The New Gold Rush: Using technology to tell evicted tenants’ stories

Apr 27, 2016

 

After two years in San Francisco, the Anti-Eviction Mapping Project is now collaborating with groups in Oakland, Fremont, Alameda and Berkeley. The project doesn't just crunch the numbers on the housing crisis, it documents the stories behind those numbers.

 

The project began as a collaboration with Stanford University in 2013. The school's Urban Studies students were trained to go out and interview people about their eviction stories and then plot those stories on an interactive map.  

One of the tenants interviewed was Rick Gerharter, who lost his apartment in San Francisco’s Bernal Heights. Originally from South Dakota, he moved here in 1977 in search of a supportive community where he could come out as gay. A few years ago, his landlord decided to sell his building and wanted the tenants out.

Gerharter says, “We protested and it went on for several months. Elmer my roommate got diagnosed with HIV during this whole period. It couldn’t help but hasten his death, all the stress involved in that.”

Mapping Project founder Erin McElroy says, “We really wanted to make visible what the accumulation of evictions over time looks like. It’s one thing to know, ‘Oh a few people in this neighborhood were evicted over the last couple of months. Or this neighborhood has changed over the last year in different ways.’ But when you actually see that in accumulation, it appears really different and you can see which neighborhoods are hit the hardest. We wanted to show that.”

The map begins in 1997, at the start of the first dot-com boom. Initially, just a few dots pop up here and there. But soon, the dots begin to spread all across the city. By the end of 2013, San Francisco resembled a face covered by erupting sores.

Jordan Carroll, one of the Urban Studies students, notes the irony of their work. “It’s kind of ironic we’re using all of these websites like Facebook and Flicker to do our map. Because it’s supposedly the tech companies like Facebook and stuff that are displacing the people. But, we’re using those services to help create this map.”

Carroll says that he’ll be thinking about the tenants’ stories when he faces upcoming choices.

“I’ll be graduating in just over a year and looking for a place to live,” he says. “When I do find a neighborhood to live, I’ll be more conscientious of the process and try to get to know the neighborhood more. Be a more active member other than like a passive, just like moving to wherever is the cool place to move to and not really thinking about it.”

The students’ project may use cutting edge technology, but its purpose is an old one. The map helps people who feel powerless realize they’re not alone, and then brings them together to challenge what’s happening.

The Mapping Project volunteers have five new maps in the works. As evictions continue in San Francisco, they’ll add more dots and stories. 

This story originally aired on April 29, 2014.