Editorial: AHF sinks to new low
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In the ongoing saga over state housing legislation, the Los Angeles-based AIDS Healthcare Foundation has sunk to a new low that should disgust all participants in the debate. Last week it unleashed an ad blitz directed at opposing gay state Senator Scott Wiener's (D-San Francisco) Senate Bill 50, which would create new zoning standards for constructing housing near job centers and public transportation, along with protections against the displacement of renters and vulnerable communities living in those areas. AHF, through its Healthy Housing Foundation, sent racially incendiary mailers to San Francisco residents using a 1963 quote from gay civil rights icon James Baldwin that equates SB 50 with redevelopment policies of a past era that displaced African Americans in the Western Addition. It attributes the nearly 60-year-old quote to Baldwin: "San Francisco is engaging ... in something called urban renewal, which means moving the Negroes out. It means Negro removal."
Obviously, Wiener's bill does not do that — and AHF President Michael Weinstein knows it. SB 50 will help people stay in San Francisco (and other cities) by creating new zoning standards and legalizing apartments and affordable housing in the 70 percent of the city where it is currently illegal to build anything other than single family homes or two-unit buildings. San Francisco has a housing crisis. We hear about it everyday and political leaders all say the city needs more housing. But when a specific plan is proposed (see: Mayor London Breed's Navigation Center along the waterfront) or a bill is authored (like SB 50), residents start screaming that they don't want homeless people living near them or that development projects will cause them to lose their homes. According to Wiener, SB 50 has the strongest anti-displacement, anti-eviction, and anti-demolition language possible.
The racial content of the AHF mailer is counterproductive and troubling, coming from an HIV/AIDS organization that has served people of all ethnicities. Baldwin's words are taken out of context and applied to an unrelated situation decades later. The ad assumes black people are poor and disproportionately affected by Wiener's legislation. All kinds of people are being priced out of San Francisco, blacks have been leaving the city for years, and so have many others, including queer people. In short, dramatic action is necessary to construct more housing, including affordable and below-market-rate units so people can afford to live here.
Breed, who grew up in the Western Addition and supports SB 50, wrote on Twitter after the AHF flyers hit mailboxes, "SB 50 is about tackling our housing crisis, plain & simple. It has nothing to do with urban renewal & suggesting it does is deeply offensive to communities like mine that are still living with the consequences. Scott Wiener is an ally to the African American community in SF."
At a news conference Monday, Wiener was joined by local civil rights leaders and elected officials who denounced the mailers and TV ads.
"This propaganda does not speak for our black community," said Jacqueline Flin, executive director of the A. Philip Randolph Institute San Francisco.
The Reverend Amos Brown, president of the San Francisco branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, called the ads "despicable."
AHF has tangled with Wiener before over its opposition to PrEP, calling it a dangerous "party drug." While its pharmacy in the Castro will fill PrEP prescriptions, AHF opposes another of Wiener's bills that seeks to make PrEP available without a prescription. When Wiener was a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, AHF sued him over his legislation meant to tighten formula retail rules. (A judge later issued a proposed order granting a motion to dismiss the case and AHF dropped the suit.) So, AHF's latest tactics do not surprise Wiener.
Housing near transit centers, which SB 50 encourages, is one part of the solution to the Bay Area's crisis as it would help reduce vehicle miles traveled and be better for the environment. As Wiener pointed out in an email to constituents, "Communities of color feel the negative impacts of air pollution from cars the most."
AHF should focus on germane arguments against the proposed legislation and not confuse the issues by employing blatant racial overtones by quoting a black gay icon out of context.