A Mission Timeline
Asking open-ended questions about culture, ethnicity, and gentrification across the decades.
As The Frisc reported last week, one goal of Mission District activists is to have other San Francisco neighborhoods step up and build more housing amid the current crisis.
Carlos Bocanegra, an organizer of January 25’s March for Mission Street, told us before the march that the coalition group United to Save the Mission isn’t opposed to new housing, but “we think the Mission is doing more than its share.”
He noted that the Sunset, the Marina, and other neighborhoods flex their political muscle to maintain “stability.”
Let’s check some numbers: The city Planning Department tracks new housing production. Here are the numbers from 2007 to 2016:
The key column here is “total net units.” Far and away the city’s development champ has been South of Market/Mission Bay (District 6). Next up are the southeastern areas, including Dogpatch, Potrero Hill, and Bayview-Hunters Point (District 10). The Mission (District 9, which also includes Bernal Heights) is roughly equal to District 8 (the adjacent Glen Park, Castro, and Noe Valley) and lags behind District 5 (the Haight and Western Addition).
Yet when it comes to new housing projects in the Mission, there’s perception and there’s reality. Development hasn’t gone “absolutely bonkers.” We’re talking 1,000 new units in a decade — more than 20 percent of them affordable — for a district of some 47,000 people in about 1.5 square miles.
Looking ahead, there are at least the same number of units — more than 1,000 — in the pipeline. According to a count by the San Francisco Business Times last summer, three large projects made up of 403 market-rate and 203 affordable units have been approved since 2015, along with another 500 affordable units through nonprofit developments. There are no doubt plenty more units coming from smaller projects, but directionally the coming mix is weighted more or less equally between market-rate and affordable. And as The Frisc reported yesterday, Mission activists, far from powerless, are building political momentum, which means all eyes are on increasing the affordability of new projects (if they’re built at all).
If the Mission isn’t back to the 60 percent Latino level in 10 years’ time, will the efforts to defend the neighborhood against gentrification be considered a failure?
Will this new housing bring down rents, which indeed are sky-high? More specifically — addressing the question of displacement that comes with the backlash against development — will it stem the Latino drain from the Mission?
That was another plank in the platform Bocanegra and other marchers stood upon: Like 24th Street/Calle 24, Mission Street needs a Latino cultural corridor. Throughout the march and across the months and years of rising bile in the Mission about the rapid changes, those two goals — cultural preservation and anti-gentrification — were held out as one, inseparable.
Let’s check more numbers. A 2015 study by the Board of Supervisors’ budget and legislative analyst noted the Latino population fell from 60 percent to 48 percent between 2000 and 2013, a 27 percent drop that outpaced the 9 percent population drop of the neighborhood. As San Francisco took on rapid growth, the Mission grew less populated. (Caveat: The report’s Mission demographics were estimates based on samples, not full surveys.)
If the Mission isn’t, say, back to the 60 percent Latino level in 10 years’ time, will the anti-gentrification efforts be considered a failure? Would it be enough to hold the line at 48 percent?
Irish power base
In the 19th century, the Mission District was a backwater. Literally. The estuarian Mission Creek and Laguna Dolores took up much of the real estate. (Although some say the lake is a myth.)
After the 1906 earthquake, with much of the city destroyed, Mission Street became a thriving commercial thoroughfare. European immigrants flooded in, especially the Irish, perhaps seeking to escape pervasive prejudice in other American cities. A common sign then: “No Irish need apply.”
The Hibernian Hall at 454 Valencia St. anchored the neighborhood. Germans, Italians, Poles, and others joined the Mission mix, while the Irish built a citywide power base. Hibernia Bank, built upon the deposits of Irish gold-rush miners, might ring a bell to old-timers. It was a city institution until bank mergers in the 1980s; its final headquarters are now a historic landmark. Frank Jordan, who was born in 1935 and had a childhood home at 17th and Guerrero, rose to become police chief, and then mayor.
The Great Migration of World War II that brought African-Americans from the South also brought Latinos. Midcentury migrant workers decided to put down roots. Meanwhile, a Mexican community on Rincon Hill, displaced by the construction of the western end of the Bay Bridge (now rebranded as the East Cut), gained a foothold in the Mission.
That foothold turned into one of the country’s great centers of Latino politics, culture, and life, with Central Americans joining Mexicans in greater numbers as our new century approached. Slivers of the Mission also became home to burgeoning punk, art, and lesbian scenes in the affordable 1970s and 1980s.
Something to consider: According to 2016 census updates, in a city now topping 870,000 people for the first time, the Latino population is nearly 130,000, or 15.3 percent of the city. The population is 20,400 higher than in 2000, when Latinos made up 14.1 percent of the city.
To summarize: Fewer Latinos in the Mission, but more in other neighborhoods. Is cultural preservation a failure if other city neighborhoods become Latino outposts? Other immigrants have established neighborhood bases — Chinatown, Japantown, North Beach — and later generations have spread across the city.
How much of a city’s shifts should be staunched? Is it OK to lament, as this essayist does, the loss of Latino families and the arrival of whites in the Mission? What about the loss of African-Americans from Bayview-Hunters Point and the growth there of Latinos and Asians? Or the loss of whites in the Sunset or Richmond and the increases for Asians?
I realize I’m poking a wasp’s nest (pun intended) by asking open-ended questions about race and ethnicity. It’s a discussion deserving of our attention. Sometimes rules to preserve, defend, and remedy can work; sometimes they have unintended consequences. Sometimes both.
The notions of cultural preservation aren’t exclusively framed in ethnic terms. For example, one goal (among many) of the city Planning Department’s broad Mission Action Plan 2020 is to hold the line at 65 percent low- and moderate-income households.
More affordable housing is one piece of that plan. That’s housing for Latinos, blacks, whites, Asians, Pacific Islanders, artists, teachers, restaurant and bar staff, service workers, and everyone else who makes the city vital but couldn’t otherwise afford to live here.
On that front, the Mission and every other neighborhood have not pulled their weight. Encouraging socioeconomic diversity shouldn’t just be a Mission project. It has to be citywide.
Alex Lash is the editor in chief of The Frisc.