UC Berkeley's Othering and Belonging Institute's map of racial segregation. Courtesy of the Institute.

While, overall, the Bay Area is growing more racially segregated, parts of the Mission are experiencing the opposite. This could be a sign of racial integration — but could also prove to be a “tipping point” toward gentrification. 

A new study from UC Berkeley’s Othering and Belonging Institute analyzed segregation across the United States, and found more than 80 percent of metropolitan areas, including the Bay Area, became more racially segregated between 1990 and 2019. 

Samir Gambhir, co-author of the study, defines “segregated” as “keeping people in different neighborhoods not just as a personal choice, but because of policies — some with racial intent.” In contrast, a “racially integrated” neighborhood encompasses more diversity and more equal access to resources

Both exist in the Mission. In a nutshell, most of the Census tracts north of 17th Street are highly racially integrated. As one moves south, however, toward Bernal Heights, racial segregation worsens, according to the institute’s interactive map

This could portend more inequalities in the future, Gambhir argued. Historically, segregation of racial minorities or low-income communities is linked to numerous inequalities, including redlining, lack of access to educational opportunities, and gerrymandering. 

“It is also possible it could be a tipping point into a gentrification. That’s what people need to investigate.” 

Samir Gambhir.

That appears to be true today, said Gambhir, a mapping and spatial analysis researcher. The complete study found that highly segregated areas populated by primarily Black or brown residents fared worst “across the board” when comparing poverty levels, home values and life expectancy. On the other hand, highly segregated white areas fared the best. 

This follows a theory of “opportunity hoarding,” the study stated. For example, Black and Latinx residents earned up to $4,000 and $5,000 more annually if they lived in “highly segregated” white neighborhoods, where there are better employment and educational opportunities. 

“When people live in these communities, they perform better on various metrics. But there are these public policies that will not let people of color be in these high opportunity neighborhoods,” Gambhir said, referring to exclusionary zoning policies.

Or, they may be barred due to cost. According to the study, housing in highly segregated white neighborhoods costs $300 to $400 more per month per unit than in neighborhoods that were integrated or had mostly Black and brown residents.

Unequal housing can lead to other inequities, as demonstrated in San Francisco during the pandemic. Overcrowded housing among Latinx residents was one factor that contributed to high Covid-19 infection rates in this population.

Correlations between disparities and segregation can be observed in the Mission, too. A Census tract north of 17th Street and two tracts between 23rd and Cesar Chavez streets  — tract 177, tract 229.02, and tract 229.01 — are, respectively, ranked as highly integrated, low to medium segregation, and highly segregated, according to the interactive map. 

Of the three, Census Tract 229.01, which spans from 23rd to Cesar Chavez and between Harrison Street and South Van Ness Avenue, reported the worst levels of poverty and the highest percentage of those earning less than $50,000 a year. As we’ve previously reported, this is partly why medical experts targeted the area for Covid-19 vaccine and testing outreach.

This vicinity encompasses wide disparities that were exacerbated in the pandemic, too. Those who make six figures neighbor others that work paycheck to paycheck and are presently behind on rent. 

Just moving over one street to Census Tract 229.02, a rectangle-shaped area bounded by 23rd and Cesar Chavez and Harrison and Bryant streets, segregation levels drop to “low to medium segregation.” This area reports starting incomes at about $59,600, according to Census data. That’s a roughly $15,000 jump from the previous tract; poverty slightly drops here, too. 

Disparities become more pronounced when focusing on Census Tract 177, a sort of witch-hat-shaped area that runs north of 17th Street to 11th Street, and from South Van Ness to the Bayshore Freeway. The institute’s map indicates this area has been racially integrated as of 2019, and the population is more or less evenly split between Asian, Latinx and white residents. Compared to the prior two tracts — each more racially segregated — poverty drops three percent. Per capita income begins at $69,000, a $10,000 jump from the partially segregated Census Tract 229.02. 

The news that some of the Mission is highly racially segregated isn’t revelatory. Historically, it’s been a landing spot for Irish and German immigrants, then, later, Latinx residents. 

But in the wake of the 1990s and the “dot-com boom,” that pattern changed citywide. In 1990, Census Tract 177 was deemed highly segregated, and nearly half of its residents were Latinx. That shrunk by 14 percent over the next two decades as they moved out. Now, it’s 33 percent Latinx, and “racially integrated.”

“It could be they are integrating, and there are more racial groups, but it is also possible it could be a tipping point into a gentrification,” Gambhir said. “That’s what people need to investigate.” 

In the Mission, it’s likely. “Whether you can tie it to the dot-com boom, it’s intuitive. I think it’s really hard to point to it as causal, but it’s correlated. It’s not lost on anybody,” said Peter Cohen, the co-director of the Council of Community Housing Organizations, which is a nonprofit comprising tens of community-based affordable developers and tenant organizations. 

Defining segregation in cultural districts like the Mission can be a little complicated, though. The institute’s study didn’t home in on communities where certain ethnic groups or races naturally congregate, Gambhir said, but it’s “possible” some move of their own volition. Some immigrants tend to relocate where there are vestiges of their old homelands, or resources exist in their language. 

“There are some [neighborhoods] like Chinatown, that are homogeneous and not necessarily in a bad way,” Cohen said. “The point is, how much resources, and how much agency do [these] communities have over its future, or is it being pushed by external forces?”

While the institute’s study didn’t focus on solutions to segregation, Gambhir offered some suggestions. He said zoning reform and more funding to affordable housing programs could encourage fairer, racially integrated communities. 

“Our data shows that people of color are generally low-income. They would like more housing choice options, but the policies are designed in a way that there are higher concentrations of single-family zoning,” Gambhir said, pointing to Berkeley as an example

Cohen agreed, stating this called for more affordable development in the “outer” neighborhoods like the Excelsior, Portola and Districts 1, 4 and 7. 

In addition, the city’s Planning Department aims to address some of these goals in its most recent plan for housing, the 2022 Housing Element, which will also be the city’s first Housing Element to focus on racial and socioeconomic equality. Possible ideas include pursuing “community co-housing” and more grants for Cultural Heritage Districts. 

With these, the department may confront the disparate outcomes of these discriminatory housing programs reflected today.”


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REPORTER. Annika Hom is our inequality reporter through our partnership with Report for America. Annika was born and raised in the Bay Area. She previously interned at SF Weekly and the Boston Globe where she focused on local news and immigration. She is a proud Chinese and Filipina American. She has a twin brother that (contrary to soap opera tropes) is not evil.

Follow her on Twitter at @AnnikaHom.

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  1. Whenever I step off BART or Muni – be it at 16th or 24th – the sight of a sleek new coffee shoppe is nowhere near as striking to me as the sight of an iglesia or two on every block.

    La Misión of my childhood ain’t dead yet.

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  2. This is such a cookie cutter analysis and approach that stands ignorant of contested land use history over the past several decades.

    I am sure that the segregation in the South Mission is going to lead to hella redlining of working class Blacks and Latinos as they seek to rustle up a downpayment and loan on a $1.5m home. Savings and income are all for nought, damn those racist lenders!

    Tract 117, predominantly formerly industrial land uses with scattered residential, is not of much use in this regard.

    ‘Cohen said. “The point is, how much resources, and how much agency do [these] communities have over its future, or is it being pushed by external forces?”’

    I’m still waiting for the community empowerment portion of our program, as baited by those self proclaimed organizers who brand themselves “progressive” like Cohen, but which remains curiously elusive once the nonprofits get city funding to speak over and on behalf of “the community.”

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  3. “Access to opportunity” is an idiotic thing to think about when you’re talking about a neighborhood that is easily walkable from one end to the other. People who live in the more expensive areas of the Mission earn more on average, not because their location has more opportunities, but because they can afford to pay the higher rents.

    It’s also a fallacy to assume that the Mission was always low-income, and wealthier people are causing gentrification. The Mission has seen many demographic changes over the years, as has Bernal Heights. Some decades had higher decline than others. Recovery from that isn’t gentrification, it’s recovery.

    What we really need to do is to make sure that quality of life is higher throughout the Mission. Stop the low-level crime — drugs, car break-ins, tagging, fireworks, etc. — that makes it harder for people to live their lives.

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  4. Tract 229.01 includes the public housing at Bernal Dwellings, with its largely low-income African American population, while neighboring 229.02 does not. This likely contributes to the jump in income from one to the other.

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