Our Commitment to Racial Equity and Reparations
HOPE SF is an ambitious cross-sector initiative to transform San Francisco’s most disinvested neighborhoods into thriving, inclusive, mixed-income communities without displacing original residents. Far more than simply a housing redevelopment effort, the public-private Partnership for HOPE SF, led by the Mayor’s office, the San Francisco Foundation, and Enterprise Community Partners, has affirmatively framed the initiative as a way to advance racial equity and reparations in San Francisco.
In honor of Black History Month, The CEO of the San Francisco Foundation, Fred Blackwell, explored this reparations vision with Theo Miller, Director of HOPE SF in the Office of Mayor London N. Breed, and Mark Joseph and Amy Khare, researchers with the National Initiative on Mixed-Income Communities at Case Western Reserve University.
Fred: I have been involved in the HOPE SF initiative for many years, starting with my role as director of San Francisco’s Redevelopment Agency, when we launched the initiative in 2007. HOPE SF began with a commitment to partner with residents every step of the way. Residents have been powerful partners, as we strive for racial equity and economic inclusion, especially in a city where gentrification and displacement are dominant forces.
We often equate the displacement and gentrification in San Francisco with the technology sector, but through our work with HOPE SF, we have come to understand that historic policies, not just our current economic boom, is responsible for much of the harm.
Over the years, HOPE SF has evolved as a powerful reparations initiative. Theo, tell us how this vision came to be.
Theo: As director of HOPE SF, I have witnessed the scale and horror of systematic and intergenerational inequality, even within a city of such explosive growth. I struggled to find a framework for restitution that could meet the urgency and scope of the challenge.
There are 1,900 “legacy” families—original residents of HOPE SF communities, who had been living for decades in deteriorating public housing, marginalized by society because of policies that our government implemented, which kept them out of the wealth and prosperity of our great city.
The more I understood the historic harm, like redlining, to be the root of the suffering, the more I understood our role, as leaders in San Francisco, to be about keeping our promises—making sure our systems work for families, and all families share in our city’s prosperity. As city leaders, we must own up to the city’s historical role in making this happen. By calling this a “reparations initiative”, we commit to acknowledging, reconciling, and healing systemic harm and inequities experienced by people and communities historically and currently impacted by racism and oppression.
“We commit to acknowledging, reconciling, and healing systemic harm and inequities experienced by people and communities historically and currently impacted by racism and oppression.”
Fred: HOPE SF is a partnership between the private and public sectors, with profound and enduring commitments, including three consecutive elected mayors – Mayors Newsom, Lee, and Breed – who have elevated HOPE SF as a priority to improve the quality of life for low-income African Americans and other communities of color. This commitment across political cycles is virtually unprecedented. Keeping with the vision of reparations, Mayor Breed recently announced legislation that protects the right of legacy families, as well as previous public housing tenants who moved out long ago, to return to the new housing and redeveloped communities. Theo, how can Civic Leaders continue to support this vision?
Theo: Our hardest—and most meaningful—work has been our efforts to rebuild trust and address the trauma caused by years of disinvestment. This means that we have to look internally and make this more than an academic exercise. We have to create a community of practice that is authentically trauma-informed and healing-centered. In some ways, this internal work is the most challenging. We all have to be held accountable to truth, restitution and reconciliation if we aim to liberate these communities—and each of us—from a history of racial inequity.
Fred: To truly achieve a more equitable community, we need all sectors to work together. It’s a tall order, but the progress we’ve witnessed in HOPE SF to date as a result of cross-sector work gives me tremendous hope.
Amy, the National Initiative on Mixed-Income Communities has been working with HOPE SF for several years now. Can you place the approach of HOPE SF in context of other efforts around the country?
Amy: Absolutely. There is no other multi-site mixed-income transformation in the country that has made such an explicit and sustained effort to name and address structural racism as a root cause of disparities.
“There is no other multi-site mixed-income transformation in the country that has made such an explicit and sustained effort to name and address structural racism as a root cause of disparities.”
Our research has shown that in the process of creating mixed-income communities, low-income households of color can often experience high levels of displacement, social stigma and exclusion, and limited changes in economic advancement. HOPE SF is on the cutting edge nationally of disrupting this trend because of its commitment to embed racial equity principles in community development work, rather than re-create patterns of separation and division.
Fred: Mark, as you know, there is a renewed discussion in the country about the notion of reparations for African Americans and communities of color. What is unique about the HOPE SF approach to reparations?
Mark: HOPE SF stands out in four significant ways, different from other conversations about reparations happening in our country. First, while some reparations approaches focus exclusively on demands and confrontation, HOPE SF also strives for aspiration, hope and solidarity. Next, while some reparations approaches focus exclusively on compensation for the past, HOPE SF also focuses on future individual and collective transformation. In some reparations efforts, white guilt is in the spotlight, but HOPE SF promotes white consciousness-raising, collective responsibility and healing for all. Finally, rather than focusing on one specific program or initiative, HOPE SF also focuses on structural change that comes about through wide-ranging collective action, institutional practices and systems change.
Fred: The Partnership is committed to this vision, and over the next few months, we will be sharing more with HOPE SF stakeholders. Personally, I am clear that we will only succeed if each of us seizes this opportunity to ramp up our personal and organizational efforts. We need more of us to take an explicit, vocal stance in support of HOPE SF and other local change efforts to right past wrongs. Ultimately, we will all benefit from a thriving, cohesive city. What do you think this vision means for all of us, whether we work directly with HOPE SF or not?
“We will only succeed if each of us seizes this opportunity to ramp up our personal and organizational efforts.”
Theo: Each of us must re-examine and acknowledge our own individual, organizational, and systemic roles. The work starts with us, and then we must move onto other spheres of influence in our lives – family, peers, co-workers, organizational priorities and policies – we must identify and shift actions that reinforce stigma, exclusion and marginalization. We must focus on racial healing: display empathy to the racial trauma experienced by others and focus on our shared humanity and common destiny as members of the Bay Area community.
For ongoing information about HOPE SF’s reparations effort and support with personal and collective efforts, please send an email to the Partnership for HOPE SF. A comprehensive HOPE SF Racial Equity and Reparations Resource Guide is in production and will be made broadly available later this year.