The (Legal) Case for Fair Housing in San Francisco

The (Legal) Case for Fair Housing in San Francisco

2140-03242016_POL-Fair Housing Social Media Images Blog_v2A look today on real estate site Zillow showcased a dire picture for anyone looking to move to San Francisco’s Mission District. Median rent: $4,794. Median home price: $1.22 million. Zillow describes the market in the 94110 ZIP code as “very hot.”

It’s even worse for vulnerable residents at risk of displacement. Artists. Working-class folks. Latino immigrants. Fear is rampant, as housing in the Mission seemingly becomes more expensive by the day.

The question is: What part must the City play, as mandated under federal law, in addressing this affordable-housing crisis?

Fair Housing Act and Civil Rights Act Mandates
Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968 is the Fair Housing Act, which “prohibits discrimination in the sale, rental and financing of dwellings, and in other housing-related transactions, based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status (including children under the age of 18 living with parents or legal custodians, pregnant women and people securing custody of children under the age of 18), and disability.” In short, it is illegal for property holders to choose to not let someone live somewhere because of who they are.

The Fair Housing Act’s protections against discrimination apply at the city level, too. Residents of San Francisco are entitled to equal housing opportunity, and the City cannot implement policies or programs that have the purpose or effect of discriminating. Longstanding patterns of inequality should not be perpetuated.

Such civil rights protections actually go even one step further: Under the Fair Housing Act and the Housing and Community Development Act, cities such as San Francisco that receive funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) must take steps to increase housing opportunities for households of color, while actively working against discriminatory housing practices.

Additionally, as San Francisco has accepted $160 million from HUD in the last five years, the City has a legal obligation, per Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, to take affirmative action to overcome the effects of past discrimination caused by the City itself or the private sector.

Latino displacement
A look around the heart of the Mission reveals the dynamic culture created over the decades by myriad Latinos who have called the welcoming neighborhood home. That culture is readily apparent, with colorful murals adorning walls, eateries selling Latino cuisine and the mellifluous sounds of Spanish overheard in friendly conversations.

These Latino residents love the neighborhood they have created. They deserve to be able to stay, but this becomes more difficult by the day.

Without swift and effective City action, there may soon be little of this vibrant Latino culture left, with longtime residents displaced, and landlords and businesses catering largely to those with six-figure incomes.

Change is happening fast.

The numbers
The reality of Latino displacement from the community is backed up by the City’s own analysis, which in official documents has itself characterized the Mission as “the Latino heart of the city.” An October 2015 report entitled “Displacement in the Mission,” released by the San Francisco Budget and Legislative Analyst’s Office, detailed the crisis. The report showcased that in 2000, 60 percent of Mission residents were Latino — a proportion that decreased to only 48 percent in 2013, representing a loss of 7,000 Latino residents.

The same report indicated the peril of neighborhood families with children, with a one-third decline in the same time period.

These trends will only get worse if the City does not change course, with San Francisco projecting that by 2025 only 31 percent of Mission residents will be Latino.

A failure to reverse this loss will also endanger the viability of Latino cultural institutions and businesses, doomed when a critical mass of the residents they serve is no longer present in the neighborhood.

The effects of displacement
Latino families compelled to leave the Mission are often pushed to racially segregated areas at the fringes of the City — the only places that they can still afford, unless they decide to leave town altogether and head to far-flung Bay Area suburbs such as Antioch and Tracy. This is juxtaposed with the Mission, which is being re-segregated by a whiter, wealthier community. This has created a circle of affluence, which means ever-increasing costs of goods and housing occurring block by block. An exclusionary barrier is put in place.

One of the core values protected by the Fair Housing Act is housing choice, or the idea that families should have a range of housing options, so that people of color are not restricted to living in segregated or impoverished neighborhoods. Yet as displacement pressures restrict housing options, perhaps the most fundamental housing choice for Latino residents in the Mission is nullified: the ability to remain in their neighborhood.

Another central point of the Fair Housing Act is that racial disparity in housing needs – and cost burdens – must be addressed by HUD recipients such as the City of San Francisco. According to “An Assessment of Housing and Housing Affordability in the Mission Promise Neighborhood,” released in March 2015 by the National Association for Latino Community Asset Builders (NALCAB), in association with Marquez Community Strategy, the 2013 median household income for Latino families in the Mission was $47,943, well below the $73,610 median income for the neighborhood overall. The approximately 70 percent of Mission households making under $75,000 per year are considered burdened by housing costs (defined as spending more than 30 percent of income on housing).

Finally, there is denial of access to a neighborhood of opportunity. It is ironic that Latino families are being compelled to leave at the time the Mission has become a desired community of refurbished parks, healthy food options, cleaner streets and a safer environment.

The displacement of communities of color from San Francisco must be halted. This is not just about Latinos in the Mission; there are other communities in peril, including African Americans in Bayview/Hunter’s Point and the Filipino population in SoMa. Across the bay, Oakland has lost more than one-quarter of its African American population since 2000, as that city has become increasingly desirable for higher-income, disproportionately white households.

Our cities cannot sit idly by. Cities must act with a sense of urgency, for they have an obligation under federal civil rights laws to take affirmative and meaningful action to address the displacement crisis in the Mission and similar neighborhoods. It is time to affirmatively further fair housing.

The hard questions
There are four questions that must today be answered by the City of San Francisco, based on the crisis:

  1. Has the City studied the racial and ethnic dimensions of the displacement crisis?
  2. Has the City tracked the impact of housing and development trends on communities of color?
  3. Has the City fostered policies that have catalyzed demographic change in the Mission, and has the City balanced those policies with effective measures to stabilize and protect Latino residents of the Mission? Are the City’s programs and decisions guided by civil rights considerations and, if so, how?
  4. Should any city have access to federal funds if it is not actively working to mitigate public and private pressures on displacement?

Communities of color, in crisis in San Francisco, await the detailed answers to these important questions, as does the community at large.

For more information, read this two-page document.

 

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