“An American Dream?” Photo Voice Exhibit to Showcase Health Issues of Housing Crisis in the Mission

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June is HUD’s first-ever “National Healthy Homes Month,” but a dearth of affordable housing is translating to stress-related health issues being the norm for the historically underserved Mission families. It’s definitely anxiety creating when you spend over 50 percent of your household income on an apartment in San Francisco, as is the case for the majority of these families.

Such health issues also adversely affect the well-being of these households’ children, putting them at risk of difficulty bonding, lower vocabulary skills, increased behavioral problems, and delays in school readiness and overall academic achievement.

The numbers tell the story
A recent Smart Asset analysis of the most-expensive rental markets in the nation showcased that a San Francisco household needs to make over $216K to not be deemed rent burdened.

Smart Assets

This translates to the impossible task of a single mother needing to work eight-and-a-half full-time, minimum wage jobs just to pay such astronomical rent. This is an untenable — and unhealthy — situation for low-income Mission families seeking economic opportunity, as they live in perpetual fear of displacement from their neighborhood of choice if they lose their rent-controlled apartment through no-fault eviction.

If current trends continue, the number of Latinos living in the Mission will decline from the 60 percent of the Mission population they were in 2000 to just 31 percent in 2025, according to a San Francisco Budget and Legislative Analyst’s Office October 2015 report.

Advocacy is needed. The community’s voice must be heard.

Genesis of Photo Voice project
To portray the health issues of the Mission housing crisis using an innovative form of advocacy, a Community Assessment for Affordable & Safe Housing (CASAH-SF) Photo Voice exhibit is in the works. CASAH-SF is preparing  Mission Promise Neighborhood mothers with young children to record, via photography, their community’s concerns about the lack of affordable housing. The goal is to abet a City policy of housing first, thereby strengthening families. CASAH-SF team includes Shivaun Nestor, Dairo Romero, Ada Alvarado and Karen Cohn.

The goals are:

  1. Assess and diagnose families’ health and cognitive impacts with regard to the housing crisis.
  2. Identify community strengths in addressing the housing crisis.
  3. Recommend culturally relevant solutions for the housing crisis.

Leading the work
Spearheading this advocacy is Mission Promise Neighborhood Leadership Program Manager Laura Olivas (photo, center). MEDA is the lead agency of the Mission Promise Neighborhood, a federal education initiative.

“The Photo Voice project is allowing pregnant women and mothers of young children to share how San Francisco’s housing crisis is affecting their health, plus the health and well-being of their children,” expounds Olivas. “The goal is to have six Photo Voice exhibits and then take these stories to San Francisco City Hall. Mission families need affordable and dignified housing in which to raise healthy children who can go to college and thrive.” The first such exhibit is slated for July 13.

As an education initiative, it is imperative that Mission Promise Neighborhood partner with families and create family-led spaces and platforms so that they can address the issues affecting the academic success of their children, like this housing crisis, and offer solutions.

Families must take charge of designing, researching, analyzing and evaluating the work. Disaggregating data, complemented by providing tools in Spanish, allows the very families being affected to engage in the conversation of the issues with negative implications for them and their community. These families can then propose solutions to the problems they face and, ultimately, mobilize around those solutions. This is vital, for when solutions are created by the community for the community, a sense of ownership is created — the core meaning of community engagement.

Explains Olivas of her role: “As a facilitator and curriculum developer, my job is to bring the tools and information families need to activate their inherent talents and advocacy skills. I do so in their native language, with respect and admiration. My background affords me the opportunity to connect with, understand, influence and authentically engage the families with whom the Mission Promise Neighborhood works.”

Such empathy for Mission families is what drives Olivas’ work. Born and raised in East Los Angeles, a Latino community that mirrors San Francisco’s Mission, Olivas was raised by a single mother who emigrated from Sinaloa, Mexico. The devoted parent worked tirelessly and selflessly to provide for her children and offer them a better life. The family was met with the challenge of maintaining affordable, stable housing, plus Olivas’ mother endeavored to create a college-going culture in the home.

Olivas now hears these same stories every day as she works to strengthen Mission Promise Neighborhood families. Photo Voice is a step in the right direction. 

Zealously stated one Photo Voice project participant, “The power is in our hands.”

Words to live by.

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