Fed up with foreclosures and evictions, the Occupy SF Housing coalition fights back
Pressed by foreclosures, evictions, and an economic crisis with the gnawing tenacity of an early winter flu, San Franciscans protested in neighborhoods throughout the city on Saturday, Dec. 3. Marches from four of the city's most impacted neighborhoods merged in the Financial District to pressure landlords, banks, and what the Occupy movement has dubbed the 1 percent to ease the spreading hardship surrounding housing in San Francisco.
"The 99 percent tenants and homeowners can no longer let the 1 percent banks and real estate speculators destroy our city and our lives so we're marching in the neighborhoods and on the streets today," asserted the statement read by the Occupy SF Housing coalition to the crowd gathered in the Financial District. The message echoed through the glass and granite corridors in front of Wells Fargo, passed along in a thousand voices by the now ubiquitous "mic check" style of Occupy crowd communication.
Housing advocates warned that a steady stream of foreclosures, climbing rents, and lagging job opportunities are driving even native San Franciscans out of the city for the relatively affordable housing in the East Bay or forcing them out of the region altogether, transforming the face of San Francisco into an older, whiter, wealthier demographic.
Throughout the economic crisis, San Francisco as a whole has posted lower foreclosure rates than surrounding counties. At first glance, San Francisco, with one in 880 homes facing foreclosure, looks like a safe harbor in the state's troubled residential real estate market compared with the statewide foreclosure rate of one home in 243, according RealtyTrac. That represents 55,312 residential units across the state. Nationally, one in 563 homes was in some stage of foreclosure as of October 2011, the most recently released numbers.
However, a near absence of foreclosures in affluent, stable, San Francisco neighborhoods like Pacific Heights and Noe Valley hide troubling foreclose rates in the city's blue collar ZIP codes that far exceed national and statewide levels. In the 94124 zip code that includes the Bayview and Hunters Point, one in 180 homes received foreclosure filings, higher then Oakland's overall average rate of one in 245 homes — levels that reflect the experience of some of the nation's most hard hit areas.
Of the 1,513 homes currently listed on the San Francisco housing market, 1,255 were in the pre-foreclosure, auction, or bank-owned stages of the foreclosure process, representing roughly 82 percent of the available housing stock.
At the downtown headquarters of Wells Fargo, Occupy protesters were placing some of the blame for the deepening hardship at the feet of the big banks. According to the Occupy SF Housing coalition, Wells Fargo is the mortgage lender for 226 homes in San Francisco that are in some stage of foreclosure. That represents about 18 percent of the total homes in San Francisco under foreclosure.
In neighborhoods like Hunters Point, these evictions have turned into an economic cascade of household wealth in decline, even for those who have managed to hold onto their homes.
With foreclosures flooding the market, the median sales price for homes in Hunters Point from Aug. 11 to Oct. 11 was $167,500. This represents a decline of 13.2 percent, or $25,500 per home on average, compared to the prior quarter. Sales prices have depreciated 62.6 percent over the last five years in Hunters Point, wiping out equity families have built over years, and leaving those who hang on stuck in underwater mortgages, where their debt far exceeds the value of their home.
"Predatory equity loans make a quick profit (for the lender) at the expense of home owners in the Bayview," said Grace Martinez of the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE). "There are 11 homeowners on a two-block stretch of Quesada in default or have already lost their homes."