Posted by Tyra Fennell in Blog, Politics on June 2, 2015
I moved to San Francisco five years ago after I was offered a position with the San Francisco Arts Commission. It was my first job after graduate school so I was so excited to join the team. I went on Craigslist and found an apartment on the Pan Handle, and sight unseen I took it. The total rent was $4,200, which I split with two other women; it seemed worth it. A beautiful neighborhood on a new adventure in a new city, I was excited. That was November 2009, right before the recession began to force the city to cut salaries. I was a casualty of those budget cuts, suffering a four percent decrease in my take home pay within a year of taking the job. My co-worker and I, who were both hired at the same time, soothed each other in these after work therapy sessions where we thought through how we would manage an already tight budget with even less money. I had no choice but to make it work, after all, I had moved my whole life here. Enters Edwin Lee.
In 2011, Ed Lee was appointed as interim Mayor of San Francisco, replacing Mayor Gavin “McDreamy” Newsom and even though Ed Lee did not have the savoir-faire of Gavin Newsom, he did have a plethora of law and policy experience. His first position out of law school was with the San Francisco Asian Law Caucus where he was an advocate for affordable housing and the rights of immigrants and renters. Before becoming Mayor, Lee served as the City Administrator under Gavin Newsom where he oversaw the reduction of city government and implemented the city’s first ever Ten Year Capital Plan. Now, back to my four percent pay cut.
San Francisco, like most of the country was struggling to recover economically from the recession however what most of the country did not have was the power of the tech sector. In 2011, tech giant Twitter was housed in the South of Market neighborhood but was ready to join its tech counterparts in Silicon Valley due to what they considered high pay roll taxes that were only levied inside of San Francisco. It was here Mayor Lee forged a quid pro quo between Twitter and the city. He coaxed them into investing in the blighted mid-market area to provoke revitalization and in exchange, waived the City’s payroll tax for six years.
This plan seemed to be perfect however many in the community were furious and protested what has now been coined the “Twitter Tax.” Once the agreement took hold, San Francisco’s economy rebounded drastically and my salary eventually restored. As anticipated, once Twitter took the deal, others followed and suddenly with the new tech sector ferociously establishing itself in San Francisco, so did a new enclave of employees who were for the most part white, young, single and with major disposable cash.
This was the beginning of the end of San Francisco, as many had known it. The protests continued with many claiming the City was coddling tech companies and playing favors over other groups who were in greater need. The city has currently reached the point of no return in over priced housing, inflated rents and the purging of the very people who created its rich culture. This brings us to today where the City is visibly polarized regarding how to counter the free fall we are experiencing. Enters Supervisor David Campos.
Supervisor David Campos, a Harvard educated lawyer has thrown kerosene on a fire by way of legislation calling for a moratorium on all market rate housing developments in the Mission and though I respect the spirit of what Campos is trying to do, I question the legality. What I do know is the tech sector has a lot to account for and could have a positive impact on the affordability issue in San Francisco if they hired, people of color and women, the very people being priced out. As of now the tech sector looks like San Francisco will in five years, largely white and male.
The African American community has been called to support the moratorium but have a unique set of circumstances, after all many would argue, African Americans in San Francisco have been experiencing outmigration since the 1970’s. Additionally, we are now largely concentrated in Bayview Hunter’s Point which holds a 40% homeownership rate. Does the moratorium truly address our unique needs? If not, what will? In Bayview, we need to develop a housing fund and work with tech companies who have essentially triggered the displacement to support it through sound community benefit agreements. This could in fact, slow down the hemorrhaging in many distressed communities, particularly with African Americans affected by foreclosures. This fund could also support those in public housing who may have gone into arrears, allowing them to reset and recover.
As someone who works in the non-profit sector, a middle-income resident, the affordability issue is a very personal one, like most in my community I am barely hanging on and if this trend continues, I will certainly not be here in a few years. David Campos has been a champion for the Mission but now it is time to work together to formulate comprehensive strategies and built the political will to combat housing inequities from the root. Perhaps requiring developers to increase the percentage of affordable housing they build or disallowing them from building below market rate housing offsite, where they may never find the land to build upon. Whatever the case may be, I appreciate that the conversation is taking place and the spirit surging through the Mission.