Report details how brown and black communities are decimated, step by step

Pub date April 8, 2014
SectionPolitics Blog

Gentrification is a word so oft-used in conversations about San Francisco that it’s easy to forget what it means.

A report released yesterday by the advocacy group Causa Justa/Just Cause titled “Development Without Displacement” breaks down gentrification into a set of digestible, understandable policy decisions, while identifying which communities even now are still at risk of displacement.

“This report shows that 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,” said one of its authors, UC Berkeley Geography Professor Richard Walker, in a statement on its site.

The report provides many solutions, but is largely a 100-plus page tale of 20 years of the destruction of brown and black communities in San Francisco, beginning in 1990, and the ripple effects of that displacement on the people of Oakland.

The “Stage of Gentrification” map in particular details San Francisco and Oakland Neighborhoods as being in early, middle, late and ongoing stages of gentrification. Each of these classifications is determined by the population — are they susceptible to displacement? — as well as the housing market prices in the neighborhood. Not surprisingly, the Mission and the panhandle are labeled as ongoing gentrification zones, with the southern neighborhoods of San Francisco are labeled as in early stages of gentrification marked by a rise in property value.

Robbie Clark, 33, the housing rights campaign lead organizer at Causa Justa, said the map details the challenges facing the Latino and African American communities today, a challenge she’s also facing herself.

“For me, I’m born and raised in Oakland, and it’s been a challenge as an adult to find stable affordable housing,” she told the Guardian. She has a huge family that used to live in Oakland right near one another. The displacement broke them up. “Everyone is spread out throughout the greater Bay Area and beyond. It used to be very normal for every weekend to have family dinners, and now that happens much less.”

In recent years she’s moved seven times as rents in both cities skyrocketed, and she was even in the process of moving again while we interviewed her. The need for the report, she said, was stark.

The findings put specific numbers to a story of loss we all know well. Between 1990 and 2011, over 1,400 Latinos left the Mission district. In the same time, white households increased by 2,900 in the Mission. In the same period, Oakland’s black population declined from 43 percent of the city to 26 percent. Many in San Francisco argue that increased affluence helps beautify neighborhoods and makes them safer, but that misses the point: the neighborhoods may be safer for newcomers, but the old residents get kicked out in the process.

The report states that outright: “While gentrification may bring much-needed investment to urban neighborhoods,” it states, “displacement prevents these changes from benefitting residents who may need them the most.”

Causa Justa Just Cause displacement report EXECUTIVE SUMMARY by FitztheReporter

A summary version of the 110 page report.

And the responsibility of these injustices should be laid squarely at the feet of neoliberal policies, the report states, including reduced public funding, privatization of public programs, relying too much on the private sector to drive economic growth, and a political system susceptible to hugely influential private corporations. 

But ultimately, Causa Justa concludes, there is still hope.

“Gentrification can be stopped!” the report states. To right the wrongs done to communities, “We also recommend policies that regulate government, landlord and developer activity to promote equitable investment, affordability and stability, and maximum benefits for existing residents.” 

Causa Justa, Just Cause, is selling the report for $25, but also includes a form for those who cannot afford it to apply for a free copy.

A high resolution version of the “Stage of Gentrification” map: