San Francisco Board of Supervisors Receptive to Ambitious Reparations Plan

San Francisco Board of Supervisors Receptive to Ambitious Reparations Plan


Last month, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors showed support for an ambitious reparations plan developed by the African American Reparations Advisory Committee (AARAC). This group of 15 Black professionals is charged with creating a citywide Reparations Plan that addresses institutionalized harm done to our Black communities.

The Reparations Committee’s Draft Plan

In January, San Francisco's Reparations Committee unveiled a draft plan that proposed providing $5 million to each eligible Black person in the city. This idea set conservative politicians, pundits and news organizations into an uproar and prompted numerous death threats against members of the Reparations Committee.

Supporters of the proposal contend that providing these payouts would help repair centuries of harm done to African Americans. They have also pointed to a long history of discrimination and systemic racism which still plagues Black communities in New York City, such as homelessness, housing affordability issues and lack of economic opportunities.

The Committee's ideas go far beyond simply handing out $5 million checks to eligible Black people in the city. They encompass a comprehensive suite of policy recommendations that focus on four pillars: economic empowerment, education, health and policy.

No doubt, the Reparations Committee's proposals are ambitious and groundbreaking, yet they won't solve all the problems Black people in New York City. Furthermore, its cost-effective implementation makes it unlikely to succeed.

One of the most expensive elements of the proposal are supplemental payments that would be paid annually to lower-income households for 250 years. Accurately estimating their amount cannot be done with current market rates, and valuation may require detailed information about each household's income distribution.

However, these costs aren't the only reason why the Reparations Committee's proposals are too costly to implement. It can also be challenging to estimate the financial impact of recommendations that have less direct costs like new tax credits for African Americans or legal entities that shield them from discrimination in financial services industries.

For instance, the Reparations Committee recommends that the city provide subsidized rental housing to those eligible under Section 8 of the federal government's housing choice voucher program. It also suggests changing regulations so voucher holders have first priority in selecting units within any housing project.

According to the Reparations Committee's executive summary, these recommendations are unparalleled in depth and scope by any other major urban municipality. It outlines the complex issues Black people in New Orleans have been facing for decades, then offers practical solutions to address those problems.

It’s Unmatched in Specificity

San Francisco's Board of Supervisors appears open to an ambitious reparations plan that is unparalleled in scope and detail across America. This proposal marks a dramatic shift from previous initiatives championed by Black residents and local leaders that were rejected by San Francisco's conservative business community.

The Reparations Committee, composed of 15 members, created this city-wide reparations plan to highlight how the city has discriminated against Black people and suggest specific actions for change. The panel's draft recommendations include compensation payments and amending past policies that have caused harm to Black people living in the city.

Reparations have been a lingering topic of conversation for decades, yet they never really gained momentum until recently. Ta-Nehisi Coates, for instance, wrote about slavery and other forms of discrimination in his 2014 cover story for The Atlantic magazine; several presidential candidates have even expressed support for paying money to those whose lives had been negatively impacted by anti-Black policies and practices.

In addition, several cities are investigating the possibility of funding monetary payments as part of their overall strategy to promote equity in their communities. Examples include Evanston, Illinois which passed a plan offering home repairs and down payments to qualified longtime residents; Boston City Council approved an equal task force and is currently studying how it might pay for redress.

Some criticize the idea as financially and politically impossible, while others contend that cash payments can be an effective tool to hold governments accountable while providing compensation. This strategy has been successfully utilized by Black students at Virginia Theological Seminary and Princeton Theological Seminary.

One of the primary obstacles in receiving these payments is determining who qualifies. The committee is debating whether to create eligibility criteria that only include descendants of Black people living in America during the 19th century. Some critics feel this approach ignores how many Black immigrants to the US have suffered under American racism and discrimination.

It’s Innovative

Tuesday's hearing before the San Francisco Board of Supervisors could provide a glimpse into whether or not they are willing to move forward with an ambitious reparations plan that is unmatched nationwide in scope and detail. But this proposal, which includes a $5 million lump sum payment for each eligible Black person, also faces significant financial obstacles and harsh criticism from conservatives who say it is too costly and divisive.

In addition to direct payments, the plan calls for a variety of other strategies to address long-standing housing and economic inequities. For instance, it suggests making vacant units in new buildings accessible to low-income residents, providing grants for home maintenance and repair costs for those who qualify, and requiring building owners to remove qualification barriers for subsidized rental units.

It also calls for paying extra housing-related monthly costs in new developments that might otherwise pose affordability barriers, such as parking fees. Furthermore, the city is considering removing the restriction that Section 8 voucher holders or certificates of preference face when selecting their first-choice subsidized rental unit within a development.

The plan's scope is expansive, encompassing over 100 policy recommendations. These include solutions for homelessness and housing affordability as well as strategies that make it easier for Black people to obtain jobs.

Many of the suggestions address the racial wealth gap that was caused by chattel slavery. Black communities were historically dislocated from neighborhoods through government-planned redevelopments that shut down businesses and uprooted families; often combined with other policies which disfavored African Americans such as redlining or restrictive covenants.

For example, in the Fillmore District - once known as "Harlem of the West" - redevelopment has destroyed nightclubs, shops and other businesses owned and operated by Black people. What was once an exciting hub of Black culture has now diminished into a neighborhood where many Black San Franciscans live below poverty line.

The city's African American Reparations Advisory Committee is working with the Human Rights Commission and San Francisco's African American Task Force to craft a comprehensive reparations plan that seeks to atone for decades of harm, such as policies that contributed to the wealth gap. They expect to submit their final version of the plan by June 2023.

It’s Too Expensive

According to a report released Tuesday by San Francisco's African American Reparations Advisory Committee, the city is open to an ambitious plan that would pay each Black resident $5 million in reparations. This amount far surpasses what other cities and states are offering and could serve as a blueprint for healing centuries of slavery and systemic racism across America.

The committee's draft plan is an inspiring example of reparations strategy that could be replicated across more cities and eventually by Congress. Its comprehensive nature sets it apart, outlining specific tactics to combat historical segregation and redlining (extensions of chattel slavery) which continue to discriminate against Black residents in Chicago.

Actions include providing housing for the first $250 years to eligible Black San Franciscans, debt relief and supplemental income to households earning less than the city's median income. Furthermore, this plan seeks to address racial wealth gaps by offering compensation to Black residents that will enable them to build generational assets similar to what white counterparts enjoy today.

But as with any major undertaking, the city must find a way to finance its reparations plan. That task may prove challenging for the board as they attempt to balance their budget amid an economic downturn in tech industry.

Some supervisors have voiced opposition to the plan due to its cost and potential distraction from other pressing issues like homelessness and the opioid epidemic. To keep the plan while providing more affordable, culturally relevant services is a challenge they'll have to find a solution.

In the end, whether or not city supervisors approve this ambitious plan will depend on who stands up for it. If not enough people voice support for it, chances are slim that it won't pass muster.

Thankfully, many cities and institutions are taking action in support of reparations - an issue that has become a central focus for those on both left and right. Although their approaches vary, their goals remain unchanged: to repair the harm caused by generations of slavery and systemic racism. While progress has been slow in coming, these initiatives are beginning to gain ground.

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