Finding Inspiration in Every Turn
In the early 1970's, a group of five progressive women were determined to get safe, affordable housing for the community of Bayview - Hunter's Point in San Francisco. Often noted as the Big Five of Bayview , Bertha Freeman, Elouise Westbrook, Julia Coleman, Osceola Washington, and Ethel Garlington, took their fight to redevelop the land formerly occupied by the US Army barracks to the San Francisco HUD office, and later to HUD Headquarters in Washington DC.
In 1967, the Mayor of San Francisco, John Shelley, announced that he would be asking the City Supervisors to support the redevelopment of the area with financial assistance of $350.000. An additional $150,000 was pledged by the San Francisco Housing Authority. Federal agencies promised $79 million in funding to complete the project.
The "Big Five" continued their work, not only advocating for new housing, but also addressing the social need of the community, including education and training for community members. Bertha Freeman played a key role in establishing a teaching assistant program in the community. Click on XXXX to view the 1972 interview.
The group was able to secure a Memorandum of Agreement with the City of San Francisco, ensuring at least 50% of the workers on the Bayview public works projects, would be Bayview residents. Click on XXX to see the meeting with the San Francisco Mayor and members of the community when there was a cut back.
Groundbreaking for the housing development took place in 1971 and was a major win for the community. However, success was short-lived, as Senator Cranston had to deliver the devastating news in 1973 that promised federal funding was affected as part of a $1.2 billion dollar national budget cut on housing. Click on XXX to see the interview how the approval of the cut by President Richard Nixon affected the community.
The "Big Five" decided the budget cuts were unacceptable and took their fight directly to Washington DC. Their passion and tenacity for the community paid off. They were able to secure a $30 million grant which allowed Unity Homes, Jackie Robinson Gardens, and Ridgeview Terrace to be completed. Click on XXX to see video captured during construction.
However, once built, the community faced challenges with gangs and drug dealers in the 1990s and early 2000s. Because of the relation-ship forged between members of the community and law enforcement played a significant reduction of risk for the community as a whole. Phyllis Freeman, operations manager, recalls, "We used to meet with [San Francisco] Police Department once a month. Each property site would take turns hosting and providing lunch." An officer was assigned to their area and would be there from morning and stay until the evening, chatting with residents and staff members. Thanks to the law enforcement presence and other safety measures, such as a gate at the end of the court, the majority of crime ceased about 15 years ago.
In 2006, Bill Johnston's company, the managing agent merged with Eugene Burger Management Corporation and Unity Homes, Inc. became part of the EBMC portfolio, as Bill became the San Jose EBMC Regional Manager. Later that year a massive rehabilitation project was launched. Initially only anticipating four years at a $14 million dollar budget, because of complications with financial issues, union requirements, and temporarily needing to relocate 94 families; the rehab took seven years. Once again, Unity Homes overcame all the obstacles and passed its REAC follow-up inspection and closed a loan refinance in 2015.
Unity Homes, Inc. consists of 94 units. There are studios, one-, two-, three-, and four-bedroom apartments. According to Phyllis Freeman, more than 20 of the current residents have been living on the property "since day one". In fact, Phyllis has been working at Unity Homes since it opened in 1973. "Unity Homes is about working together," Phyllis said. "It's about being supportive of each other and our children. Building a positive foundation for children with different activities like Girl Scouts and sports." Unity Homes is an example of what can happen when dedicated people commit to creating and sustaining not just a home, but a real community