Update on the Struggle in San Francisco

Dec 2021-Jan 2022
By the Bay Area UFAD Branch

A recent protest at Sunnydale, where the San Francisco Housing Authority has been pushing ahead with a rapid privatization

Sunnydale and Potrero Hill tenants continue the fight against gentrification in San Francisco. Residents organized protests on November 29th outside the San Francisco Housing Authority (SFHA) office at Sunnydale and on November 30th outside the SFHA office at Potrero Hill. These protests followed weeks of residents going door to door and gathering nearly 100 signatures from their neighbors on a list of four demands which were sent to the San Francisco Housing Authority (SFHA), local and federal Housing and Urban Development (HUD) offices, San Francisco politicians, and developers.

Residents issued these demands and held protests to oppose the two privatization schemes that SFHA is pushing forward: the city’s HOPE SF privatization plan and an “accelerated disposition” (or rather accelerated privatization) with the Eugene Burger Management Corporation. SFHA sent residents in certain parts of Sunnydale 90-day notices to leave their homes by December for demolition to make way for the next HOPE SF phase. But December came and passed, and some residents have stood their ground and refused to move. SFHA is also pressuring other Sunnydale and Potrero Hill residents to sign new leases with the private management company so they can convert all the old Housing buildings from public housing to Section 8 Project Based Vouchers before they are slated to be demolished in the future. Residents have also opposed this part of the privatization, and some have not signed leases with the company.

Residents organized two days of protest at the Sunnydale and Potrero Hill local SFHA offices to show that they would dig in rather than lay down. At the protest at Sunnydale, resident Maria said in Spanish, “This is not in favor of the people, but only to earn more money. They are doing this for their interests. They don’t care if kids or the elderly end up on the street. The people have power and we are here because of this. I am here defending my children’s houses. We are fighting so the people who live here will have rights, have protection. We have been fighting for years, it hasn’t just been 2 or 3 months, to have dignified housing, but they [Housing] just want to quit.”

Videos from the protests

Rita from Sunnydale spoke about how residents don’t want to be controlled and confined by private management companies and don’t want to live in high rise buildings, and how SFHA has neglected its properties but now wants to force people out.

Mose from Sunnydale put it like this at the protest at Potrero Hill, “We all gotta come out and support this struggle or else you are gonna wake up one day and be ass out without a roof. “All these people who live over here, Potrero Hill, Hunters Point, Double Rock, Sunnydale, come outside and support! Look at all this going on over here, they’re tearing it down for nothing. All these people are trying to make money and we are suffering. I will speak out of my heart to all the people. They say they’re going to make some new stuff. Oh, come on. New for nothing.”

Residents at Potrero Hill protest against San Francisco’s privatization plans

The rallies also prompted a pathetic response from management. The day of the protest at Sunnydale, SFHA public housing director Kendra Crawford personally called residents to intimidate them into not attending, but people went anyway and spoke out. The next day, Kendra called the police on residents at the protest at Potrero Hill. The police claimed that neither SFHA nor local police had any knowledge of a demonstration, claiming that activists were “trespassing” and that a posted banner was “vandalizing” the property. Residents refused to be intimidated or move and police left the area after about 20 minutes and the protest went on.

The city’s long-term HOPE SF plan is to demolish all tenants’ homes so real estate developers can build thousands of unaffordable, market rate units and luxury condos in “mixed income developments”. The HOPE SF “public-private” partnership is merely a smokescreen to hide the fact that the developers (as well as their backers in big banks like Capital One, Chase, and Bank of America) stand to make a killing off the displacement of low-income tenants.

Residents posted their demands on the door of the management office at Potrero Hill

Dozens of Sunnydale households have received 90-day notices from SFHA threatening them with eviction if they do not leave their homes in December. SFHA also wants to convert all the existing public housing buildings at Sunnydale and Potrero Hill to Section 8 Project Based Voucher units to be managed by the Eugene Burger Management Corporation within the next year. The EBMC would manage units until they are demolished to pave the way for the HOPE SF scheme. SFHA says this accelerated privatization scheme is legitimate because it was approved by HUD in 2019, but legitimate to who? There is almost no public information about what this “accelerated disposition” privatization entails or what rights tenants have. Residents were not even informed about it until SFHA began to send 90-day notices in September that they would terminate public housing leases. When residents have demanded more information, they can’t get a straight answer from SFHA or EBMC, and EBMC management told one resident they don’t even know who tenants should pay rent to, and yet they threaten residents who won’t comply with the privatization.

The UFAD submitted Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to SFHA concerning the application which they are legally required to submit to HUD to carry through with this scheme. After months of delay, an SFHA legal clerk responded saying that no such document exists.

SFHA is pushing this process to privatize the last remaining public housing in San Francisco as quickly as possible. SFHA will essentially cease to exist by the end of this year and leave the developments totally in the hands of private companies. We think other Housing Authorities in the country will try to follow this plan of privatizing public housing as quickly as possible with little to no information being given to residents.

Politicians, SFHA, and developers have worked hard to sell the scam of privatization. The politicians go so far as to call HOPE SF “the nation’s first large scale, explicitly anti-racist community development initiative.” More and more, the rich and powerful use words like “justice,” “anti-racist,” and “community empowerment” to disguise what they’re doing when they oppress working people. SFHA says HOPE SF is anti-racist and supported by residents, and yet SFHA’s Kendra Crawford called the police on residents at the Potrero Hill protest.

From the HOPE SF website in 2021
From the HOPE SF website in 2022, following a year of tenants organizing at Sunnydale and Potrero Hill. They added in “explicitly anti-racist”, “center resident voice, build community wealth, and support healthy communities.” This couldn’t be further from the truth.

Last year after the George Floyd protests, the banks, corporations, and politicians all issued statements saying that they were passionate about fighting racism and police brutality. They think that people will be duped by their words. But all we have to do is look at their actions to see what’s going on: they’re still working together to exploit and oppress the people. More than that, the situation for most people in this country isn’t just staying the same, it’s getting worse. Neighborhoods continue to be gentrified, people are losing their jobs, and inflation is rising the fastest it has since 1982.

Residents see through the lies about the HOPE SF privatization. They don’t want their homes to be demolished for developers to make a profit. When SFHA and developers have been unable to convince residents that HOPE SF is good for them, they change tactics. They have doubled down in recent months, telling residents that it’s a done deal, and threatened residents with eviction if they do not leave their homes. They have told other residents that if they don’t sign the new leases with Eugene Burger, they will lose their public housing subsidy and have to pay the full contract rent for their units, which can be up to $3,000. In the face of this, people can feel like they have no choice, and that they will be alone if they resist. But this last year, more and more, residents have been coming together to build up an organization that really serves the interests of the people. SFHA and developers Mercy Housing and BRIDGE Housing have tried to slander the UFAD, but as Rita from Sunnydale said at the protest, it’s the Housing Authority and developers who are telling people false information and they are the ones trying to push people out. “They don’t want us to know everything that they’re doing.”

UFAD met to make signs for a recent protest against the San Francisco city government’s privatization schemes at Sunnydale, one of the two remaining public housing developments in the city

When SFHA told residents they have to attend appointments with SFHA about leaving their homes or signing a new lease, residents have gone in groups instead of as individuals to demand information and refuse to sign anything. In the face of threats and harassment from SFHA, developers, and police, residents have continued to hold public meetings and protests. SFHA has tried to isolate residents of Sunnydale and Potrero Hill from each other as part of their divide and conquer strategy, but residents are working together across the two developments, going door to door and organizing meetings and protests together.

The politicians, banks, and developers will continue to try to privatize public housing across the country and make things worse for residents. But if we work together, we can stop this, and make positive changes for the people. Then, every day, the nationwide movement against privatization and gentrification will continue to grow and we will be stronger.

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