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The Dispossessed: Bayview Homeowners Fight Foreclosures 

Wednesday, May 2 2012

Page 2 of 5

"Because we are the ones who get shot the bad deals at the mortgage table!" Byrd continues. "Because we are the ones walking into banks with our heads up and walking out with our heads down!"

"That's right!" someone in theaudience yells.

Brown lingers at the back. He is a fixture at these anti-foreclosure rallies, which are often organized by Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment, a nonprofit organization helping people keep their homes. Brown was there when protesters marched through a serene Los Altos neighborhood en route to a rally in front of Wells Fargo board member Nicholas Moore's home. And he emphatically nodded his head as Ross Rhodes, another foreclosed-upon homeowner, spoke into a megaphone about "fighting against the destruction of our communities" and "practices that are disproportionately driving African-Americans, Latinos, and the working class out of San Francisco.... We're Americans just like you."

And on this day at City Hall, he emphatically nods as Byrd likens the foreclosure crisis to Reconstruction.

"What we are facing today is a reign of terror on the black and brown community," he declares. "More than a hundred years ago, a campaign was launched to inflict terror on the minds and hearts of black people so that they would stay in their place."

"Preach, brother!" a man shouts.

"The reign of terror against the black and brown people continues!" Byrd exclaims. "You inflict erroneous mortgage and loan practices to keep us under the glass ceiling!"

To some extent, city leaders appear to agree with Byrd. In April, the Board of Supervisors passed a nonbinding resolution calling for a moratorium on all foreclosures in the city. Assessor-Recorder Phil Ting conducted an audit that found that 84 percent of foreclosure sales involved violations of law. The Sheriff's Department, in charge of carrying out eviction orders, eases the process by contacting residents before the eviction, and provides them with a list of organizations that can help.

As Byrd speaks, Brown spots Vivian Richardson, a small 61-year-old woman with short gray hair. He approaches her and the two embrace. Richardson, who lives a few houses down Quesada Avenue from Cato, was facing eviction just a few months ago. She and advocates blasted her lender, Aurora Bank, with, she estimates, 700 phone calls and 1,400 e-mails. Media outlets covered her plight. Eventually Aurora rescinded the foreclosure and offered Richardson a loan modification. It was a big victory for her, but a small one overall. For every Vivian Richardson, there are dozens more Geary Browns.

"They've done it to the Fillmore and all the other areas and now it's time for the Bayview," says Richardson. "Because too many people in Bayview have been foreclosed on in such a short period of time."

When Byrd finishes speaking, the crowd bursts into cheers. King steps up to lead a chant.

"The banks got bailed out!" he shouts.

"We got sold out!" returns Brown and everyone else.

For the first time in 40 years, black people are not the top homeowners in Bayview-Hunters Point. Asians, who comprise 30 percent of the area's population, own more houses than black people do. To many local residents, the emigration of black people from Bayview follows a direct line of descent from the displacement of black people from the Western Addition neighborhood, also known as the Fillmore.

Through the 1940s San Francisco's black population jumped from under 5,000 to more than 43,000. A third of them lived in the Fillmore, which featured lots of decrepit and cheap Victorian houses that survived the 1906 earthquake and fire. By the beginning of the 1950s, the Fillmore had been christened California's first official "redevelopment district." Over the next three decades, despite concerns from black leaders and neighborhood activists, old flats and office buildings were torn down and new market-priced apartments, co-ops, and senior citizen housing was built in their place. Higher-income people bought up the increasingly en vogue Victorians to live in or rent out.

"Redevelopment was the key to destroying the African-American community," says San Francisco State University geography professor emeritus Mark Kirkeberg, who has studied the evolution of city neighborhoods.

In all, 3,320 "affordable units" were built to replace the more than 12,000 that were destroyed, according to a 1976 study by the city's Redevelopment Agency. A good portion of the displaced black population headed to Bayview, an industrial hub with an established black community that had grown throughout the postwar years.

Black people leaving the South for work and equality in the West came for the area's dock jobs — the International Longshore and Warehouse Union was one of the few integrated unions in the city, explains Bill Issel, professor emeritus of history at SFSU. In the late 1950s Geary Brown's parents arrived from Oklahoma, Dexter Cato's from Louisiana.

In addition to jobs, the industry brought smokestacks, loud machinery, and raw fish and meat smells — all of which kept property values low and, partnered with white flight and redlining, left available plenty of affordable housing for working-class black people looking to become homeowners.

By 1980, Bayview — the only zip code in city history to be predominantly black — had the highest rate of homeownership in San Francisco. But as factories and shipyards closed in the '70s and '80s, unemployment, gang crime, and the drug trade rose, spurring many black residents to leave the neighborhood, and San Francisco. More Asians and Latinos moved into the city, with many settling in the southeastern pocket. By the turn of the millennium, the black population in Bayview had stabilized at around 50 percent.

Then came the housing boom and bust. Hundreds of homes, including many that had been paid off and later refinanced, fell into foreclosure. Second generation residents, whose parents had planted roots in the community, suddenly faced the prospect of leaving town.

"We've reached the point where those who are going to stay have made it clear: 'No I'm not going anywhere,'" says Ed Donaldson, a housing counselor with the nonprofit San Francisco Housing Development Corporation and a Bayview native. "With the foreclosures, those people who would otherwise be able to stay are being pushed out."

About The Author

Albert Samaha


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