Outmigration: Only District 6 Retains Its Black Population

San Francisco's Boom 2.0 is in real estate as well as technology. While some of the condominium high-rises built in South of Market over the last decade remain half-full, new construction continues, and more residential skyscrapers are planned. This makes District 6 — which includes SOMA, South Beach and Mission Bay — the city's most populous and most densely populated.

District 6 is also the city's lone exception to a troubling sociological phenomenon. African-American residents continue to vacate San Francisco, with the city's black population shrinking from 60,000 in 2000 to 48,000 in 2010, according to census figures — a decrease of 20 percent. But there's no such exodus in District 6, where 15 percent of the city's overall black population now lives, up from 10 percent in 2000. And that figure grows if you include residents who identify as black and another race.

But that doesn't mean these newcomers are moving on up next to Joe Montana and Willie Brown in SOMA high-rises: Many are instead moving into SROs in the Tenderloin and along the Sixth Street corridor. The city's Skid Row — and Treasure Island in the bay, also counted as District 6 — houses 5,421 of the district's 7,500 black people. “It doesn't take a rocket scientist or a Philadelphia lawyer to figure out why,” says Rev. Amos Brown, the pastor of Third Street Baptist Church and president of the local chapter of the NAACP.

“I don't think it's by choice,” said organizer Macio Lyons, who sits on the city's Osiris Coalition, a council of black leaders. “They're getting in where they can get in.” According to a pair of reports on this issue, the African-Americans moving to the Tenderloin are either poor, just out of jail, or without the support of family or community structures. The unemployment rate for black San Franciscans is double that of non-blacks even in boom years, which is partially why the median income for blacks is about half that of whites.

A staggering 14 percent of black men have been arrested for a felony; with the black middle class long since fled to Vallejo or Antioch, the families who stay often take public or subsidized housing, which isn't open to people with a criminal record. That leaves the TL, with its cheap or city-subsidized rooms operated by nonprofits or slumlords.

What stings the most is that this is nothing new: One of the reports, on economic disparity, was published in 1993; the other, dealing with the crisis of outmigration, was released in 2009. Both identified jobs and education as key issues.

To its credit, Mayor Ed Lee's administration addressed jobs in the Tenderloin with one of his very first moves in office, but economic benefits from the much-ballyhooed Twitter tax break have yet to trickle down to black residents, who “are not tied into the economic pipeline of this city,” said Sharen Hewitt, a longtime organizer and activist for Visitacion Valley's notorious Sunnydale housing projects, who sat on the task force that created the outmigration report.

If the city's current leadership can figure it out, it will have solved a problem that dates to the 1960s. And if it can't? “The endgame,” Hewitt said, “is total removal,” for which the TL and District 6 are merely a way station.

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