City Attorney Dennis Herrera is laying into federal housing officials who rejected a San Francisco policy this month, the Affirmative Fair Housing Marketing Plan, that would have set aside 40 percent of all new subsidized units for existing neighborhood residents.

The neighborhood preference policy was intended, in particular, to protect black San Francisco residents in rapidly gentrifying neighborhoods. The Board of Supervisors approved the plan in December, but earlier this month, the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) rejected it, arguing that such a plan could "perpetuate segregation" and would violate the 1968 Fair Housing Act.

Not so, says Herrera: "The City's Plan is consistent with the goals of the Fair Housing Act of 1968, a civil rights law written decades ago to protect minorities from discrimination," the City Attorney argues in a letter to Julian Castro, Secretary for the Department of HUD. "Here, the City is trying to stem displacement of existing residents and communities, many of whom are members of a protected class and have suffered years of discrimination. "

San Francisco's African-American population has dwindled from 13.7 percent in 1970 to a mere 5.7 percent today, as the Chronicle recalls. That, Herrera writes, is related to gentrification, and he questions the charge that the Affirmative Fair Housing Marketing Plan would incur segregation. "The Plan is intended to maintain diversity in neighborhoods such as the Western Addition," he writes. "Without the Plan, the opportunity for residents to remain in their own neighborhood will be out of reach for those who are most at risk of displacement."

Further, Herrera argues that the plan is not without precedent. "HUD has long recognized another form of neighborhood preference for new affordable housing projects in San Francisco, including the certificates of preference for households in the Western Addition and Hunters Point neighborhoods that were displaced by the federally funded urban renewal projects in the 1960s. But those certificates of preference alone are far from sufficient to address the displacement of communities the City now faces."

Mayor Lee, with backing from Senator Dianne Feinstein, hopes that a compromise can be reached. KQED writes that Lee plans to send representatives to meet with national officials, and quotes him as critical of the federal decision. "I believe that the decision is adverse to our mutual goals regarding equity, displacement prevention and the creation of opportunities for vulnerable populations,” the mayor wrote.

Time is of the essence as the new Willie B. Kennedy Apartments in the Western Addition, which the Chronicle writes is a 98-unit senior housing development, is beginning to accept applications. That was financed, in part, with $15.2 million from HUD, and it's at the center of the debate. KQED spoke with one woman, Adrian Williams, who would have benefitted from the Affirmative Fair Housing Marketing Plan. “I watch every day as I see seniors on the streets that have given back to this community," she told the radio station, "and now they’re homeless."

Previously: Yet Another Aging Affordable Housing Complex Senses Threat From Outside Development