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The Dispossessed: Bayview Homeowners Fight Foreclosures 

Wednesday, May 2 2012

Page 5 of 5

Most everyone agrees that a certain level of development is good; most everyone agrees that a certain level of displacement is bad. The challenge is striking the right balance, if such a thing exists.

Concerns over Bayview gentrification may seem premature, but memories of the Fillmore's fate persist. Lessons were learned, mainly: It's too late to fight once the bulldozers roll in. More than 30 years later, history professor Issel writes in his forthcoming book, Church and State in the City, Thomas Fleming, a Fillmore newspaper editor, and Daniel Collins, founder of the city's National Urban League branch, "looked back on the 1940s as a time of lost opportunity, when the African American residents of the Western Addition failed to rouse themselves sufficiently to influence the redevelopment of the district.... As they recalled it, very little community opposition was manifest prior to the actual tearing down of buildings."

Real estate experts believe the foreclosure crisis is only half over. Many more mortgages remain underwater — loan balances higher than property values. Waves of missed payments are likely to continue for the next couple of years with scores of Bayview evictions a near certainty.

"Because of redevelopment, because of gentrification, they've been pushing us out of our communities time and time again," says Carolyn Gage, whose parents first bought her Bayview home 50 years ago after getting displaced from their Fillmore apartment building. "It's like a hurricane, like Katrina — do you wait till the levees break?"

But this time there are no antagonists plotting to drive out residents. Rising market values generated the fickle wealth and false sense of security that tempted homeowners to take out risky mortgages. Recognizing this expanding consumer base, lenders solicited loans with the intent of maximizing the chance for fees and profits. When the market sunk, homeowners lost the money that would have repaid the banks. Because foreclosure can be cheaper than loan modification, lenders kept the collateral, the houses, consequently accelerating the flight. The free market threatens to do to Bayview what city leaders and developers did to the Fillmore.

Geary Brown remembers the Fillmore redevelopment well. He got his first trucking gig transporting equipment and building materials to construction sites in the Western Addition in 1976. On a recent morning, he sits at his dining room table. Papers blanket the glass surface — a Countrywide loan agreement, a receipt for a $3,500 check to American Home Financing, a $100,000 "Brown and Sons Trucking" invoice for work on San Francisco General Hospital renovations.

Brown glances down at the layers of documents. He leans back and exhales.

"If you got money, you could stay here in San Francisco," he says. "If you don't, don't even think of coming back here, 'cause San Francisco is too expensive. You don't like it, you can get with it or you don't. That's the way I see it. It's not gonna change for me or you or anybody. Either you can handle it or you can't. And me right now, I'm just tryna hold on 'cause I love this house, it's me and my wife's house, our first house and I can afford it."

He looks up and smiles.

"And I'm fittin' to push it up a notch," he goes on. "Buy me a few more pieces of property. I'm a rent this out, probably six, seven, eight months down the road. Take up this carpet, do this floor, and probably rent it out, buy me another house."

"The banks got bailed out!"

"We got sold out!"

The chanting continues at the rally on the City Hall steps — around the corner from the steps where the auctions take place. Shuffling through the crowd, Brown runs into another acquaintance, a twentysomething in a blue V-neck. The two shake hands.

Since getting that letter a few weeks ago, Brown has heard again from Bank of America.

"The bank made a judgment," Brown discloses, unprompted.


"They said they're not gonna modify."

He must vacate his house by May 2.

About The Author

Albert Samaha


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