Real Solutions Grounded in Equity are Needed to Reverse Displacement of Communities of Color in San Francisco

Co-authored by:
Executive Director Luis Granados
Director of Policy and Advocacy Norma P. Garcia

MEDA and its many Mission District allies work daily to preserve the neighborhood’s economic and cultural diversity — and its unique identity as San Francisco’s oldest neighborhood that has been a Latino hub for six decades. 

MEDA employs numerous strategies to retain the neighborhood’s diversity. The solutions for strengthening our low-income Latino families include providing free services to build economic stability, secure affordable and stable housing, and have greater access to below-market rate (BMR) apartments. We also help our clients to start or expand a small business and provide avenues to increase their access to business capital. For our children and families, we work to ensure safe and effective schools; for our community at large, we engage in policy and advocacy to secure our rights and shape the systems that affect us.   

A key component of MEDA’s work involves using an equity-first framework. This is not a new construct: Many municipalities across the land are already intentionally examining the potential implications of policy and budget decisions on racial equity before such decisions are made. For example, in Takoma Park, Md., decision-makers are employing a “Racial Equity Impact Statement” process when deciding whether to proceed with a major project in a certain area. They now must consider who benefits … and who is harmed.  

At MEDA, this process translates into answering three threshold questions:  

  1. Does this policy proposition or action advance economic stability and promote the cultural diversity of the low- to moderate-income Latino families we serve?
  2. Are the individuals who will be impacted at the table helping to design the policy or project that can make or break their ability to thrive in their community.
  3. Are there alternatives to the proposals being considered that would accomplish the goal while also bringing more community benefits to the table?

It is imperative that any future planning and initiatives be examined through a similar lens, at the front end, to determine prospective impacts on all San Francisco communities of color — communities most vulnerable to displacement by gentrification.  

In that vein, MEDA supports actions that prioritize urgently needed affordable housing over market-rate housing. The Mission has seen more than its fair share of luxury-housing development; conversely, the neighborhood was not meeting the housing needs of households making under $75,000 per year (the threshold for being able to stay in the neighborhood based on market-rate rents.)  

That’s why in 2014 MEDA pivoted and proactively started preserving and producing affordable housing in the Mission. The good news is that we already have 1,000+ homes saved, with a goal of 2,000 units by 2020.

It’s also why we opposed the portion of SB35 that focused on accelerating market-rate housing development, suggesting equity-based amendments, but we did not oppose the portion of SB 35 that accelerated the process for building affordable housing. We know that the real risk of SB35 is that while it may speed affordable-housing development, it may still result in greater loss of economic and cultural diversity if rapid market-rate housing development trumps affordable-housing options in the same neighborhood. Community participation in advocating for and designing the future of affordable housing is also paramount and a key indicator of equity in decision-making for our future. That’s why we opposed SB 827, the recently defeated bill, because if passed it would have made the playing field less equitable for low-income communities of color by incentivizing building luxury housing on the transit corridors on which these communities rely to live and work. There would be no value recaptured for the community, no studies done to determine and mitigate harmful impacts, and no community voice in this decision to build taller in these vulnerable areas.

Here is the result of public policies created without a needed equity lens:
While luxury-housing development has surged in the Mission since the year 2000, we have witnessed the concurrent displacement of 8,000 Latinos — that’s over 25 percent of that community.  


From MEDA’s  vantage point, when equity is not the top priority, the people starting out with the least are most often the ones to lose the most … and San Francisco as a whole loses as well.

We must all intentionally guard against that scenario if we are to maintain a vibrant, culturally and economically diverse San Francisco, today and in the future.  




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