate to enjoy the comforts of newly developed property. This vague language also allows for wanton disregard of the rules and regulation and vested rights of all families and individuals to return back to the place from which they were removed. Eviction is one method that an agency may employ to preclude a family from eligibility of future public housing.

“Renee Taylor is on record as being opposed to the HOPE VI Program at Westpoint. She was evicted from Hunters View for a puppy that was given to her son on his birthday over two years ago,” stated Marie Harrison during a discussion of evictions that seemed to have no other logical reason except retaliation as their causes. “The puppy was stolen on the night that it was given to her son. Everyone involved with the San Francisco Housing Authority located on the premises of Westpoint knew the puppy was no longer at that unit, but no one at the Housing Authority at Westpoint had been trained well enough to instruct the Sheriff’s Department, which carries out evictions, that it was an unlawful eviction. Renee Taylor told the Housing Authority at Westpoint that the puppy had not resided at the unit since the night it was given to her son. She asked the Housing Authority, ‘Why is this eviction moving forward?’ The answer she got was that the Housing Authority at Westpoint ‘did not know how to stop it.’ No one at the Housing Authority called downtown to inform them that the puppy had not been at the home of Renee Taylor since the first night she received it, over two years ago. They could not act as a liaison between Renee Taylor and the San Francisco Housing Authority downtown to prevent the eviction. Renee Taylor came home from taking care of her aunt to find her furniture and personal belongings being carried into the streets by deputies of the Sheriff’s Department. Her home was boarded, and she now has to find an attorney to argue her case,” concluded Marie Harrison.

The situation in which Renee Taylor finds herself is not unique to the cadre of activists who are the Ghandis of their communities. They have decried the unscrupulous conduct of the San Francisco Housing Authority and resisted all its efforts to silence them. They have read and educated their communities on issues like federal public housing regulations and HOPE VI Programs.

“I know the regulations and believe in the Constitution of the United States,” stated Theresa Coleman, the rubber band that holds the Westbrook community together -- the community adjacent of Westpoint. “I will make these regulations work for the people of Westbrook. But government does not follow its own rules. It changes the rules to accommodate the rich,” explained Coleman, her eyes like those of a disappointed child who stands in front of a locked candy factory.

Theresa Coleman has a long-standing and solid relationship of activism in the community of Bayview/ Hunters Point. Her home is also the mailing address for Ujamaa, the Resident Management Corporation for Westbrook, which has been recognized by the San Francisco Housing Authority, HUD, Congress and the City of San Francisco as a legitimate corporation. But Coleman also has openly opposed the HOPE VI Program at Westbrook because, she says, “the concept of HOPE VI that the San Francisco Housing Authority has designed does not allow for all residents to return after construction of new housing. This hill is prime real estate in San Francisco. It has been a lifetime dream of politicians and developers to take it.”

“I have the understanding to drive a HOPE VI, and to take every single one of my people to homeownership,” stated Coleman as she explained why she believes that her impending eviction is politically motivated.

“Whenever the San Francisco Police Department is called to public housing, for whatever reason, a piece of paper is generated and sent to the San Francisco Housing Authority downtown. A kid who lives outside of the community was being chased by police. He ran inside my house and locked out the people who were in my house. And my daughter and I found ourselves trapped inside my house with this person. As I came out of the bathroom, I saw the legs of my granddaughter flying though the air. I immediately came to her rescue. The police were not able to penetrate the barricade. Because my unit was involved, the San Francisco Housing Authority will soon serve me with an eviction notice. When the report was written by the police, it stated that I had intentionally harbored this person,” stated Coleman.

The San Francisco Housing Authority has to employ this retaliatory tactic against savvy-minded activists like Theresa Coleman and Renee Taylor because, although there will be no public housing lost in the creation of new, plush homes under HOPE VI guidelines, there will be wholesale replacement of people who cannot afford the new homes. These intrepid activists are like soldiers who have begun to trumpet the wake-up call in their communities. The aim of the San Francisco Housing Authority, however, is to leave the armies in disarray through its reprisal of removing the generals from the communities.

By virtue of the nature of its purpose, the San Francisco Housing Authority realizes that there is a less than one-percent vacancy rate in housing in the city of San Francisco. It has to reconcile any notion of a HOPE VI Program with the stark realization upon completion that not one sheep from Westpoint will be lost upon completion of the revitalization process.

In Westpoint 67 percent of the families have no income and 80 percent have children. Where will the 150 families be permanently relocated, if they are not permitted to return because they do not earn $30,000 dollars, annually -- or 40 percent of the Area Mean Income, which is approximately $70,000?

But an application has been submitted by the San Francisco Housing Authority for Westpoint and in 2005, only a ghost of the effervescence of children frolicking on the hillside in Westpoint will be apparent. The other children will no longer be a concern for the city of San Francisco.

Other revitalization sites have already been designated and retaliatory practices are being employed by the San Francisco Housing Authority in anticipation of resistance. According to Marie Harrison, “On May 16, 2001, a discrimination lawsuit was lodged against HUD and the public housing in Shoreview by a woman, who, by all accounts, is pro-active in community organizations and a vocal resident of her tenants association. On May 25, 2001, she was served with a 30-day notice of eviction. The woman has two sons who were receiving social security from their dead father. She took the first check that she received to Housing in Shoreview and had it photocopied so that her income could be adjusted. Housing in Shoreview said that the boys were not 18 years of age, so the income did not have to be added to her income. Last month, however, over eight years later, Housing decided that the social security income her sons received is income that has to be added along with hers. So, she is being charged with fraud and has gotten a 30-day notice of eviction.”

The lure of an attractive, revitalized community with town houses, streets paved with new asphalt, swimming pools, and all of the amenities that come with redevelopment would dazzle many residents whose desires fall within the sphere of “ordinary people.” But for the many activists whose commitments exceed the plains of temptation and corruption, nothing short of a one-for-one return will be acceptable.

“Unless I am dead and planted up under the dirt somewhere, Westbrook will not be gentrified with the lure of buildings like the Taj Mahal and other mansions. The black community has been raped too many times,” stated an emotional Theresa Coleman.


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