Gentrification has changed the character of many San Francisco neighborhoods and spiked the cost of living to a point that forced many long-time residents to move. The Mission District serves as a prime example.
Once home to working class families and a large Latino population, it is now becoming an expensive playground for the Silicon Valley elite. The old 99-cent stores, bodegas, and rent-controlled apartments are being converted into pricy boutiques, organic ice cream stores, and luxury condominiums.
A new bill before the San Francisco Board of Supervisors proposes protections against gentrification for ethnic enclaves by making it easier to establish cultural districts. Although this seems to be a step in the right direction, many wonder if the measure come too late.
The pace of gentrification in San Francisco has been furious. Studio apartments in the Mission District are nearing $3,000 per month and units with single bedrooms look poised to surpass $4,000 per month. Those prices mean the working class has already been forced out, unless they are lucky enough to live in a rent-controlled apartment of owned a home long before gentrification set in.
Rent-controlled apartments are disappearing fast, especially as older residents are being forced out. New home sales go only to the wealthy. Though some of the traditional Mission character remains, those who created that character are already gone.
With neighborhoods like the Mission already transformed, what can this new bill accomplish? Proponents of the bill hope that by making it easier for a neighborhood to achieve cultural-district status, the city can impose restrictions that slow gentrification, thus preventing the old character from being swallowed by extreme price increases. According to the bill, once an area earns the cultural district designation, a citizen advisory panel would be appointed. This panel could impose zoning restrictions that, in theory, prevent the sort of development that destroys the ethnic heritage that has been established.
The current designation for a cultural district is somewhat vague. The new bill hopes that by making the definition more specific, earning the designation will be easier. Under the proposal, a cultural district would be defined as an area that comprises culturally and historically significant enterprises, arts, services, or businesses. Alternatively, an area could also earn the designation because a significant portion of the residents belong to a culture, community, or ethnic group.
With the bill up for debate, opponents of gentrification are hopeful that some relief is in sight.