(We shall carry on Mayor Lee’s 1983 message to Washington DC)

By Rev. Norman Fong

April 9, 2018

I was recently asked by the University of San Francisco to speak at their event marking the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. April happens to be Fair Housing Month so USF asked me to share my years of wisdom on housing! Did you know that the Fair Housing Act was a response to Dr. King’s Assassination in 1968?

I did lots of research for this event, and I even came across an old article by my beloved friend, Mayor Ed Lee. He was a longtime advocate for better housing in Chinatown. He wrote about displacement and gentrification going on in San Francisco’s own Chinatown. That stuff was happening all the way back in 1983! So much about our lives has changed since then, like the internet and cell phones. When I was reading the article, what surprised me the most was how much the problems of Chinatown have stayed the same. Chinatown is still the densest neighborhood west of Manhattan. Our SRO residential hotels are still the main source of housing for our low-income seniors and immigrants. They’re still under threat of being bought up and replaced with more expensive housing.

ed lee

In the 1980s, Ed Lee called the housing situation in San Francisco’s Chinatown as “grim for low-income Asians who are elderly, who are restricted by language and therefore job opportunities”. Ed Lee also mentioned that “hundreds of elderly & poor Asian tenants are targets for displacement”… Ed Lee mentions , of course, the story of the International Hotel eviction of seniors in 1977. What Mayor Lee said 35 years ago to the US Commission on Civil Rights 35 years ago, is still true today!

Most Chinatowns across the country have lost many of their Chinatown Residents, but here in San Francisco’s Chinatown, we have continued to protect our residential base & keep it a gateway for new immigrants. Through the work of Chinatown CDC & other non-profits, we have been able to persevere and protect our community’s housing. But this should also be a reminder that there is still work to be done. The threats from decades ago are still here and we can never stop fighting for Chinatown.

ed lee message 1983

international hotel

international hotel poster

Originally published in Sing Tao Daily on April 8, 2018

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