People of the Bay is a Bay Area newsletter published by the People of the Bay editorial board in coordination with the United Front Against Displacement. The editorial board can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In the Bay Area tenants are organizing in public housing in Oakland and San Francisco. In recent decades, almost all the public housing has been privatized in both cities via HOPE VI and Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD).
In San Francisco, there is an ongoing citywide privatization scheme that’s similar to RAD (and Blueprint for Change in New York) called HOPE SF. The city government, banks like Bank of America, Wells Fargo, JP Morgan Chase, corporations like Google, Kaiser Permanente, and foundations in the city are working together to achieve the HOPE SF scheme. HOPE SF’s plan is to eliminate the last public housing in San Francisco (Sunnydale, Potrero, Double Rock/Alice Griffith, Hunters View) which are in working class neighborhoods in San Francisco, by destroying them and building mixed income developments owned and managed by different private developers like Mercy Housing, the John Stewart Company, and BRIDGE Housing.
There are only two remaining public housing developments that are still under the San Francisco Housing Authority: Sunnydale and Potrero. At both locations, a number of buildings have been demolished in the last few years, displacing residents.
At Sunnydale, all 775 townhouses are slated to be replaced with a mixed-income, mixed use development, to force residents out of their townhouses and into multi-story buildings that are being built quickly and with cheap materials. Residents at Sunnydale have been organizing to resist the privatization and destruction of their homes, to not be bullied into signing leases with the private management company Mercy Housing, and to speak up about the truth that these private developers are just going to make the situation worse for residents and leave them more vulnerable. We’ve seen this happen in developments that have been privatized in the Bay Area and across the country.
The two developers at Sunnydale, Mercy Housing and Related California, are working together with the San Francisco Housing Authority to manipulate residents into thinking this privatization is a good thing, and intimidate residents who organize to oppose the demolition and privatization of their homes by threatening that they won’t even get a spot in the new buildings.
The San Francisco Housing Authority and Mercy Housing sent the United Front Against Displacement a letter saying they were aware of our organizing and tried to smear our efforts by saying we were harassing residents. SFHA is scared that residents are actually talking to each other about what’s actually going on and organizing against them and the private developers, so they’re lying and trying to discourage people from doing so. But it hasn’t worked. Over 100 residents signed a petition opposing the privatization and residents have organized multiple protests and meetings with residents at Potrero Hill and privatized developments.
In Oakland, tenants have been organizing at Cypress Village in West Oakland and more recently in Lockwood Gardens in East Oakland. Cypress and Lockwood are not currently facing privatization but residents have been organizing to form independent tenant unions to fight for residents interests, and to be prepared when the Oakland Housing Authority does try to privatize them. There is a need to form independent tenant unions because like at many public and privatized developments, the tenant association there does not represent residents and is tightly controlled by the Oakland Housing Authority. Residents at Cypress have been organizing since the fall and have a petition with nearly 100 signatures to stop OHA’s favoritism, to demand proper maintenance and an end to intentional neglect, to halt harassment of residents with baseless 3-day notices to quit, and to respond promptly to urgent relocation requests. Since the petition was delivered, people have seen a noticeable increase in basic groundskeeping, services, and security measures. Though there is still a long way to go, this demonstrates the power of speaking out, not only directly to those in power, but also to other neighbors and local press.