As the COVID-19 Delta variant surges, we see social economic disparities continue to widen. As our economy and society are reopening, the ability to continue working remotely, being able to travel safely and getting back to “normal” is a privilege that is still not available to many working families. Many working families are still struggling to pay their rent or mortgage and bills, forced to choose between unsafe working conditions or unemployment, and they lack access to affordable housing and transit options, childcare, higher education or workforce development opportunities.
These disparities existed long before the pandemic, with 80% of American families living paycheck to paycheck. Not only have these disparities become worse, but we are seeing the wealthy, privileged and powerful opportunistically manipulating this unprecedented public health crisis to push austerity measures and dominate conversations on public policies – especially involving land use, transit and public safety – with no consideration of social economic justice and the needs of working people, who often are immigrants and communities of color living in San Francisco.
If we are to ensure our San Francisco values are prioritized, we need to continue advocating for diversity and neighborhood empowerment by keeping people housed by expanding tenant protections beyond the eviction moratorium, providing tenant rent relief, and continuing to push for 100% affordable housing developments.
To make sure future generations of working families can thrive in our City, we must also expand first-time homebuyer assistance and programs that support homeowners. If we are to continue building denser affordable housing, then we must also restore and expand our public transit services immediately so everyone can have efficient access to travel to work and essential activities.
The only way for San Francisco to truly be a refuge for all is to focus on an equitable recovery from the pandemic by supporting our working families and prioritizing their needs through city services. This is why I’m going to continue to push for free summer camps for all public school students beyond 2021, and work to expand and provide free after-school programs. I’m committed to continue working with my colleagues on the Board of Supervisors to establish Free Muni for all San Franciscans, not just for our youth. After all, if we have declared that we are a transit-first city then we need to put our money where our mouth is. Further, the pandemic has underscored the need for universal healthcare, so let’s make sure our public health services are sufficient and accessible with language and cultural competency in every neighborhood.
Finally, we know that to boost an equitable and just local economy, we must lift up our workforce. This means we must expand and enforce worker protections and support and build up unions. We have to fight for fair contracts, a living wage, safer working conditions, and push for family-friendly workplaces and schedules. We must also continue to invest city resources and build community support for our legacy and neighborhood anchoring small businesses. We can find the balance to make sure we bring economic revitalization to our City by advocating for diverse business industries, arts, music and culture, and tourism, as well as nurturing and welcoming innovative and creative small business incubators.
At this critical moment, we can put the City back on the right track by prioritizing working people in San Francisco as we recover from the pandemic. After all, San Francisco has always been a refuge for the most vulnerable: immigrants, communities of color, LGBTQ+ communities and working people. We know our City became a refuge for these communities through hard-fought victories over and over again. We cannot and will not take social economic equity for granted. Our work continues.
This article was published in the Richmond Review in September 2021.