Hotel tenants, one of San Francisco’s most underrepresented and downtrodden groups, got a chance yesterday to learn their rights, get organized, and develop a collective political agenda. The third annual Hotel Tenants Convention, held at St. Boniface church, provided them with the chance, and they took full advantage.
The Central City SRO (Single Resident Occupancy) Collaborative organized the event, which featured free food, literature about social programs available to city residents, and several break-out group sessions devoted to making tenants aware of and organizing around their rights. District 6 Supervisor Chris Daly also spoke to the attendees.
The SRO Collaborative, which organizes hotel tenants around issues concerning decent living conditions and social justice, held the event to connect tenants with one another and to discover what issues they wanted to organize around. Additionally, the Collaborative hoped to inform tenants of their legal rights, a cause tenant organizer Sarah Norr believes to be particularly important.
“A lot of the rights they have on paper don’t mean anything unless they stand up and demand them,” said Norr. “We’re trying to connect tenants with each other so they can take action.”
Daly kicked off the event with an impassioned speech concerning the rights of the City’s tenants. He first outlined what he called a culture among landlords “where it’s ok to run a building that is potentially a death trap.” He defined this culture as in direct opposition to the city’s poor people, many of them hotel tenants, who “have their blood, sweat and tears in the soil of this city, but aren’t appreciated.”
Daly then discussed the victories he helped tenants achieve, including making it illegal for landlords to charge a visitor’s fee and forcing all landlords to put fire sprinklers in every rented room. He urged tenants not to rest on their laurels of their achievements, however, emphasizing the importance of activism and vigilance to keep these achievements enforced.
“If we’re organizing and demanding no visitor fees, demanding code enforcement, demanding that they don’t pare down our affordable homes to build luxury housing,” said Daly, “Then guess what – our power can defeat their money.”
Those attending then broke off into four discussion groups addressing tenants’ rights, mental health, voting and tenant organizing. The groups served to both educate tenants and to provide them with an opportunity to ask housing rights advocates about these issues.
Throughout the event, organizations ranging from the Bay Area Legal Aid to the District Attorney’s office offered a wide array of pamphlets and information about services available to tenants. Representatives of these groups also attended to explain their services to attendees.
Ricardo Arguello attended to represent the Victims Services Office, which provides services for victims of violent crimes. The event had special meaning for him, as he once lived an SRO, making the rights of hotel tenants particularly important to him.
“I feel very proud to be here,” said Arguello. “It brings together the community, where they can see an issue hurting their quality of life and receive information that they weren’t aware of that can help them change that.”
The event culminated in an open-forum session in which tenants voiced their hopes for the future, attempting to brainstorm ideas for housing rights campaigns to run in the future. Ideas ranged from improving mail delivery services, to a reappraisal of hotels that would reduce rent, to upgrading facilities like plumbing and water.
Most tenants in attendance agreed achieving such ends would require more organization. Many also agreed, however, that the convention provided an excellent starting point.
“A big part of it is just people getting together and talking about stuff,” said Anthony Faber, a hotel resident. “Then you listen, and say, “That happened to me too!” All of a sudden, you’re not alone, you’re not crazy – you realize, this is happening.”
And if the SRO Collaborative has anything to say about it, then, you organize.
You can reach Casey at email@example.com.