Promises Made and Promises Kept Through HOPE SF
On Friday, April 14th HOPE SF celebrated an important benchmark. On this sunny day, with the sparkling San Francisco Bay serving as a backdrop, the last Hunters View families moved from some of the City’s worst public housing into brand new units across the street.
Elected officials who have provided critical support to HOPE SF, including House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi and Mayor Ed Lee, joined tenant leader Lottie Titus, HOPE SF director Theo Miller, and San Francisco Foundation CEO Fred Blackwell in speaking from the small podium. Blackwell, who when working for the City was part of crafting the HOPE SF vision and strategy, poignantly noted that this event did not mark the end point for HOPE SF and Hunters View residents. It was instead, he said, a launching point for the hard work still to come — building a healthy mixed-income community in which residents are fully connected to their neighborhood and to the City’s economic, cultural, and social life.
I, too, have been a part of HOPE SF since its inception. I also have a long history of working in Bayview and with public housing residents during my years as a community organizer and at the Mayor’s Office of Community Development. I am proud that the Walter & Elise Haas Fund has been a long-term supporter of this initiative. Because of this, it was profoundly moving for me to be able to see the contrast between the old and the new during the festivities — the horrid and dangerous World War II-era barracks and the newly constructed housing units, easily mistaken for some of the $1+ million condos that have risen in SOMA and Mission Bay.
It was also moving to hear residents and speakers talk of the many promises made to public housing families over the years – and of the importance of having this promise of new, safe, healthy housing kept. This same promise is being kept at the other HOPE SF sites. Alice Griffith, Potrero, and the city’s largest public housing project, Sunnydale, are all at various stages of progress.
It’s not easy to keep either the public or private sector focused on a 20+ year anti-poverty initiative such as HOPE SF. Nor is there a clear roadmap; HOPE SF’s evaluators have pointed out the dismal track record of other cities that have replaced public housing with mixed-income communities. None have done so by ensuring that existing public housing residents remain the center of the transformation. Thus, other so-called revitalization efforts have either relocated most of the original residents away from the new housing, or created separate but unequal housing that marginalizes residents physically and socially.
Though HOPE SF’s ambitions go beyond providing safe and healthy housing, completing the move into the new units represents a significant milestone. The Hunters View families, like those at the other HOPE SF sites, have had to endure decades of failed programs and broken promises. Completing this new housing is a necessary precondition of being able to break through the deep mistrust public housing residents have rightfully had in government and its partners. Halfway through HOPE SF’s 20-year arc, the delivery of new housing means that public housing residents can begin to see and shape a different future for themselves and their whole community.
There is still a long way to go. Real change is a messy process and it takes time. But I am proud of what has been achieved and confident that all of HOPE SF’s partners — the residents, the affordable housing organizations, local government, philanthropy, and community organizations – will continue to realize the values and dreams that underpin this ambitious work.