Aug 3, 2022 - Politics

Dear San Francisco, you've changed but I still love you

Photo illustration collage of historical photos of San Francisco's Fillmore district and the Golden Gate Bridge.
Photo illustration: Maura Losch/Axios. Photos: Sergio Pitamitz/VWPics/Universal Images Group via Getty Images, Bettmann/Contributor, San Francisco Chronicle/Hearst Newspapers via Getty Images/Contributor

When people learn I was born and raised in San Francisco, they often ask how the city has changed.

The big picture: The city has undergone a variety of transformations over three decades, but the decline of the Black population is the biggest shift I've felt.

Why it matters: San Francisco's diminishing Black population is a symptom of larger issues, including the rising cost of housing, discriminatory housing practices, health disparities, the destruction of primarily Black neighborhoods and gentrification.

Context: In 2009, the mortgage rejection rate for Black people in the city was "far above any other group," per then-Mayor Gavin Newsom's Task Force on African-American Out-Migration report.

  • The Black population in the city has the lowest median household income ($30,235 in 2019), a 2020 San Francisco Human Rights Commission report shows.
  • Black people have the highest mortality rate for nine of the top 10 causes of death in the city, the analysis shows.

By the numbers: While census data shows the city's overall population increased since 1990, its Black population has dwindled.

  • San Francisco consisted of a little over 720,000 people in 1990 and was 10.9% Black. In 2021, with an estimated population of 815,201, SF's population was 5.7% Black.
  • The Black population is the only racial group in the city that has consistently declined in every census count since 1970, the SF HRC report shows.

What's happening: Between 2013 and 2017, about 18% of the Black residents who left the city moved to Alameda County, a Quartz analysis shows. Around 45% went to other nearby areas, such as Solano, Contra Costa and Sacramento counties.

  • The cost of living in Sacramento, for example, is 66% lower than in San Francisco, according to a NerdWallet analysis.

My thought bubble: SF has never felt particularly diverse to me. I grew up in a predominantly white neighborhood, and there were few Black kids at my high school.

It can feel lonely being one of the few Black people in the city, but San Francisco is my home.

  • People like to dunk on Karl the Fog, but I love the climate here. It's rarely ever too hot, and it's never too cold.
  • San Francisco is the most beautiful city in the world, if you ask me, with its rolling hills and seemingly endless number of historic landmarks (Sutro Tower is probably my favorite).

Flashback: My late grandfather began practicing dentistry in the Fillmore district in 1947. The neighborhood was known as the "Harlem of the West" at the time.

  • Yes, but: The city-led redevelopment of the 1960s and '70s wreaked havoc on the Black community. The overhaul of the Fillmore displaced an estimated 10,000 Black people, Hoodline reports.
  • ✊🏾 As my dad tells me, my grandfather stood strong, writing to "anybody and everybody" to reach an agreement with the city that allowed him to retain ownership of his building, which remains in my family today.

Next steps: If you're interested in learning more about the history of Black people in San Francisco, here are my suggestions:

  • 📕 "Harlem of the West: The San Francisco Fillmore Jazz Era," by Elizabeth Pepin Silva and Lewis Watts
  • ğŸŽ¥ "The Last Black Man in San Francisco"
  • 📘 "Black San Francisco: The Struggle for Racial Equality in the West, 1900-1954," by Albert S. Broussard
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