In the last month, two banks, including one local credit union, have boarded up their windows on Third Street in Bayview Hunters Point, a historically Black neighborhood that was the target of racist lending practices for decades.
The U.S. Bank on the corner of Quesada Avenue and Third Street was the latest to go, locked up on Friday, July 7, marking the demise of a chronically understaffed branch that several locals reported was “ill-suited for the community.”
Union Bank, a local credit union housed in Bayview Plaza at Third Street and Evans Avenue, closed its doors at the end of May, almost six months after its acquisition by U.S. Bank in December 2022.
With the 2021 closure of Bank of America at Third Street and Quesada Avenue, the community is left with one banking option: Wells Fargo in Bayview Plaza. The neighborhood’s population numbers around 40,000 people.
Though rumors have been flying that the Wells Fargo branch is next up to close, the bank confirmed that they have no such plans. “Our Bayview Hunters Point branch is very important to the region,” said a spokesperson.
On a sunny morning in the plaza, Sherice Dow, who grew up around the corner, expressed alarm at the series of closures.
“Why is this happening?” she asked. “It’s a shame. A lot of people banked at U.S. Bank and the Union Bank. It was convenient for a lot of the elders.”
Dow is a clerk for the Human Services Agency, which occupies a storefront two doors down from Wells Fargo. She said online banking does not feel secure enough for her needs.
Last month, Wells Fargo settled a $1 billion class-action lawsuit for failing to promptly address internal practices that led to a scandal in which the bank took home billions from Black and Latinx customers through a range of racist practices, like redlining, wrongful foreclosures and predatory loans.
So, in Bayview Hunters Point, what’s set to fill the void? As of now, “nothing,” said Theo Ellington, a former District 10 supervisor candidate who sits on the board of the Bayview Opera House, a community organization on Third Street.
Ellington said the Opera House preferred banking with Union Bank until it closed, and that local credit unions better serve the communities they’re housed in, helping build up mom-and-pop shops in the area.
“Now, you mostly see check-cashing places and corner stores with ATM fees,” he said. Check-cashing services like Payday Loans and Western Union are prevalent in Black and brown communities, and are notorious for high-interest financial services and excessive fees.
In the case of Bayview, one grocery store and several corner stores also offer check cashing, a side hustle that earns additional income, largely for proprietors who live outside the community. Jewelry stores in the Mission offer similar services.
“We’re talking about equity, building resilient neighborhoods, building Black communities,” said Ellington. “Not having a bank sets us back.”
District 10 Supervisor Shamann Walton said that the closure of banks on Third Street is a shame, and makes it “harder for people to get the resources they need to take care of their family,” but that “the fight for a community bank will continue.”
‘This community is in desperate need of a credit union‘
The movement for a community-run credit union is gaining ground in the city; District 5 Supervisor Dean Preston is a major proponent.
On Wednesday, Preston’s office held a meeting at 518 Valencia St. to update locals on progress for what they term a “public bank” which, ideally, would make sure money stays in the community that earns it.
Geoffrea Morris, co-founder of SF Black Wallstreet and a Bayview native, highlighted the alarming state of financial access for the area.
“This community is in desperate need of a credit union,” Morris said of the Third Street corridor. “We went from having four banks in the neighborhood to one.”
Morris noted that many in the community have been advocating for someone to start a local, Black-owned bank, or for the San Francisco Fire Credit Union to open a branch here. But, she said, nobody in the community knows where to start.
A credit union could help promote financial literacy and invest in local businesses, she said.
“A lot of people use credit unions because they give you an opportunity to reestablish your credit,” she explained. “A lot of people who wouldn’t qualify for an account elsewhere can get help at a credit union — with buying cars, home loans and so many different things.”
“For now,” she went on, “Wells Fargo has been the catch-all for the community. And they’re going to be making money hand over fist with the $3 fees to get your money out. And that’s an unfortunate thing.”
The country’s largest Black-owned bank is OneUnited, a mostly online banking option that has opened up several branches, including one in Crenshaw, a predominantly Black area of Los Angeles.
Teri Williams, the president of OneUnited, explained that online banking has made branch closures a national issue, but that it hurts Black and Latinx communities most.
“It’s not just isolated to us, but we feel it more,” she said.
“It relegates us as a community to alternative financial routes,” explained Williams. “It used to be payday loans, now it’s peer-to-peer payment systems like Venmo and Cash App.”
“Having banks present in our community reminds us of the importance of saving, of homeownership, of being able to access the full range of banking services,” she continued. “And, there’s a need to understand the community the way they need to be understood.”
“Banks, the regulators, and the community all know that branches make a difference. Not having them,” she went on, is “just one of the additional challenges we face as a community.”