Gentrification in San Francisco's Mission District
For over forty years the Mission District has been the heart of the Latina/o community in San Francisco. Over 50 percent of Latina/os in San Francisco live in the Mission District. However, during the dot.com boom the Mission experienced intense gentrification. Within a three-year period (1997 to 2000), over a 1,000 Latina/o families in the Mission District were displaced. On Valencia Street, 50 percent of the businesses that existed in 1990, mostly local operations that catered to the low-income Latino community were gone by 1998. Rental evictions tripled, and owner move-in evictions quadrupled in just two years.
Two major housing policies were responsible for the dramatic rise in evictions and displacement in the Mission: the Ellis Act and owner move-ins. Both policies were remarkably efficient in evicting thousands from their homes. The Ellis Act allows landlords to evict tenants in order to convert rental units to ownership units, such as condos; while “owner-move-in” also known as owner occupancy, allows evictions so that the landlord can occupy the building.
From 1999 to 2009 we organized and directed a community oral history project that studied the impact of gentrification on Latina/os living and working in the Mission District. As part of the project we collected over 80 oral histories, archived census data, policy reports, newspapers, printed media, art and all sources related to gentrification in the Mission District. In May 2009 we published the results in an articled entitled “Geographies of Displacement: Latina/o, Oral History and the Politics of Gentrification in San Francisco’s Mission District.” The article was published in the Public Historian: The Journal of Public History, the premier journal for oral history and social documentation.
In the next phase of our work, we will draft grants and secure funding to expand the project in four major areas: to further examine gentrification and its impact on Latina/os; offer solutions to resist displacement; investigate new media and technology tools to complicate oral historical methodologies; and strengthen the relationship between oral histories and community-based research.
We emphasize oral historical methodologies (i.e. oral histories, ethnographies, interviews, etc.) because Latina/os have been erased and silenced from the public discourse on gentrification. Very little has been researched and published on Latina/os and displacement. It is our contention that by merging oral histories with other forms of research and analysis, we can center the experiences of Latina/os and initiate a needed dialogue on Latina/o displacement, one that includes the perspective of Latina/os.
A fundamental aim of the project is to contextualize and articulate gentrification as a social justice issue that demands a rethinking of who has the right to occupy space. Using oral historical methodologies, new media and the latest technology, the project would investigate why San Francisco is the only city to lose its Latina/o population and provide strategies to stem the tide.
The massive displacement of Latina/os is a human rights issue that if not addressed, can lead to disenfranchisement, higher levels of poverty, and de facto segregation. As cities continue to operate as sites of wealth, higher learning, culture, technology, and globalization, it is necessary that all populations be afforded the right to live in cities and participate in the global economy.
Principal Investigator: Nancy Raquel Mirabal, PhD