1964 — Mike Miller and the San Francisco Area-2 Redevelopment community project

 

"Blight" in San Francisco - code word for black removal and gentrification

 

Beginning in 1948, the City of San Francisco undertook to create new housing to reduce "urban blight" in the poorer sections of the City.  In that year the San Francisco Redevelopment Authority was created to carry out an ambitious program to reshape large areas that were deemed "blighted."  The Authority, which relied heavily on Federal funding for its projects, was largely under the control of real estate interests, developers of commercial projects and financial institutions.  While professing an intention to improve San Franciscans' access to affordable, higher quality housing, the Authority set about destroying the humble housing available to black residents and creating opportunities for business interests to make to profit from building expensive high rise rentals, condos and commercial buildings subsidized by taxpayer dollars.

The Fillmore

 

in almost 400 acres of the city, where many low-income residents lived in predominantly black neighborhoods,"The Fillmore," as that part of the Western Addition was and still is called, provided some of the only  housing available to the large groups of black workers that had migrated north during and immediately after WWII.   

 

Was redevelopment the next phase of the white power structure's need for segregated housing?

Restrictive practices by property owners and real estate interests limited available housing for blacks to a few areas where rents were high and landlords neglected their properties.  The result was that many Fillmore  households were overcrowded with family members and friends who pooled their income to pay the rent on large dilapidated Victorian homes.

 

The owners of Fillmore housing did not want to spend money on long-needed repairs and remodeling.  They had squeezed out most of profits to be made from their properties and the prospect of selling to developers seemed like a better deal.  The redevelopment process in San Francisco inevitably became a long and protracted battle for control between City government, developers and residents and their community organizations.  The residents and community groups were overpowered by the forces out to make money from San Francisco real estate.  The final outcome of redevelopment in the Fillmore was the widespread razing of older buildings, which brought with it the displacement of thousands of black residents, followed by years of empty lots and mostly futile community efforts to build new, affordable housing rather than gentrified, expensive housing units, mostly for a hoped-for influx of more affluent financial and tech workers..  

 

Areas A-1 and A-2

 

The San Francisco Redevelopment Authority (SFRA) divided the Western Addition (Fillmore) into two projects:  A-1, which was in the heart of the Fillmore, and A-2, a larger area encircling A-1.  To resettle some displaced residents, SFRA chief Hermann arranged for the rehabbing of 1,300 units of temporary wartime housing in Hunters Point that had been previously declared unfit.  Nevertheless,, hundreds of families displaced  by the SFRA were moved into substandard housing, something the SFRA was legally prohibited from doing.

When these photographs were taken in 1964, attempts were being made by community organizers to bring together community members in the Fillmore to try to influence the SFRA to slow down the swift pace of housing demolition, and to increase the number and affordability of new and rehabbed units.  The community also wanted to avoid "throwing out the baby with the dishwater," by retaining existing parts of the community such as stores, barbershops and gathering places that were valued by the residents but were targeted by the SFRA for demolition.

 

Mike Miller

 

Mike Miller, a UC Sociologist, UC Berkeley graduate, early SLATE leader and SNCC organizer, led a small group of white organizers and local black youth in forming "Freedom House," a Fillmore institution devoted to helping organize the community in it's own interest, with an emphasis on affordable housing.  Miller's efforts were heavily influenced by having worked with Saul Alinsky, a Chicago sociologist/community organizer, who mounted successful urban change movements in Chicago, based on the principles of "confrontation and compromise," and the organizing of short and innovative community-based campaigns that kept participants interested and involved.

 

Results of the redevelopment project--gentrification and forced black exodus

In 1964, many San Franciscans had come to share the Fillmore residents' weariness and mistrust of urban renewal.  During the A-1 phase of the redevelopment process, community activists successfully raised awareness about how widespread demolition, displacement and lengthy construction delays had degraded the quality of life in the Western Addition.  Before work on A-1 began, 6,112 people lived in the project area; after work was completed, that number fell to 3,274.  2,009 units of new housing were constructed, only a third of which were set aside for low- and moderate-income families. 226 units were rehabbed, and 162 new units were created by working with individual property owners.  Western Addition A-1 was officially declared complete in March 1973.

 

A-2, the second phase of the Western Addition's redevelopment encompassed 277 acres and fully encircled Area A-1.  One of the SFRA's final urban renewal projects, the A-2 plan was amended 8 times by the Board of Supervisors, partially to give the redevelopment agency more time to replace the housing it had destroyed.

 

By the agency's own reckoning, 883 businesses and 4,729 households were displaced and 2,500 Victorian homes were demolished during A-1 and A-2.  Completed in 1983, the 1,114-unit Fillmore Center Apartments was one of the last complexes built in A-2, as well as being the City's largest housing build-out in years. Currently owned by Laramar Group, a real-estate holding company, the 13-acre facility includes 223 units at below-market prices. Some low-income residents use federal Section 8 vouchers to help pay their rent, which starts at $2,432/month for a studio.

"When I got back in 1980, the Fillmore was a whole different place with the high rises," said Jim Dennis, who moved away during A-2. "The black population had been dispersed... I don't know what it is now, but it has been declining ever since...as things changed, you saw less and less African-Americans in the community," said Breed. "Sometimes, its even hard to recognize the community I grew up in. There were so many who used to live there who don't live there any more."

Before WWII, the black population of San Francisco was 1% of the total, but by 1970 blacks were 13.4% of the city's population, and by by 2019 that percentage was down to 5%, largely due to the astronomical cost of housing.  In the present day the black population probably doubles for eight hours during the workday, when techies and financial workers flood into the City on BART and the commuter trains to work at their jobs and then return home to relatively cheaper housing in the East and South Bay cities.  

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The Fillmore District in San Francisco, not just the home of Bill Graham's counterculture night club and dance venue, but the once vital heart of the City's black community.

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Mike Miller and an Area-2 meeting of local residents of the Fillmore at Freedom House.

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Black youth in the Fillmore involved in neighborhood revitalization projects, like this painting of a dilapidated sheet metal wall.

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In the male-dominated culture of the movement at the time, it was mostly men doing the talking and deciding and women ddoing the clerical work

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This local man has a lot of ideas for the meeting.

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Another long, tiring meeting.

I got the impression that white student activists ran the A-2 office.

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Fillmore neighborhood plumbing store, offering innovative solutions to common household problems.