The Long Journey Home
From displacement to homeownership: this Black History Month we are sharing the stories of families who after generations of inequity and discrimination in housing are finally at home in San Francisco.
Daricka, a mother of two teenage boys, was born and raised in San Francisco. When she was just a baby, her mother was told the family had to leave their home on Navy Road in Hunters Point to make way for new development. With two young girls and no good option for affordable housing in San Francisco, Daricka’s mother was forced to move the family to the East Bay, living first with an auntie in Richmond and later finding their own apartment in a rough neighborhood in Oakland.
As Daricka remembers, “In the 80s, that part of Oakland was horrible. My mother was desperate to get us out of that environment and one day she heard people talking about the COP program.” The family qualified and when Daricka was in 6th grade they moved back to San Francisco, living in Ocean Beach for the rest of her childhood.
Now years later, thanks to Habitat GSF and the Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development’s partnership, Daricka just moved into what she considers her forever home along with her 13- and 18-year-old sons. As she puts it: “I’m a city girl. I’ve been in the Bay Area my entire life. I don’t think I could be anywhere else.”
Cynthia has similarly deep ties to San Francisco. She was born here, got married here, had her children here and has worked for the City and County of San Francisco for more than 28 years. In fact, in 1994 she received a plaque from then Mayor Willie Brown for her positive attitude, generous heart, strong faith and playful spirit.
Cynithia remembers clearly the day her family was displaced from their home at 1722 Fillmore Street and forced to move in with her grandmother many blocks away. As Cynthia puts it: “I’ve experienced racism since the day I was born. My birth certificate says I was born in a yellow cab because the driver would not drive fast enough for a black woman to make it to the hospital in time.”
She was five years old when the family of six left their home in the bustling Fillmore District. Cynthia still thinks of those early years fondly. She remembers seeing the Black Panthers – their National Distribution Center was right around the corner from her home – and Huey P. Newton organizing his free breakfast programs “It was a very vibrant community, and it was a really hard time for my mother when we were displaced.”
As she got older, Cynthia could no longer afford steep San Francisco rents and moved to Daly City. She raised her sister’s three children as her own, seeing them all graduate from college, while going to work each day in San Francisco and yet “I was never able to save enough money to buy my own home,” she recalls. That all changed the day she applied for a Habitat Greater San Francisco home.
Debra remembers the Fillmore District much like Cynthia. She lived on Webster Street with her brother, sister and mother. “It was technically the Western Addition but everyone called it the Fillmore District. There was so much going on, so much life. We were in the heart of the African American community – I saw James Brown staying at the Booker T. Washington hotel and community activist Mary Ellen Rogers was my neighbor. There was a lot of diversity and everything we needed was right there – the bakery, the fish market, the local movie theater.”
When she was in 7th grade, her family was forced to leave their Victorian flat behind to make way for urban renewal. As Debra recalls: “Everyone around us at that time was starting to move. The whole block along Webster Street had to leave. We lost that sense of community, and they replaced it all with modern housing.”
Most of Debra’s friends were eventually priced out of the city and moved away never to return. Even Debra left on several occasions, but Habitat Greater San Francisco gave her the opportunity to set down permanent roots in the city she loved. The homes along Amber Drive had the added bonus of being designed with families in mind, which was perfect for Debra and her two young grandchildren. As she explains, “Being a homeowner is going to be so much more secure, is going to be the beginning of a legacy for not only my grandchildren, but I’m hoping for future generations.”
For Andrew, it was a similarly long path to homeownership. Andrew was just a baby when his family of five was displaced from their home in the Western Addition. “At that time, they told us Redevelopment wanted to come in and rebuild so we needed to leave. They promised they would be back in two to three years to start building, but they didn’t actually start construction for another 20-30 years,” recalls Andrew. The young family had to relocate even though work would not begin on their building for two more decades.
Now an adult with a wife named Vera and a young son, homeownership became increasingly important to Andrew and his family. The stars aligned when the lottery opened at Amber Drive and they were selected to apply. As Vera puts it, “home means living in peace, tranquility and safety. Stability!”
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