Anti-Gentrification Teach–In Preaches in Numbers

By Patrick Fitzgerald

Approximately 100 people packed into a room at City College’s Mission Center on April 30 listened with rapt attention to multi-talented artist Yolanda Lopez recount her activist days while exhorting a new generation to fight against gentrification of San Francisco’s Mission neighborhood.

The 74-year-old Lopez faced gentrification as she and her former partner, Rene Yañez, received an Ellis Act eviction notice from their home of 42 years in May 2014. She has since received a one-year reprieve from eviction thanks to the help of the San Francisco Community Land Trust and Mission Economic Development Agency, yet she finds the short deferment cold comfort.

Lopez was the guest speaker at a teach-in workshop on stopping gentrification led by City College interdisciplinary studies instructor Leslie Simon. The workshop was designed to educate, network and empower others to employ strategies that would mitigate the most egregious gentrification effects throughout San Francisco — especially those epitomized in the Mission neighborhood.

“The message of the event was that a wide range of individuals and organizations are working to stop gentrification,” Simon said in an email. “The other goal…was to link anti-gentrification work with pro-enrollment work at City College at Mission Campus, and a small group will be investigating the possibility of a door-to-door campaign in the Mission.”

Panel discussion

After Lopez spoke and reviewed slides of her former activist artwork, a seven-member panel convened and discussed ongoing organizing efforts focused on anti-gentrification in the Mission and City College’s own community efforts to boost enrollment.

Among the many organizations working against gentrification are the Tenderloin Housing Clinic, Calle 24, Plaza 16, the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE), the Council of Community Housing Organization (CCHO), and PODER.

Panelist Carolyn Gage of (ACCE) Bayview, spoke about her experience as a victim of predatory lending often used to displace families from their homes. She spoke of gentrification as having a positive connotation of neighborhood beautification when in reality, it destroys and uproots existing neighborhoods and their character.

Others spoke of how banks, speculators, fancy developments and even redesign of transportation such as The Third Street Light Rail Project, can disrupt existing communities and thereby exploit them either by willful intent or benign neglect. Yet the preeminent message of the teach-in was there is strength in numbers.

“Organizing can provide people power that can translate into political power that can create laws to help keep communities stay intact,” Don Schaan, an activist and former City College student said. “People meeting others doing similar work help inspire confidence and camaraderie that make hard work seem easier and more rewarding.”

City College Enrollment

Simon saw parallels between the Mission District gentrification and City College’s own struggle fending off the fallout of low enrollment caused by a brutal, ongoing accreditation fight with the Accreditation Commission for Community and Junior Colleges. Edgar Torres, chair of Latin American and Latino/a studies at City College, spoke not only of the need for people to become involved, but also the need for people to seek an education and for that education to be free.

“The idea of having the first two years of tuition free for anyone who is a resident of San Francisco or anyone who works here 50 percent of the time is absolutely critical,” Torres said. “When I went to study not so long ago, it was free, and I would certainly like to see it return to that.“

Anti-gentrification strategies

One among many anti-gentrification strategies currently underway is a push for truly affordable housing initiated by CCHO.  The ACCE and the San Francisco Tenants Union are also working to stop unjust evictions from happening.

Supervisors Jane Kim and Aaron Peskin and the Proposition C Coalition on May 7 rallied support for passing Proposition C on the June 7 ballot at the Women’s Building. The measure is meant to increase the number of affordable housing units private developers are required to build on new market-rate housing projects of 25 or more units. It would also authorize the Board to change affordable housing requirements.

Supervisor David Campos’s who sponsored creation of The Calle 24 Latino Cultural District in May 2014 stood out as a significant City Hall victory that would preserve the heart of San Francisco’s Latino community. The district aims to become an economic entity of diverse income households and businesses that reflect the unique Latino culture along the 24th Street corridor bordered by Valencia Street on the west and Potrero Street on the east.

Simon felt overwhelmed by the turnout and expressed delight at the interest in the event. It was part of an ambitious project called “Race and Place: Architecture of Segregation and Liberation” that highlights the history of American segregation for indigenous people, African Americans, Latino/as, Asian Americans and other people of color. It is now on public exhibit in the Mission Center lobby till June 30.

Contact a reporter

Send an email to: Patrick Fitzgerald or tweet to @HitSquarely


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