Kaiser

Michael Theriault headshot

By Michael Theriault, Secretary-Treasurer

“Progressive” rhetoric often blames new development for the displacement of the working class and poor, and especially of “communities of color.”

The reality of displacement is certainly more complex than the opponents of new construction have admitted. Their claims in support of their rhetoric raise many questions.

Supervisor David Campos is considering a moratorium on the construction of market-rate housing in the Mission District. In support of the moratorium he said in a recent Examiner editorial that in the last twenty years 1400 Latino families had departed the Mission. What Campos did not do in the editorial was establish a causal link between new construction and these departures.

His number can tell a contrary and much simpler story. We know that roughly 1500 new housing units have been built in the Mission since 2000. The number over the last twenty years would then be somewhat higher. With Campos’s number, this demonstrates that there was a market for at least 2900 units of housing in the Mission during that period, more than half of which was served by new construction. Some substantial portion at least of the other near-half could also have been served by new construction, if it had occurred. Just what portion, and how many Latino families would then have stayed, we will never know.

The Building Trades have been raising poor families into the middle class throughout our history. Many have been and continue to be from the Mission.

Nor will we know exactly why all those 1400 families left. Some were certainly displaced by evictions, whether well-publicized or quiet. It is likely, however, that some left because they bettered their lives, as had earlier generations of immigrants who passed through the Mission.

Although home ownership in the Mission has long been lower than in other parts of the City, Latino families did and do own homes there. I know personally of African-American families who cashed in their homes in the Bayview and bought larger, more modern homes outside the City. How many of the 1400 departed Latino families in the Mission did the same?

I know also of African-American families who kept their homes in the Bayview but rented them out and bought new homes out of town with mortgage payments lower than what they were earning in rent. They became landlords, then, and their departure became a net source of income. How many of the Latino families who left the Mission did this?

How many Latino families were renters who received buyouts from their landlords and used this money to make down payments on new homes or otherwise establish new lives elsewhere?

The Building Trades have been raising poor families into the middle class throughout our history. Many have been and continue to be from the Mission. For at least a generation our success in this has often meant that those families, when they found that they at last had enough income to buy homes, did not see homes for middle-class buyers in the City, let alone in their neighborhoods. How many of the 1400 Latino families left the Mission for this reason?

Until these questions are answered we cannot know the effect that the moratorium that Supervisor Campos is considering will have on the Latino presence in the Mission. In fact, they indicate that the effect may be the opposite of what he intends. The moratorium will not stop market demand for homes in the Mission. A moratorium in the face of high demand will mean higher returns for Latino homeowners who cash out or rent out their properties, and so a greater impetus for their departure. It will provide landlords greater incentives to evict or to buy out Latino renters in rent-controlled units.

And it does absolutely nothing to address the dearth of middle-income housing in the Mission and in the City. Supervisor Campos’s advocacy for “affordable” housing in the Mission is not for middle-class homes, but for units the construction of which qualifies for tax credits – that is, units for families earning less than sixty percent of area median income. Few Building Trades families fall into this range. I suspect that Supervisor Campos has no ideas on increasing middle-class housing in the Mission. He is not blameworthy in this; many public-policy thinkers, politicians or not, have thrown up their hands before this challenge.

But I do blame Supervisor Campos for acknowledging the problem of middle-income housing in his editorial and implying that his moratorium will address it. He knows better.

So long as he fails to find a solution to this problem, the remarkable success of the Building Trades in raising Latino working families into the middle class will continue to bring their departure from the Mission, and his moratorium may just make matters worse.

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