A mix of neighborhood merchants, community activists and a couple City Hall staffers met for a community forum Sept. 23 on Mission gentrification, voicing anger and frustration about rising displacement in the face of soaring rents.
Arranged by organizer Andy Blue, the forum was hosted by Rose Aguilar of Your Call Radio and held at the Eric Quezada Center for Culture and Politics on Valencia Street.
The recent controversy stemming from a bid by high-end retailer Jack Spade to move into a 16th Street storefront catalyzed the discussion, but many addressed the overarching transformation of a neighborhood that has been flooded with high-salaried residents who can afford to pay top dollar.
Gabriel Medina, policy manager of the Mission Economic Development Agency, said he’s troubled by the displacement of Latino-owned businesses. About 80 percent of Latino-owned businesses are passed onto proprietors’ children, he said, representing critical assets in a pricey city like San Francisco. “It’s getting cheaper to be able to start a business than to buy a house,” he pointed out.
Erick Arguello of Calle 24 (formerly the Lower 24th Street Merchants and Neighbors Association) said he’d seen a similar trend along his strip of the Mission, where some Latino-owned businesses have managed to hold strong since they bought their properties years ago.
Nevertheless, Arguello said, the pressure is on. “There’s been an onslaught of realtors and prospectors on 24th Street,” he said. “They ask about the neighbor next door: Do you know when their lease goes to?”
Nor are businesses the only ones impacted. “We’re seeing a lot of evictions of residents along the corridor,” he noted. “The majority of them are Latino families.”
Laura Guzman, executive director of the Mission Neighborhood Resource Center, decried a lack of funding for affordable housing and dedicated units for the homeless and impoverished.
She said many individuals living on the streets in the Mission lack options, leading them to pass the time in the BART plaza. “Support the people in the plaza. They’re human beings,” Guzman said.
Nick Pagoulatos, a legislative aid to Sup. Eric Mar who was previously involved with mid-90s anti-gentrification campaigns in the Mission, said he himself wasn’t sure if he would be able to remain in the city.
“I’m a partner to a woman who was born in the Mission,” he said, acknowledging the deep ties her family has to the neighborhood. “We know that when we lose our housing” – it is likely a question of when, not if, Pagoulatos said – “we’re not going to be able to stay in the Mission. And we’re probably not going to be able to stay in San Francisco.”
Some activist efforts have emerged. A direct action group called Eviction Free San Francisco has staged protests outside the doors of real-estate speculators. At the upcoming Dia de los Muertos 2013 celebration, curator Martina Ayala said at the meeting, “We are building altars to remember the life that we once enjoyed.” La Llorona, a Dia de los Muertos exhibit that will be held at the Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts, is subtitled “weeping for the life and death of the Mission District.”
A similar transformation happened 10 years ago when the first dot-com boom flooded the Mission with deep-pocketed residents, Pagoulatos noted. Back then, “there was an organized reaction,” he said. “To be honest with you, we fought the good fight, we were at it for a long time and we didn’t win.”
This time around, “Our level of disgust for what’s been going on has been numbed,” he said. But he called for reaching out to engage unlikely allies, and for tapping into collective anger about displacement to bring about change.
“Get pissed, folks," Pagoulatos said. "Anger is a good thing, especially in the face of injustice.”