It’s Happening In San Francisco: Gentrification!

San Francisco is a city known for its diverse community and culture. Historically, neighborhoods of San Francisco have represented different ethnic/racial cultures: Mission District and the Latino, Chinatown and the Chinese, North Beach and the Italian, Bayview and the African-American, amongst others. Those ethnic neighborhoods were once comprised by lower to middle-class working families. However, fast-forward to today: it is obvious that these neighborhoods aren’t as ethnic and culturally diverse as they once were. Many neighborhoods have been gentrified or are in process of being transformed.

For instance, consider the Mission District – once the Latino epicenter located in the heart of San Francisco. Years ago, you would walk down the street and see Mexican groceries stores filled with authentic goodies, spices, and foods. There were stores specifically for Quinceañeras and other traditional Latin celebrations. Many churches and religious hubs could easily be found, celebrating the Catholic Church. Cheap taquerias where tacos could be purchased for fewer than three dollars ran rampant. Ultimately, the Mission District was an authentic Latin community where Latinos and Latinas were the unquestioned majority.

Now, taking a stroll through the Mission District is almost like being in a different world. There are gourmet fusion restaurants that mix foods from other cultures. Expensive and newly renovated condominiums sport a modern and high-tech look and have replaced the modest apartment-style homes. Popular cafés and Internet hotspots are filled with “techies”, entrepreneurs, and other white-collar workers. Fashionable boutiques that display the latest clothing trends have contributed to San Francisco’s fashion industry. Hispanics are no longer the dominant ethnicity, but rather a complement to the White majority – as a result, the culture of the neighborhood has shifted away from its Latin origins.

Who is to blame? Ask a random individual on the street and many will likely cite the “techies” as cause for the demographic shift. With the recent boom in startups and the tech industry came an increase in middle to upper-class white-collar individuals who found new homes in the Mission. As a result, many neighborhood natives, who have lived in the Mission District for years, have been forced to give up their homes and close their businesses. Global Site Plans has stated, “While [Mission District] energy is still present, it is steadily being muted by the invasion of San Francisco’s love and woe: the “techie”” (San Francisco’s Mission District: The Controversial Gentrification, 2014). This represents a common perspective of many natives from the neighborhood. Looking at the shift in demographic and the booming tech industry, it is clear to see why techies are the easy scapegoat for the issue of gentrification.

However, to point the finger at techies is oversimplifying the gentrification phenomenon. Although non-Hispanics and techies have benefitted from gentrification by finding housing and changing the neighborhood makeup, they may not be the ones to blame. To truly understand the causes behind gentrification, it is important to explore the role of the real estate industry and local politics that have allowed for such a change to happen. Local government is allowing reconstruction and renovations to happen with new laws and regulations, thus shifting property prices and the real estate industry. What has manifested is an overall increase in prices, ultimately forcing out the blue-collar, working-class, and lower-income families. Although techies from Google, Twitter, AirBnB, etc. are coming into the Mission District, local government and the real estate industry should take the brunt of responsibility for gentrification and the dislocation of neighborhood natives.

Gentrification in the Mission District has caught my eye. I was born and raised in the Mission and the changes I have seen are substantial. There are contrasting perspectives about gentrification in the Mission District. On one hand, you have long-time Mission District natives who are being forced out of their homes due to increased property prices. On the other hand, the newcomers – often referred to as “techies” – are being accused of gentrification.

While doing some research to become more open-minded and understanding of the different opinions from both perspectives, I found “A Changing Mission”, a 22-minute video published by the San Francisco Chronicle (Garofoli & Said, 2014). This video shows the changes going on in the Mission and offers opinions from both perspectives. The video shows perspective from younger and older residents: some who have been in the neighborhood for years, and some who are new to the Mission. Gentrification has impacted Mission District natives in a negative manner: they aren’t used to the way the neighborhood looks and some are scared about being forced out of their homes/businesses. On the other hand, Mission District newcomers see the neighborhood change as creating and fostering a healthier, positive environment than before. Regardless, both perspectives agree that the Mission and its culture are changing. This topic of gentrification in the Mission District is becoming popular because of the changes in environment, pricing, and culture. Many independent news publications and the Internet have given a voice to often under-represented lower to middle class families. Although I am specifically focusing on the Mission District, gentrification has affected other lower to middle-class San Francisco neighborhoods such as Chinatown, the Western Addition, and SOMA.

Petticoat Despot, the blogger who wrote Gentrification, Google Buses, and The Mission, made some interesting points that I hadn’t though about and that challenged the view I had on gentrification in the Mission District. This article adopts the narrative of a “techie” living in the Mission District. The Mission District community has offered different ideas to stop the renovations and increase in housing prices. Petticoat argues that these attempts and protests have been handled in an inappropriate matter, especially towards Google employees. She identifies multiple protests that have occurred such as people pretending to be employees and acting badly on camera, passing assumptions about Google workers as facts in popular articles, and people protesting in the neighborhoods of the workers instead of the actual offices in San Francisco. This wasn’t actually solving the problem of gentrification, just adding complications to the relationship between Mission District natives and techies. (Despot, 2014)

Gentrification in the Mission District is a lot more complicated than we think. Another point Petticoat discusses is the common assumption that techies are coming into the neighborhood and causing home and business prices to rise, which is forcing Mission District natives out of their homes. As of right now, the Latin culture of the Mission District is fading and fingers are being pointed to the wrong group because of a lack of knowledge and awareness. Petticoat argues that there is a misconception about rent control: techies don’t affect the price increase in the Mission District, but it is rather the legislations and laws in place (Rent Control, 2015). I, like many others, had the idea that people with more money were coming into the neighborhood and that was why the prices were rising. It is actually a lot more complicated than that. There are certain rules landlords have to obey yearly depending on the economic market and housing situation that they own. Property prices are affected by real estate. Tenants are covered by rent control, which means rent is raised by a certain amount every year depending on the Rent Board.

Hispanic culture is being lost because of renovations and replacements that are being done by new, modern, over-priced businesses and homes – an action that is fueled by politics, the real estate industry, and local government. The government has a huge effect on the renovations being done. Mayor Ed Lee of San Francisco believes he has a different solution to solving the rise of property prices. He thinks allowing corporations such as Twitter into San Francisco and taxing them will have a positive long-term effect (Staley, 2013). The philosophy behind this is that while corporations will take over space and swelling prices in the short-term, the money generated by these corporations will provide homes for the affected communities in the long-term. Unfortunately, little is done to help ensure that the concerned families are able to find living arrangements in the meantime.

There has been lots of dialogue and discussion regarding the gentrification phenomenon in San Francisco. Unfortunately, it seems that discourse and dialogue has replaced action and actual solutions. Unless a plan of action is implement and executed, wealthier individuals will continue to rent, buy, renovate, and transform houses and properties, thus shifting the cultural values of the neighborhood. This means that lower-income families and small businesses will be forced out of the long-time neighborhoods they once called “home” (e.g. Latino natives from the Mission District). While it may seem that staging protests and demonstrations are a viable strategy to combatting gentrification, the energy is misplaced: corporations and “techies” are also victims of the real estate boom the neighborhood is experiencing. This is a clear example of the old adage “there are two sides to every story.” Instead of pitting against each other, San Franciscans – old and new – must unite, come together, and find ways to reform the real estate industry that is raising the prices and forcing people out their homes.

So how can we address the gentrification that is heavily changing San Francisco as we know it? Real estate is affected by four key factors: demographics, interest rates, the economy, and government policies/subsidies (Nguyen, 2015). SPUR – a “member-supported non-profit organization” with “ideas and action for a better city” (Metcalf & Karlinsky & Warburg, 2014) – suggests various ways to make San Francisco more affordable to non-tech workers again. San Franciscans need to protect the existing rent-controlled housing stock, reinvest in San Francisco’s public housing stock, double the amount of sub-sized affordable housing, add supply at all levels, launch a wave of experiments to produce middle-income housing, and use new property taxes from growing neighborhoods to improve those neighborhoods. San Francisco can’t be the only city to create affordable neighborhoods; the entire Bay Area (Oakland, San Jose, etc.) should do so as well in order to have less gentrification pressure because they too are part of the solution. In order to ensure the city remains diverse culturally, politically, socioeconomically, and racially, it is important for ALL San Franciscans to band together and fight gentrification.

“ San Francisco is in the midst of an affordability crisis. We are all feeling the impact as the rising cost of housing threatens to drive away the diversity that makes this city so special. San Francisco’s progressivism, its openness and its cosmopolitan celebration of diversity are what make [it] a place where social movements, and advances in artistic freedom and self-expression, emerge […] before they go on to change the world.” (Metcalf & Karlinsky & Warburg, 2014)

References:

Despot, P. (2014, February 26). Gentrification, Google Buses, and The Mission. Retrieved July 15, 2015. Retrieved from http://groupthink.kinja.com/gentrification-google-buses-and-the-mission-1532166861.

Farivar, C. (2014, January 22). Protesters show up at the doorstep of Google self-driving car engineer. Retrieved July 12, 2015.

Garofoli, J., & Said, C. (2014). A changing Mission – The Story. Retrieved August 12, 2015. Retrieved from http://www.sfchronicle.com/the-mission/a-changing-mission/.

Metcalf, G., Karlinsky, S., & Warburg, J. (2014, February 11). How to Make San Francisco Affordable Again. Retrieved August 4, 2015. Retrieved from http://www.spur.org/publications/article/2014-02-11/how-make-san-francisco-affordable-again.

Nguyen, J. (2015, May 6). 4 Key Factors That Drive The Real Estate Market. Retrieved August 12, 2015.

Retrieved from http://www.investopedia.com/articles/mortages-real-estate/11/factors-affecting-real-estate-market.asp.

Rent Control. (2015, June 1). Retrieved July 8, 2015. Retrieved from http://www.sftu.org/rentcontrol/.

San Francisco’s Mission District: The Controversial Gentrification. (2014, August 27). Retrieved August 1, 2015.

Schonfeld, Z. (2013, December 9). A Fake Fight at a Real Protest Blames the Wrong People for a Serious Problem. Retrieved July 12, 2015.

Staley, W. (2013, Nov 17). ‘TECH WORKERS ARE NOT ROBOTS’. New York Times Magazine, , 12. Retrieved from http://0-search.proquest.com.opac.sfsu.edu/docview/1459711349?accountid=13802

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