New Study: Resisting Bay Area Gentrification Works

by on April 6, 2016

Study Shows That Laws, Policies Can Preserve Diverse Neighborhoods

The community group Causa Justa-Just Cause has just released a report, “Development Without Displacement: Resisting Gentrification in the Bay Area.” Its main thesis is that, as Richard Walker puts it, “there are many reasonable policies at the local and regional levels that can help hold back the tide of gentrification and modify the worst effects of urban transformation.”

Causa Justa-Just Cause is a prominent progressive activist organization. This makes its dispelling claims about the “inevitably” of urban gentrification particularly compelling. Such claims ignore activism’s power as well as communities like San Francisco’s Tenderloin, which will not be gentrified due to its nonprofit ownership concentration and  pro-active land use strategies. Yet some armchair progressives continue to insist that “the market forces of America’s capitalism” ensure the Tenderloin’s gentrification and that of other urban neighborhoods.

Not so say the activists of Causa Justa-Just Cause. Their prescriptions for battling gentrification show that, as Colorlines put it, “the underlying message is that displacement is a choice, not an inevitability.”

Anyone studying the recent history of SF Bay Area politics understands that laws and policies either furthered or stopped the gentrification and displacement process. Claims that the area’s desirability and physical layout, combined with the capitalist system, “guaranteed” gentrification are not supported by the facts.

To give the most obvious example, had San Francisco Mayor Dianne Feinstein supported rather than vetoed vacancy control measures (which impose rent controls on vacant apartments) in the 1980’s, state legislation preempting such laws in California would not have passed. San Francisco, Berkeley and Oakland would be much more affordable, with rents on vacant units dramatically lower than they are today.

The current unaffordability of many vacant units was a policy choice, and was not “inevitable.”

The Causa Justa-Just Cause report is available for purchase through the links above.

Preserving Diversity

Among the report’s most dramatic findings on the intersection of race and gentrification is a nearly 40 percent decline in Oakland’s black residents between 1990 and 2011. This preceded the post-2011 tech boom that has increased concern about blacks leaving the city.

Some of this exodus is related to African-Americans taking advantage of the housing “bubble” to buy homes in Contra Costa County. But Oakland had weak just cause eviction laws for much of this period,  contributing to displacement. That’s why Causa Justa-Just Cause is part of a current signature gathering drive to strengthen Oakland’s rent control law, a critical anti-displacement strategy.

San Francisco has seen a steady decline in African-Americans for decades. The total is now down to 3%.

But it could be worse.  San Francisco has countered the alleged “inevitably” of African-American displacement by investing over a billion dollars in rebuilding and reinventing its public housing. The Lee Administration has made public housing retention a major funding priority, a fact often overlooked by progressive critics of the mayor.

It was reported in 2015 that San Francisco’s Mission district saw a 27% decline in its Latino population from 2000-2013, 26% of which were families with kids. Latino families who once gravitated to the Mission have been priced out since the 1990’s dot-com boom, which explains the sharp rise in the Tenderloin’s Latino population since that time. Most of the Tenderloin’s children today are Latino.

San Francisco has responded to the targeting of longterm Latino tenants by Ellis speculators by dramatically increasing funding for legal defense and by purchasing buildings under Ellis Act eviction through its Small Sites Program. The city also allocated $50 million to the Mission from the recent $310 million affordable housing bond, and acquired an entitled site at 16th and South Van Ness for affordable family housing.

Unfortunately, San Francisco’s efforts to win Ellis Act reform in Sacramento appear stymied. This leaves longterm Latino tenants (and renters in small buildings throughout the city) at risk. But the city’s effort to stop the eviction of Latino families from the Mission is making a difference, as is the grassroots pressure against evictors.

A Broader Struggle

The big shift in the Bay Area struggles around gentrification and diversity is the expansion of resistance beyond the traditional bases of Berkeley and San Francisco. By the early 1980’s both cities had enacted rent control and just cause eviction laws, and had measures restricting condo conversions and protecting SRO hotels.

Oakland was two decades behind in enacting such protections, and is still playing catch up on an overall affordable housing preservation and production strategy (for example, Berkeley and San Francisco have long had the inclusionary housing laws Oakland is still debating). But the political tide has turned in Oakland. Resistance to gentrification will slow the city’s loss of diversity in the years ahead.

Richmond is taking even greater strides to pro-actively protect its working class, African-American residents. As I described on April 4 (“Extending Rent Control in 2016”), Richmond is not waiting for thousands to be evicted without cause before enacting the protections tenants deserve to avoid this fate. Richmond has a more progressive electoral base than Oakland had in the 1990’s, and activists are seizing the opportunity to protect diversity and stop gentrification.

I wrote in the Los Angeles Times nearly one year ago (“Gentrifying L.A. without displacing the poor: Lessons from S.F.’s Tenderloin”) that urban gentrification is not “inevitable” and that cities can take steps to prevent it. It’s great to see activists across the Bay Area moving to stop displacement and preserve neighborhood diversity.

This growing resistance puts the lie to claims that resistance to urban transformation is futile, and that there is no point fighting back. Activism has preserved neighborhoods in the past, and will continue to do so.

Randy Shaw is Editor of Beyond Chron. He is the author of The Tenderloin: Sex, Crime and Resistance in the Heart of San Francisco.

Randy Shaw

Randy Shaw is the Editor of Beyond Chron and the Director of San Francisco’s Tenderloin Housing Clinic, which publishes Beyond Chron. Shaw is the author of four books on activism, including The Activist's Handbook: Winning Social Change in the 21st Century, and Beyond the Fields: Cesar Chavez, the UFW and the Struggle for Justice in the 21st Century. His new book is The Tenderloin: Sex, Crime and Resistance in the Heart of San Francisco

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