Last Saturday was a busy, productive, and exhausting day for our group. We had three interviews arranged for the day a various locations in San Francisco. We began the day at Stuart house in the Mission. He was very excited to share his stories with us, and went into great detail about his experience with being bought out of his old apartment in the Mission. He told us about his struggles with the AIDS virus and how that has impacted his experience, and provided us with a unique perspective as he was a tech worker himself that had moved to San Francisco to work for Apple in the 80’s being displaced by a new generation of tech workers. He admitted to being a part of the Mission’s first wave of gentrification, but noted how he had spent many years investing himself in the community that existed there. He was extroverted, excited about our project, and it was an overall great interview.
After our interview in Stuart’s house, we made the short drive to our second interview location on 16th street in the Mission. We met with Rick in his office building which was the old Worker’s Temple. He was a photographer who rented out an office space in the building. Melanie from KALW met us there to record us for the project that she is working on.
For our final interview of the day we headed to the San Francisco Public Library to meet with Yazmin. After searching for almost half an hour, we were able to secure a quiet study room in the Library to conduct the interview in. Yazmin currently lives in East Oakland and it was incredibly generous of her to be willing to make the trip to San Francisco to meet with us. Yazmin was also very supportive of our project and excited to tell her story. She elaborated on the community she had developed in the Mission since she had moved there in the early 90’s. She was a part of the queer community in the Mission which she referred to as her “chosen family.” She enjoyed being able to run into people she knew throughout the Mission, and mentioned that it felt like a true home. She enjoyed living in a place where people could work jobs that would be enough to pay the rent while being able to pursue poetry, art, and her true passions. Yazmin talked about how she now has to commute to San Francisco for her job, as many people who live in East Oakland do, and talked about how that has limited the community development in East Oakland as people spend so much of their time commuting.
We have completed four interviews thus far, and have one scheduled for tomorrow. We originally had a goal of completing ten interviews for the project, but we have begun to realize that ten interviews is a great amount of work to complete in a quarter and have recalibrated our goals. We will complete our fifth interview tomorrow, and view that as a sufficient number for the scope of our project and if we are able to secure any additional interviews we will view that as a bonus. We only have a limited pool of people that provided contact information in the initial survey, and of those people few have gotten back to us. Additionally, we have had several people cancel their scheduled interviews after having second thoughts about the project. We do not view this as a failure on our part, but rather a success in that we were able to accomplish five successful, informative, and powerful interviews. We are looking forward to the next phase of the project in which we will begin mapping our data and displaying the audio and visual component in an attractive way.
The pervasiveness and immensity of the housing crisis in the Bay Area has become even more clear to us this week. Now that we have begun making regular trips into San Francisco and engaging with residents, the issues we have been learning about through class readings, newspaper articles and lectures are suddenly all around us. One striking experience that epitomizes the ubiquity of this issue occurred last Saturday, after completing our interview with Rick. We were standing outside of his apartment in the Mission in front of a small empanada shop, and overheard a customer saying to the shop owner, “I’m sorry to hear about your eviction.” Curious to know more and wondering if she would be interested in interviewing with us, we inquired further about the woman’s eviction. She told us that she was already in touch with Erin from the Anti-Eviction Mapping Project, but that she had many friends who also had eviction experiences. She gave us her card and told us that she would be happy to put us in contact with them for the purposes of our project. It was such a striking moment for us to simply walk down the street and encounter an entire collection of eviction experiences.
It seems that this issue is becoming so pervasive that local politicians have no choice but to acknowledge it. An article published this week in the SF Chronicle reported that State Senator Mark Leno, at the request of SF Mayor Lee, is proposing a bill that would amend the Ellis Act which requires that buyers own a building for five years before evicting tenants using the Ellis Act. Leno stated,
"In recent years, speculators have been…[using] a loophole in the Ellis Act to evict longtime residents just to turn a profit...Many of these renters are seniors, disabled people and low-income families with deep roots in their communities and no other local affordable housing options available to them. Our bill gives San Francisco an opportunity to stop the bleeding and save the unique fabric of our city." (http://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/2-S-F-lawmakers-push-bills-to-slow-Ellis-Act-5261383.php)
While this bill is just a small step towards major reform, the fact that this issue is being recognized by lawmakers and major newspapers is heartening. It makes us hopeful that the work we are engaged in of spreading awareness does have an impact, and does have the potential to reach the people who have power to change legislation in our cities.
Our interviews last weekend have brought about many thoughts and emotions. Hearing Stewart, Rick, and Yasmin’s stories about their connections to their previous homes was telling to how they saw themselves fit into their own communities within San Francisco. What was most eye-opening was the fact that Yasmin no longer felt positive feelings towards San Francisco. She felt rejected and pushed out of a place that she once felt was home. To Yasmin, living in the mission in San Francisco meant living among people she looked up to and admired. When her queer community was displaced from the city, she lost what she loved about the environment the most. No longer would she recognize people walking along the street. She now lives in Oakland, and has no intention of ever moving back to San Francisco. Because of her own displacement in SF, she has become aware of her own actions in Oakland, sensitive to the fact that she may be displacing others. Her mindset has evolved into one that pays close attention to her living situation and its impact on others. Yasmin mentioned that she overheard some people talking about opening a cheese shop in a neighborhood in East Oakland. She said that this disturbed her because she does not want to change the neighborhoods of Oakland the way that people changed her neighborhoods of San Francisco. She made the point that a cheese shop may not be culturally relevant to the population of East Oakland. People should focus on becoming acquainted with and celebrating the unique cultures that are present in East Oakland. Yasmin believes that people should immerse themselves into the heritage of a neighborhood they move to rather than look to reshape the neighborhood in a way they like.
These interviews have surfaced thoughts on the eviction process in general. How does a city evolve? Is eviction just one of the many ways a city transforms and, even in extreme cases, overturns? How does culture come about in a city? What factors truly come together to create a neighborhood?
Throughout our interviews, a general trend of belonging has been a significant characteristic of a neighborhood. Stewart, Rick, and Yasmin all live/lived in San Francisco for a reason. They all moved to the city for different intentions, but all in all were looking for a place that they belonged. To some, their evictions were seen as a rejection. It is interesting to think that a home is more than just a physical structure, it is what that home represents that is lost when one is evicted.
In our group meeting on Wednesday during class, our group discussed that our biggest weakness and area to improve is communication. We have now made it imperative that we respond to each other’s texts and emails promptly, and provide feedback when needed. We also discussed our goals in depth and recognized where the differences were, and where there was a need for re-alignment. Our improvements have been successful! We have implemented more group meetings and predict stronger group communication going forward.