San Francisco is still trying to welcome back the thousands of residents displaced by redevelopment decades ago.
When vibrant black communities in areas like the Fillmore, Western Addition and Hunters Point were torn apart by the now-condemned “urban renewal” of the Redevelopment Agency during the 1960s and 1970s, thousands of businesses and residents were displaced.
Those who were displaced were provided with certificates of preference to give them a housing priority. But over the years, The City lost track of many of them.
Of the more than 5,800 households displaced by the “urban renewal,” only 1,660 have used a certificate of preference — which gives them priority in housing lotteries and wait lists — to move into San Francisco’s affordable housing.
The City has been under pressure to ensure everyone who is entitled to the certificates of preference are aware of the benefit and housing opportunities.
In 2007, then-Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi, who represented the Fillmore area, criticized city officials for failing to prioritize housing those with certificates of preference. But on Tuesday, city officials praised the renewed efforts
“We’ve really amped up efforts,” said Tiffany Bohee, executive director of the Office of Community Investment and Infrastructure. “We see kind of a doubling-down of that.”
The number of certificate-holder housing applicants has increased with 61 in fiscal year 2013-14, 95 in fiscal year 2014-15, and 157 in fiscal year 2015-16, according to data presented at an OCII hearing. Of the applicants last year, 44 (who are black) were housed — with 10 returning to San Francisco from places like Oakland and Sacramento — up from 23 and 17 the prior two years.
“We were able to house 44 people,” said Maria Benjamin, director of below-market-rate programs for the Mayor’s Office of Housing. “I think it is a big deal.”
The increased concentration on certificates comes at a time when affordable housing is in extremely high demand amid a development boom.
Of three new housing developments last year under OCII, there were a combined 248 affordable housing units, for which there were 12,254 applicants. Of the total applicants, 95 held certificates of preference.
Among the three housing projects was Mercy Housing California’s 280 Beale St., with 69 affordable housing units ranging from one to two bedrooms. Of the 5,354 applicants for those 69 units, 12 held certificates of preference and six moved in. Of the six who were unsuccessful, three were denied for having too low of an income, and three didn’t follow through, according to Benjamin.
Even if certificate-holders do win a housing slot, there are other barriers such as income levels, credit scores and unpaid past rent.
Miguel Bustos, an OCII commissioner, praised the improved efforts but said combating disqualifications should become a focus.
“People were pushed out not based on their credit scores. They were pushed out not based on their income,” Bustos said. “So we need to invite them back not based on their credit scores or their income. But we need to welcome them back based on what is right.”
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The Mayor’s Office of Housing has an address list of 5,893 households in the Western Addition, Fillmore and Hunters Point area where people were displaced by the now condemned “urban renewal.”
Only those who were living in the units at the time of displacement, around 1967 through 1975, are entitled to a certificate.
As of last fiscal year,1,660 certificate of preference holders have used them to move into affordable housing in San Francisco. Another 1,616 certificate of preference holders have died.
There are currently 871 certificate of preference holders who the Mayor’s Office of Housing is in steady communication with, Benjamin said.
Bohee said in a Dec. 20 memo that the OCII hired a Senior Development Specialist “to focus on COP holder and marketing activities in collaboration with MOHCD, and initiated a COP holder survey to thoroughly identify the demographics of this population to inform our future housing development program policies to ensure we are serving the COP population.”
Bohee said in the memo that early next year, OCII would hire “a consultant to complete the survey of COP holders and will provide this report to the commission in the spring of 2017.”
Another improvement to the affordable housing system is DHALIA, an online application system and housing listings that is currently in a pilot stage.