Error message

Deprecated function: The each() function is deprecated. This message will be suppressed on further calls in menu_set_active_trail() (line 2405 of /home/customer/www/

Some evicted in 'renewal' may get housing help

Submitted by News Desk on Sun, 08/17/2008 - 10:00pm

Descendants of people displaced during the redevelopment of San Francisco's Western Addition and Hunters Point decades ago would be given first priority for the city's affordable housing under a measure pending before city leaders.

The proposal, which is scheduled for a vote by San Francisco's Board of Supervisors on Sept. 9, would give housing reparations citywide to people forced out of the Fillmore area in the 1950s and 1960s and Hunters Point in the 1970s, as well as their children and grandchildren. They would be put at the top of the city's lottery system that awards much-coveted affordable housing units.

Thousands of residents and business owners, primarily blacks and Japanese Americans, were pushed out by the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency's urban renewal, which was billed as a move to clean up blight. They were given certificates that promised they could return when new housing was built. But those projects stalled and only about 22 percent of more than 5,000 people returned.

Fred Blackwell, head of the Redevelopment Agency, said more than 96,000 people could be eligible for the housing preferences if they also meet other requirements, but he doesn't expect that anywhere close to that number will come forward.

"People have died, moved out of state or make too much money to qualify. After all those things, the number becomes much smaller," Blackwell said.

Ed Donaldson recently received a certificate because he and his family were forced out of Hunters Point in 1976. He said he can't use it to buy a home because he already bought one in the Bayview.

Donaldson, who is the housing counseling director at the San Francisco Housing Development Corp., said he is calling people all over the country to tell them about the program. He said he has contacted people in Rhode Island, Texas, Sacramento and East Palo Alto who are interested in returning to San Francisco.

"Some people are going through the approval process, but many are still skeptical because of the history," Donaldson said. "People hang up on you, say they don't believe you. That will have to be overcome."

In addition to expanding the certificates to descendents, the ordinance would also double the number of units the certificate holders would be eligible to buy. Currently, it only applies to about 300 redevelopment projects each year, but the new measure would expand to also allow them to apply for an additional 300 units of affordable housing.

The city's Below-Market-Rate Inclusionary Housing Program requires developers to sell a percentage of new units at a price that is affordable for low- to moderate-income households. Applicants must live or work in San Francisco and meet income requirements. For example, a two-person household can make no more than $75,450 and a four-person household can make no more than $94,300.

The developers advertise units and those who meet requirements are put in a lottery. Depending on the location, there can be hundreds of applicants or a dozen.

Certificate holders will be given priority in a first round of the lottery and then there will be a second for everyone else, said Myrna Melgar, director of the city's home-ownership program.

"It is shameful that thousands of people were forcibly removed from their homes, and this legislation provides some specifics for people who were adversely affected," said Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi, who proposed the ordinance. "This legislation helps right a very painful wrong in the not-too-distant past."

Mirkarimi's proposal would start by assessing how many people would be interested in participating in the lottery for affordable housing. If the original residents don't come forward, their children and then their grandchildren could use the certificates.

"I highly doubt there will be a flood of people coming in to redeem them," the supervisor said. "If there is, we will do it in phases."

Regina Davis, director of the San Francisco Housing Development Corp., said her agency for years has pressured the Redevelopment Agency for a list of the people pushed out of the Western Addition and Bayview Hunters Point during those years.

Last fall, they filed a formal public-records request and got a list of about 950 names. Since then, they have been contacting people who had no knowledge they were on the list or that they could be first in line for homes if they qualified.

"We are doing outreach to tell people they are on the list, and a good number of them were unaware of the significance of having the certificate," said Davis, whose nonprofit organization has helped working-class people become homeowners for more than 20 years.

Though the certificate policy has been in place for some time, the Redevelopment Agency is now funding the program and will have two full-time workers to assist with it by the fall. They will also strengthen the database for the program and hire firms to find people.

"I've been here 4 1/2 years and have only had two people with certificates of preference apply," Melgar said. "We are not going to be overrun with applicants. People have moved on with their lives. It is going to take a lot of work to get them to come back, but we are committed."
To collect a certificate

If you, a parent or grandparent lived in the Western Addition in the 1950s or 1960s or Hunters Point in the 1970s, you may be eligible for a housing certificate of preference. To find out, call the San Francisco Housing Development Corporation at (415) 822-1022 or the Mayor's Office of Housing at (415) 701-5500.

E-mail Leslie Fulbright at

This article appeared on page B - 1 of the San Francisco Chronicle