Middle class San Franciscans fleeing city | Globalization | DW | 18.04.2012
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Middle class San Franciscans fleeing city

Tony Bennett famously left his heart in San Francisco. And, for thousands of middle class residents in the City by the Bay, their hearts may be the only part of them they can afford to leave there.

Like all great world cities, San Francisco is an attractive destination for tourists, businesses and workers from all walks of life looking to better their lives in a diverse and thriving environment. But, the city's popularity does have a side effect. It's creating a cost of living so high that it's chasing away the middle and low-income immigrants and minorities who make the city tick.

Golden Gate Bridge, San Fransisco.

Many middle-income San Franciscans may be forced to leave their hearts in the city.

San Francisco is known for its post card views; its antique cable cars rumbling through the city and its majestic bridges. The city's also a high-tech hub. Twitter, Zynga and other well known tech firms call it home as does many of their well compensated employees. That's a good thing for the city's economy right? Well that depends on who you ask. Low and middle income San Franciscans say the city should be doing more to help create the kind of jobs that pay well enough for them to afford to stay.

“We're having people drop off job applications for city hall to invest in our success and create better job strategies and workforce development strategies for low income working class communities of color,” says Christina Canaveral, the Economic Justice campaign organizer for Coleman Advocates for Children and Youth - a community group advocating for immigrant and minority residents. Coleman Advocates turned up at City Hall recently to tell city leaders that the high tech jobs the city is famous for are leaving less skilled residents out.

“The unemployment rates aren't what they seem for the Latino and African-American population here in San Francisco, it is in the double digits. It is over 10 percent and the industries that are traditionally open to our communities are rapidly disappearing and industries that cater to a more affluent community are taking their place, so families are being pushed out of San Francisco because of this,” says Canaveral.

USA San Francisco Arbeitslose Protest Demonstration

Residents are calling for the city council to work with big corporations to secure jobs for middle-income earners.

City officials say they're listening to community organizations and trying to connect residents from disadvantaged groups with local businesses. “We're working closely with those tech companies to make sure that they're starting internship programs,” says San Francisco Board of Supervisors member Jane Kim . The Board of Supervisors is San Francisco's City Council. “We're developing a pipeline of youth into our existing and growing economic sectors.”

San Francisco Mayor, Ed Lee, made job creation a key issue in his election campaign last fall. He helped convince Twitter to keep its 2,000 jobs in the city after it announced its intention to leave last year. But he says keeping large firms in the city is only one part of his plan. “Small and medium size businesses are the engine of job creation,” Lee says. “We want to help businesses cut red tape and fill vacant buildings and store fronts. We're providing $5 million for a revolving small business loan fund.”

According to the San Francisco Controller's Office, which monitors the city's finances, the per capita yearly income for San Francisco residents jumped from over $58,000 per annum in 2004 to over $74,000 a year in 2008. That's creating higher housing costs, which is making it tough for lower income residents to make ends meet. Advocates for immigrant, minority and low income residents say the mayor needs to shift his focus to creating good jobs for lower skilled workers.

USA San Francisco Arbeitslose Protest Demonstration

Residents say supporting the existing commuity should be the local government's top priority.

“We really think the mayor has to take a stronger position with these big corporations,” says Gordon Mar with the group Jobs with Justice. “Whether its high tech companies like Twitter, or big hospital corporations like CPMC Sutter Health, he needs to require them to adhere to really strong local hire commitments and also support for workforce development that would help disadvantaged San Franciscans get the training and support they need to have equal access to job opportunities that these big companies are supposedly creating.”

The economic crisis also hit San Francisco's housing market hard. Home foreclosures skyrocketed in the city and across the country as bad home loans collapsed causing mortgage payments to balloon. Vivian Richardson nearly lost her home as she struggled for two years to renegotiate her loan with Deutsche Bank, her mortgage lender. Nearly out of options, she went to the Alliance for Californians for Community Involvement for help.

“That organization supported me and my efforts to stop or rescind the foreclosure. They actually set up an email blast,” says Richardson, a city government clerk. “That email blast generated 1,400 emails in a matter of two hours and several hundred phone calls and after the first half hour of that email blast I received a phone call from Aurora loans, which is the servicer of my account. They called to let me know that they hear me and they want to communicate with me.”

Richardson hopes her story can inspire low income, immigrant and minority residents fighting to make ends meet in San Francisco and other large cities around the world.

“Step out of that comfort zone of being ashamed of what's going on and talk with someone. Let them know that's what's going on, because you find out that you're not alone. You are not alone,” she says.

Author: Max Pringle
Editor: Jessie Wingard