SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX) — State Sen. Scott Wiener (D-S.F.) is no stranger to controversy but a new advertising campaign against his housing bill is unusually provocative.
San Francisco’s urban renewal programs from the 1940s through the 1970s are blamed for an exodus of black people whose homes were torn down to make room for large development projects.
Now the AIDS Healthcare Foundation is invoking that history to oppose a new housing bill, SB 50, co-authored by senator Wiener.
Mailers sent to homes in San Francisco and Los Angeles this week show, on one side, the words, “URBAN RENEWAL MEANS NEGRO REMOVAL” under a picture of the writer James Baldwin.
On the other side of the mailer is another picture of Baldwin and his 1963 quote about urban renewal programs in San Francisco: “San Francisco is engaging … in something called urban renewal, which means moving the Negroes out. It means Negro removal.”
The Foundation is also running ads on cable television featuring a recording of Baldwin’s quote. The mailer and the commercials encourage people to contact Wiener to oppose SB 50.
“SB 50 makes it possible to build more housing near public transportation and near where people work because that’s where the housing should be,” said Wiener, noting that he doesn’t think we should build in rural areas that make people drive longer distances to get to work.
According to a legislative analysis of SB 50, the bill, “requires a local government to grant an equitable communities incentive, which reduces specified local zoning standards in ‘jobs-rich’ and ‘transit-rich areas,’ as defined, when a development proponent meets specified requirements.” The incentives that must be offered vary but can include a waiver of height limits up to 55 feet and a waiver of parking space requirements for housing close to transit.
The bill allows “sensitive communities,” where there is high poverty and segregation, to have more input in designing a plan to incentivize housing.
“I know there are people worried about displacement,” said Wiener. “I’m worried about displacement. We put strong affordability and anti-eviction and anti-displacement protectionsin the bill.”
A development is excluded from the benefits of SB 50 if there were any tenants living in housing on the proposed site in the prior seven years.
A developer is also excluded if there was an Ellis Act eviction at the site in the prior 15 years.
The bill also contains affordable housing requirements that vary depending on the size of the building. If a local government requires more affordable housing than is in the bill, the local requirement applies.
Rene Moya is the director of Housing is a Human Right, which is affiliated with the AIDS Healthcare Foundation. He says the affordability requirements are far too low and communities will not have enough input into the development decisions.
He defends the use of the phrase “Negro removal” as reflecting the extraordinary emotion felt by people at risk of gentrification. At the grassroots level, “I hear people using terms like, ‘social cleansing,’” Moya said.
As for how people are reacting to the ads and mailers, Wiener says he’s hearing from people who are shocked and appalled by the invocation of urban renewal to describe his effort to increase California’s desperately-needed housing stock.
KPIX spoke with one San Franciscan named Hala who described her reaction upon receiving the mailer.
“I walked in, opened the mailbox … and I’m seeing James Baldwin. I read it, got a little disgusted and just ripped it up right then and there,” Hala said. “I mean, James Baldwin! You shouldn’t be using him for your political fight — and why is this health care group sending this housing thing? There’s just nothing good about this.”