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Gentrification in the Bay Area: How has urban displacement in the San Francisco-Bay Area continued to transpire, and what are its lasting consequences?


Crane-Covered Downtown Oakland
Photo Source: Richards, Kathleen. “The Forces Driving Gentrification in Oakland.” East Bay Express, 20 Apr. 2020

Introduction to Topic:

If you were to ask anyone in the Bay Area what the biggest problem in our cities is, the homeless epidemic would probably top the list. After that, gentrification, which is connected to the aforementioned crisis, might the next spot.

Gentrification, the displacement of people primarily in lower income areas due to rising rent and housing rates, has rapidly journeyed from one Bay Area neighborhood to another during the last decade. The effects of gentrification are nothing short of unbelievable. In Oakland, “rents in once affordable neighborhoods [have] spiral[ed] upward by 80% to an average of $2,314, according to Axiometrics” (Rainey). You can no longer turn your head without seeing gentrification right in front of your eyes. Whether it’s a coffee shop that took the place of a laundromat or a lavish sky-rise occupying a block of former houses, it has become impossible to ignore.

My Personal Interest:

  Seeing how much the community around us has changed during this era of transition is what initially sparked my interest for the Catalyst for Change project. Over the past ten years, gentrification has turned the Bay Area upside down, for better or worse. I value my community greatly and also believe that I have an obligation to try and make it a better place. Researching an incredibly controversial topic taking place right in my backyard will allow me to spread awareness regarding the issue. I know it may be a very small step in a never-ending fight, but I look to help people in my community by researching gentrification for the Catalyst for Change Project.

Read more about the overview and my personal interest in the topic here: https://docs.google.com/document/d/10RVIt9N6QNIbH0sfWsjntAHCK3C2MzOSBo8pqja-mZg/edit?usp=sharing

The Beginnings of Gentrification in the Bay Area:

The gentrification transpiring today in the Bay Area and its resulting displacement of lower-income minorities has been a critical issue since before the turn of this century. The process made its way to San Francisco following the Dot-Com Boom of the late 1990s which helped create the now trillion dollar technology market in Silicon Valley (Maharawal and McElroy). During the Dot-Com Boom, companies like Google and Apple experienced huge growth and saw stocks rise exponentially. The influx of both investors and technology employees flocking to the City by the Bay and nearby Silicon Valley led to soaring rent hikes which ultimately were responsible for both fair and unfair evictions of lower income minorities ((Maharawal and McElroy).

In the years following 2010, just a few after the foreclosure crisis of 2008-2009, a second tidal-wave of gentrification came to the Bay Area, and rent increased exponentially. The effects of this period continue to hit Oakland the hardest out of all Bay Area cities (Rainey). This resurgence, seen less than 15 years after the initial dot-com boom, coincides with the emergence of social media titans Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram and related mobile technologies such as Uber, Lyft, and DoorDash. The era dubbed the “App Boom” has brought thousands of people to the Bay Area in the same way as its predecessor (Maharawal and McElroy). The ensuing gentrification had similar effects, but unlike the Dot-Com Boom, the “App Boom” caused significant displacement in areas outside of just San Francisco and Silicon Valley. 

Read more about the historical aspect of my topic here: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1C77WLJXNESZ5ELmoKh3qsaq7qd95WEH1iGDOg88j_hA/edit

This infographic demonstrates growth in Bay-Area real-estate markets which correlate to rent-hikes during the aforementioned waves of gentrification.

Infographic Source: “Bay Area Real Estate Markets Survey – Compass.” Compass

What You Need to Know: 

     The threat of further displacement from gentrification looms large over Bay Area communities,  disproportionately affecting people of color. Approximately 54% of low-income minority households are in areas currently being gentrified or are in danger of facing future gentrification (Russell). This number is even higher for African-Americans, with an estimated 66% of those in low-income households in neighborhoods experiencing gentrification already or at risk of it (Russell). The ongoing cycle remains at the forefront of problems threatening the Bay Area. 

       The displacement of minorities isn’t the only consequence of gentrification in the Bay Area. The homeless population in cities with ties to big tech companies has skyrocketed since the two eras of boom (Cowan). As of today, the Bay Area has the third highest homeless population, behind New York and Los Angeles (Cowan). However, it had the second highest percentage of homeless people without shelter at 67% behind only Los Angeles at 75% (Cowan). This unbelievably high percentage is directly related to the Bay Area’s affordable housing shortage (Cowan). This shortage has resulted from the rising rent costs which are a pivotal component in the gentrification process. In Oakland, over 40% of the homeless population weren’t homeless until after the age of 50, which demonstrates the large role gentrification has played in the homeless epidemic (LaGrone). 

Homeless Encampment in Oakland
Photo Source:
Taylor, Otis Jr R. “Oakland to Try ‘Safe Haven’ Camps for Homeless.” SFChronicle.com, San Francisco Chronicle, 9 Oct. 2017

While there is no perfect answer to the gentrification and displacement in the Bay Area,  there are several people and organizations working through different innovative methods to help solve the problem. One of the most credited organizations dedicated to researching the topic is the Urban Displacement Project. “A UC Berkeley research initiative”, the Urban Displacement Project conducts thorough investigations into gentrification transpiring in Bay Area neighborhoods and reports their findings in innovative ways to try and spread awareness within the community (Zuk and Chapple). 

Another organization devoted to fixing the issue with a more hands-on approach is the East Bay Permanent Real Estate Cooperative, EBPREC for short. The non-profit organization strives to purchase properties at risk of gentrification using money from a collective fund contributed by local residents (“What We Do”). Once the property is purchased, the EBPREC then teaches the tenants how to communally manage the complex, thereby eliminating landlords and the rent hikes that come with them (“What We Do”). EBPREC currently owns 4 properties in Oakland, but is actively working to expand their base (“What We Do”). 

The Mission Housing Development Corporation, a non-profit based in the Mission District, purchases property throughout San Francisco (“About”). The MHDC then either preserves a pre-existing affordable housing complex or converts the property into a similar residence (“About”). The MHDC currently provides housing for 3,000 residents and owns 35 different properties with “1,000 additional 100 percent affordable rental units [currently] being developed” (“About”). 

Lastly, the people themselves in communities being gentrified have frequently come together to try and save their neighborhoods from real estate development. Usually, this occurs in the form of peaceful protests so that local governments are convinced to protect their areas. One of the most successful examples of a neighborhood battle against gentrification involved a group of Oakland locals that called themselves EUJ: Eastlake United for Justice (Tepperman-Gelfant and Zisser). When the City of Oakland planned to sell public land to luxury developers in their neighborhood in 2015, EUJ fought their proposal and ultimately persuaded the city to create more affordable housing (Tepperman-Gelfant and Zisser). 

 

For Now:

Micro Solutions (Individual):

Education: It is pivotal that people in the Bay Area learn about the gentrification process transpiring in our communities (Martichoux). This is not only to spread awareness about the unintended consequences such as homelessness and displacement, but also so that someone can realize if they have unknowingly contributed to it. To find out more about “how to not be a gentrifier”, read this article: www.sfgate.com/expensive-san-francisco/article/gentrification-sf-oakland-san-francisco-vallejo-13293754.php#photo-15892278. To learn about how the process is affecting our communities,  visit www.urbandisplacement.org

Donations and Volunteering: There are many non-profit organizations working hard to minimize the negative effects of gentrification in the Bay Area. However, they are underfunded, which makes an already incredibly difficult task even harder. These organizations could greatly use support through both donations and volunteer work. Here are a few I highly recommend investing both time and resources to: ebprec.org and missionhousing.org.

Supporting Locally-Owned Businesses: Supporting locally owned businesses, particularly those owned by people of color, aids both the employees and business owners, many of whom are experiencing gentrification themselves (Martichoux). Times have been tough for traditional community establishments due to the influx of stores and restaurants opening that cater to the younger, more “hip” crowd. Next time you ponder where to get a bite to eat, consider an option where your dinner tab will help pay the rent. 

Macro Solutions(Societal):

Impose stricter rent-control. One of the most effective ways to limit the amount of gentrification is putting a cap on rent increases. Recent rent increases have been disproportionate with tenants’ wage increases, making it impossible for many to avoid eviction, leading to displacement (Russell). AB142 may be all the legislation needed to regulate Bay Area rent hikes, but if not, I believe city governments must impose rent-control laws that more closely correlate to city-wide wages. 

Create more subsidized housing. The lack of subsidized housing has been one of the biggest contributors to the displacement and homelessness resulting from gentrification (Cowan). I think I may have found a cost-efficient solution to the growing need. Throughout the Bay Area, there are several vacant army-barracks located in communities experiencing gentrification. These barracks could hold hundreds of people and require less renovation costs to convert the spaces to either subsidized or 100% affordable housing. The barracks are already located on publicly owned land, so they could easily be designated development-free areas and have a constant rent rate. I think this is a viable alternative to building new complexes, and should be explored. 

Read more about the present-day problem and my action steps here:

https://docs.google.com/document/d/1E4V3BlLnXznsxZ_4e73SeP9DTWG9OYXRenk-ilfqFKw/edit?usp=sharing

Works Cited:

https://docs.google.com/document/d/1ys7h7xp2UDmqnG5FLbPi83VPK3a4DfRne8lKWFCjF9Q/edit?usp=sharing

Comments:

Now that you have read my webpage, please comment down below any thoughts or feedback for how I can improve my project. Specifically, provide further insight regarding a possible micro or macro solution of your own to gentrification in the Bay Area.


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COMMENTS: 1
  1. April 26, 2020 by Annushka

    Hello! Thanks for a very detailed and thought-provoking project. Living in Vancouver, which shares some demographic similarities with San Francisco, I’ve also noticed gentrification becoming more and more pronounced over the years, and it’s definitely very problematic, especially for low-income families. During the COVID-19 crisis in particular, housing issues have gotten worse globally, with people not being able to afford rent, and homeless communities being at disproportionately high risk due to an inability to practice social distancing. One thing that I found interesting in your article was when you mentioned the link to racial inequality in California—I recently read a book titled The Color of Law which describes the history of residential discrimination in the United States, and one of the examples it cites is housing discrimination against African American shipyard workers in Richmond, California. To that end, I wonder if a history of American segregation makes some of the issues of gentrification worse, though unfortunately, the solution to that is somewhat unclear. In any case, thanks for writing this thoughtful article!

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