The Sad Parable Of A San Francisco Teachers’ Slum

Entrance of Dianne Feinstein Elementary School in San Francisco
DIANNE FEINSTEIN ELEMENTARY SCHOOL photo by Danny Howard is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0
Teachers and decision makers nixed HUD funding for housing at the Dianne Feinstein Elementary School in 2005. Now they're sorry.

In truth, it was a teacher’s slum that never was, but a sad parable nonetheless.

These days, stories abound of middle class workers essential to a community who are less and less able to find affordable housing within, or even near, the community where they work. The stories feature such as police, fire, hospital workers, and teachers.

This is actually not one of those stories. However, it is buried within a more familiar story told below.

Instead, this is a story of how people become victims of their own prejudices. And because we are talking affordable housing in the United States, the victims are entire generations of Americans.

Sadly, the story of truly affordable housing in America became intertwined with three quarters of a century of Cold War fears.

America, bastion of world defence against a spreading Soviet menace, already had a significant public housing program. It was rooted in a liberal sense of responsibility for all citizens, as well as a more innocent socialism of an earlier era that acknowledged a classless right to shelter for all.

Whatever the original roots of the U.S public housing experiment, for three quarters of a century now it has been buried by an avalanche of rabid anti-socialism mixed with America’s sorry legacy of racism. Neither liberal responsibility nor socialist rights to shelter for all have survived the onslaught.

The inevitable result? Government public housing has come to be equated with a failed political experiment populated by inferior classes and races who could be depended on to turn housing provided by a benevolent government into crime ridden slums.

Over the years, this has become received wisdom for a better-off population of Americans who have watched and approved the steady decay and dismantling of an important source of housing for low-income citizens.

What has this to do with teachers? They, along with their fellow citizens have also ‘received the wisdom.’

Some years ago, a group of San Francisco teachers were offered federal Housing and Urban Development (HUD) funding for an affordable housing project for teachers. The reaction from a group of otherwise intelligent professionals? They leaped to the following unfortunate though entirely understandable connection: HUD = public housing = slum.

Dig into the following article to see how well that thinking turned out in the following article from ABC7 News: Teachers seeking solutions to San Francisco’s affordable housing crisis

The lesson from our parable? With an affordable housing crisis deepening, it’s time for America to take off their blindfold of antipathy towards social/public housing. Within the country, there have been a few recognized successes of major housing projects of one form or another.1 But looking beyond America’s borders, to Europe for example, are stellar public housing achievements on a scale unimaginable to American thinking today. But hopefully, not tomorrow.

Footnotes

  1. These 15,000 units that are thriving after 50 years are an example:
    Happy 50th Birthday, Co-op City, NYC: Proving Project Housing Can Survive And Prosper