Housing the City by the Bay
Tenant Activism, Civil Rights, and Class Politics in San Francisco
John Baranski


Contents and Abstracts
chapter abstract

The introduction presents an overview of the book. The introduction focuses on some of the book's main questions about what public housing meant for San Francisco residents and presents the book's major themes, concepts, and arguments. There is also a discussion about how the book contributes to some of the more important historical themes of urban and welfare state history in the twentieth century. The introduction presents an analysis of liberalism as it relates to public housing, the welfare state, and the economic and civil rights of citizens and suggests ways for the reader to start thinking about these larger issues before moving into the narrative of the book.

1 Progressive Era Housing Reform
chapter abstract

The first chapter describes the city's working-class neighborhoods that are considered for housing reform during the first half of the twentieth century. The chapter also places the city's reform community—its members, knowledge production, and policy visions—within a larger community of housing reformers in the Atlantic World interested in the labor question. Prompted by the social problems generated by industrial capitalism and urbanization, reformers began to rethink how urban housing and planning was done. Breaking from classical liberal economic ideas, transatlantic reformers proposed an expanded role for all levels of government in the economy. As was common in other parts of the world, San Francisco's housing reformers also used a combination of social science research and moral suasion to pass government building codes and zoning laws. They failed in their attempt to create public housing in part because they failed to inspire the city's workers and tenants.

2 The San Francisco Housing Authority and the New Deal
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t examines the influence of the Great Depression and the New Deal on San Francisco's housing and job needs and how federal housing officials drew on popular movements, four decades of social reforms, and a change in liberalism to guide the expansion of government housing policies. The 1937 United States Housing Act, along with expanded state legislation, permitted San Francisco's residents, including nonwhites, to participate in the creation of the San Francisco Housing Authority (SFHA), which in turn allowed them to build government housing and provide jobs. The SFHA was not a democratic agency or free of racism, but its policies were more inclusive than pre–New Deal housing reform efforts and more responsive to the general welfare than private landlords. From the discussions of the SFHA purpose, the city's residents began to think in new ways about housing, civil and economic rights, and liberalism.

3 Public Housing, Race, and Conflicting Visions of Democracy and the State
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The chapter examines the war years when the SFHA housing program expanded not only its housing stock, but also its social services at its projects. Urban planners, housing reformers, and labor unions across California began promoting a larger role for public housing authorities in local and regional economic development, achieving full employment, and in expanding economic rights for citizens. The 1948 United Nations General Assembly declaration on civil and economic rights and the 1949 United States Housing Act reflected the growing discussions around these ideas, although in the United States, postwar affluence, the real estate lobby, and the red scare dashed support for enlarging federal public housing and the welfare state. Along with these developments, the chapter follows the growing civil rights movement and how it targeted public housing for integration and ending racial discrimination.

4 Prosperity, Development, and Institutional Racism in the Cold War
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The chapter outlines the city's housing and neighborhoods most affected by wartime demographic changes and by the tenant selection of private landlords and SFHA staff. The chapter focuses on the ways civil rights activism and the Cold War influenced the SFHA program. Civil rights activists forced the SFHA to desegregate its housing, and the civil rights struggles illustrated the ways housing intersected with economic rights and identity formation. The politically chilling Cold War climate also led many housing officials, like many New Deal liberals, to abandon the idea of expanding government programs to ensure employment and housing, and this shift came at a time when private redevelopment projects became a priority at the federal and local level. The quality of some public housing in San Francisco began to deteriorate in the 1950s, contributing to tenant organizing and activism in the following decades.

5 Something to Help Themselves
chapter abstract

The chapter examines how the shortages of good jobs and housing and racial discrimination provided fertile ground for tenant mobilization. Taking the idea of participatory policymaking to heart, public housing tenants organized tenant unions at the project and city level. SFHA policies continued to demonstrate how the power built on race, class, and gender privileges stymied participatory policymaking as SFHA tenant attempts to participate in SFHA achieved mixed results. Tenants and allied civic organizations fought federal cuts to government housing and urban renewal projects. Tenant activities sometimes spilled over into surrounding communities as renters in private housing joined hands with public housing tenants in a variety of campaigns. Significantly, this part of the book deepens our understanding of the traditional narrative of the 60s by including the social activism of tenants and challenging the stereotype of public housing tenants as part of an urban underclass.

6 Out of Step with Washington
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The chapter focuses on how tenants tried to expand their rights through the SFHA and other public agencies. Tenant leaders, who were primarily women, drew on the resources of the SFHA and other public institutions to nurture their tenant organizing. The city's tenants organized for more public housing, useful jobs, and social services. For a short time, tenants even demanded control of public housing funds and SFHA policymaking. Although their desire to fully democratize their housing met opposition, tenant efforts resulted in reforms that made policymaking more inclusive. Their growing influence came at a time when the SFHA program, like many social welfare programs, suffered from federal budget cuts. Federal housing policies began to move away from funding government homes to private sector solutions, and this shift hurt the quality and scope of the city's public housing and tenant organizing.

7 All Housing Is Public
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The chapter highlights tenant responses to federal cuts in social programs, another wave of urban redevelopment, and rising housing costs. To SFHA tenants, government housing continued to offer not just housing but a host of programs aimed at ensuring a degree of economic security. That housing and those programs allowed tenants to maintain a sense of community. But non-SFHA tenants also turned to the government program in their struggle for housing security. In these ways, the SFHA continued its role in the daily lives of the city's residents. The SFHA's declining resources aligned with the rise of the New Right and the power of neoliberalism to cut federal housing funds further. Tenants continued their struggles over housing. Not everything was oriented around struggle. Public housing tenants expressed their creativity and identity through art and community projects, thus reinforcing their identities through culture, place, and struggle.

8 Privatizing the Public in the Dot-Com Era
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This chapter examines how demand for housing, cuts to the SFHA program, and federal legislation influenced the direction of housing trends in the city. As housing costs soared, landlords skirted tenant rights and evictions rose; many residents unable to keep or secure housing joined the homeless population or left the city. Some residents resisted and fought for housing rights in an era of gentrification. This housing crisis was not unique to San Francisco. Across the country, tenants were squeezed out of neighborhoods as wages failed to keep up with urban housing costs. Housing legislation continued to shift resources and support to private sector housing solutions rather than public housing. By the twenty-first century, the SFHA was losing its place as the largest affordable housing landlord in the city.

chapter abstract

The conclusion highlights the key points and themes of San Francisco's housing history and connects those insights to a national and international affordable housing shortage and income, wealth, and racial inequality. The conclusion also proposes recommendations for thinking about public housing as a program that could be used once again to expand the civil and economic rights of citizens and engage residents in the political process. The history of public housing in San Francisco offers insights into how to approach contemporary housing reforms and social movements.