San Francisco supervisors have voiced early support to provide reparations to Black residents for enduring systemic racism over the past 200 years.
The 100-plus recommendations the supervisors heard from an advisory committee this past week included $5 million payouts to every eligible Black adult, personal debt and tax burden relief, guaranteed annual incomes of $97,000 and selling homes in the city for just $1.
Other ideas mentioned were adding Black history and culture curriculum in schools, free health care services for people in need and better support for Black businesses and employees.
Though supervisors expressed interest in the suggestions, the first-in-the-nation draft plan has yet to be formally approved. Supervisors have opportunities to modify or reject any or all recommendations before the final report will be presented in September.
A ‘legacy of civil disinvestment’
Proponents of the plan say reparations will help rectify the centuries of slavery and racism that prohibited generations of Black people from having equal opportunities to thrive in San Francisco.
Staff members from the African American Reparations Advisory Committee found that the city has fostered a “legacy of civic disinvestment” to Black people, especially in its “urban renewal” period, when urban planning policies from the 1950s to the 1970s aggressively tried to improve predominately Black neighborhoods like the Western Addition and Fillmore district.
The redevelopment process was said to have displaced thousands of people from their homes without compensation and with little room for discussion. Since then, the city’s Black population has steadily decreased in size, likely because of fewer housing options and greater wealth disparities, said the advisory committee.
Despite making up less than 6 percent of the city’s population, Black people make up 38 percent of the residents sleeping in San Francisco’s streets and shelters.
“Despite the reputation of liberalism, San Francisco has consistently imposed limitations on who has access to the City’s abundant wealth,” reads the report. “Since its founding, Black people in San Francisco have faced significant barriers to full participation in its society and economy.”
Roughly 50,000 Black people live in San Francisco today, though it is still unclear who would be eligible for reparations. Potential criteria for eligibility include residents — or their descendants — who were displaced from redlining, incarcerated due to War on Drugs’ policies or attended city schools during the consent decree.
But how to pay for it?
Implementing any of the suggestions would make San Francisco the first major city in the country to provide reparations.
The ideas have certainly not been introduced without criticism, however.
Some question the city’s economic capacity to carry out reparations, as the report presented at the reparations committee’s March 13 meeting did not lay out a financial roadmap on how much each proposal would cost.
The conservative-learning Hoover Institution at Stanford University estimates that non-Black families would each have to pay out nearly $600,000 for just four of the 19 financial recommendations to work.
San Francisco’s chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, who first called on the city for reparations in 2019, specifically rejects the $5 million payment proposal. The organization said the city should redirect its focus to investing in five key areas — education, job opportunities, housing, health care and culture.
“We strongly believe that creating and funding programs that can improve the lives of those who have been impacted by racism and discrimination is the best path forward toward equality and justice,” said civil rights leader the Rev. Amos Brown.