Black San Franciscans Have Been Leaving—Could Reparations Bring them Back?Breaking News
tags: African American history, housing, San Francisco, urban history, reparations, gentrification
Standing at the stoop of her childhood home — a slim but stately Victorian shaded by an evergreen pear tree — Lynette Mackey pulled up a photo of a family gathering from nearly 50 years ago. The men were all in suits, the women in skirts. Ms. Mackey, a teenager in red bell bottoms, stretched her arms wide and had a beaming smile.
Soon after that time, in the 1960s and 1970s, Ms. Mackey watched the slow erasure of Black culture from the Fillmore District, once celebrated as “the Harlem of the West.” The jazz clubs that drew the likes of Billie Holiday and Duke Ellington disappeared, and so, too, did the soul food restaurants.
By the mid-1970s, many of her friends were gone as well, pushed out by city officials who seized homes in the name of what they called “urban renewal.” Then, finally, her family lost the house they had purchased in the 1940s after migrating from Texas. In many cases, the old Victorian homes were torn down and replaced with housing projects, but the city kept Ms. Mackey’s home standing, and it has since been renovated into government-subsidized apartments.
Her grandfather suffered a heart attack while fighting to save their home. “He died saying, ‘I’m not going to sell this house,’” she said.
Today, against this backdrop of loss and displacement, San Francisco is weighing reparations that would compensate Black residents for policies that drove them away and hindered their economic opportunities. Cities across the country are studying similar restitution, but none have been as ambitious as San Francisco, whose 15-member task force has issued 111 recommendations in a preliminary report to city leaders.
To close the racial wealth gap, long a central argument for reparations, the task force has declared a moonshot: a one-time, $5 million payment to anyone eligible. By comparison, California’s state reparations task force has recommended a sliding scale that tops out at around $1.2 million for older Black residents.
The cash figure has grabbed headlines, but it is widely seen as unrealistic in a city that has growing budget problems and a lack of political consensus on the issue. The $5 million payments could top $100 billion — many times the $14 billion annual budget in San Francisco — and London Breed, the city’s mayor, has not committed to cash reparations.
Ms. Mackey, 63, who stayed in the city, is working toward a more likely path of securing incentives for other long-ago Black residents and their descendants to return to San Francisco. One idea is for the city to provide them with housing subsidies, access to affordable housing and stipends for moving expenses.