Saving the southeast

Foreclosure wave speeds SF's black exodus while city officials focus on new condo construction

This map of all foreclosures in San Francisco shows a heavy concentration in the southern part of the city, home to many low-income communities of color.

When Mayor Gavin Newsom and Sup. Sophie Maxwell convened a task force in July 2007 to figure out why African Americans are leaving San Francisco and how to reverse this trend, the subprime loan market crisis was about to send a shock wave of home foreclosures sweeping through southeast San Francisco.

Hope SF, the promised rebuild of the city's public housing projects, is underway at a cost of $95 million. The city's certificates of preference program, giving housing priority to black residents displaced by redevelopment, has been expanded and extended. But little has been done to address the immediate problem.

Instead political leaders have focused on a plan to subsidize Lennar Corp.'s construction of thousands of new condos in the southeast section of the city — the heart of the San Francisco's remaining African American community — and have done nothing to promote a plan that could convert hundreds of foreclosed homes into affordable for-sale or rental units there, right here, right now.

African American Out Migration Task Force (AAOMTF) members recall warning that the crisis would likely hit San Francisco's already dwindling black population extra hard. And Sup. John Avalos, who was running for election in District 11, remembers seeing impacts in the Excelsior District as early as 2007.

"I was telling people in early 2007 that this was a problem in District 11, and even real estate people didn't believe me," recalled Avalos, who is exploring legislation to hold banks accountable and spoke at an ACORN protest in support of Excelsior homeowner Genaro Paed, a Filipino native who just staved off eviction orders pending the outcome of his lawsuit against Washington Mutual concerning what Paed describes as "a predatory loan" secured in 2006.

Avalos also planned to introduce legislation on May 12 that would expand protection of renters, including those in foreclosed homes who are now being evicted by banks.

This isn't the first time city leaders have studied the African American exodus or ways to prevent low-income and minority households from being preyed upon or displaced. Indeed, this task force's initial findings, (released last summer after Lennar spent millions to persuade voters to support building 10,000 condos in the city's southeast) suggests San Francisco's entire black community is at risk unless proactive and immediate steps are taken.

According to U.S. Census data, the city's African American population shrank to 6.6 percent of the city's total population by 2005 (a 40 percent decline since 1990) and will likely slip to 4.6 percent by 2050, according to the California Department of Finance. And these findings were made before the foreclosure crisis heated up.

In 2008 Maxwell and other elected officials convened a Fair Lending Working Group (FLWG) to figure out how to respond to the wave of foreclosures. By year's end, there were 667 home foreclosures in San Francisco, almost all in the city's southeast sector.

These numbers sound small compared to Contra Costa County or Oakland, where thousands of foreclosures occurred. And they aren't big enough to qualify for the first round of President Barack Obama's National Stabilization Program grants, which were released earlier this year.