Mills Act provision before S.F. supervisors could hasten gentrification

Many people who are concerned about the outmigration of African-Americans from the world’s number one attraction, San Francisco, are surprised to know that the high point of black population, 96,000 in 1970, occurred after the redevelopment of the Western Addition, which most people consider the cause for the exodus.
As principal investigator of Invisible Pioneers, a context statement on African-Americans in San Francisco since its founding in the 1700s, I’ve found this to be one of the long-held assumptions which did not stand up to the primary source facts.
Like most insights, I realized quite by accident that most African-Americans left areas where the buildings are still standing. While running daily to Kezar Stadium, I kept passing black churches between Divisadero Street and Masonic Street, where the black population is now minimal. It gave me a sense of how far that Western Addition community had extended.
So the question became why would people leave houses that have appreciated in value from $25,000 in the 1970s to millions of dollars now. Even the iconic Alamo Square houses called the Painted Ladies were all occupied by blacks in 1970s. They now run $2-3 million apiece.
An ordinance before the San Francisco Board of Supervisors today at its 2 p.m. meeting (agenda item 29) would give a little known group called the Historic Preservation Commission the right to dole out property tax abatements of up to 50 percent to “qualified historic properties.” What that means in practice is that wealthy speculators and residents who can afford to commission historical resource surveys of their properties get the breaks.
Poor folks who happen to live in a house that’s been in their family for generations, but are unaware of the provisions, find themselves going in debt to pay rising property taxes in a city where values have appreciated far faster than wages.
Yet, even if they are on fixed income, if they own property in San Francisco, they are not poor. This is an instance where ignorance is not only expensive, but a danger to one’s homestead.
What occurred in the Western Addition is that a few “gentrifiers” moved into the neighborhood at ridiculously low prices, wrote a historic district plan which favored their interests while forcing long term residents to spend large sums on improvements, and then grew rich off the appreciation that came from being in an historic area based on architectural significance.
The new commission which would dole out these breaks is loaded with the consultants and architects who perform preservation work, which is a situation rife for abuse, corruption and favoritism.
My team has had to contend with their bias about African-American heritage for three years. At various times, I’ve wondered why they were so dead set against protecting the city’s extensive black history. But it’s simply a matter of dollars and cents.
They’ve gotten the gold and the history has gotten the shaft.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s