Proposition 1C Would Fund Non-Profit Housing, But Will Nonprofit Tenants Vote??

by Paul Hogarth on September 25, 2006

As San Francisco struggles with the affordable housing crisis, some help may be along the way this November. California’s Proposition 1C, the Housing and Emergency Shelter Trust Fund Act, is a $2.85 billion affordable housing bond that will pay for much-needed assistance including shelters for battered women, housing for low-income seniors, and, especially helpful in the Tenderloin, funds for non-profit supportive housing units. Californians passed another housing bond in 2002 that created 100,000 new units of housing statewide, but the funding source will be depleted by the end of 2007. If Prop 1C is not approved, it could spell disaster for many affordable housing programs locally.

Naturally, non-profit housing providers are working hard to ensure Prop 1C’s passage. While non-profits cannot legally endorse candidates, they can endorse propositions – and all local non-profits are taking an active role in the campaign. “It’s key to resolving homelessness in the City,” said Ken Reggio, executive director of Episcopal Community Services. “We are soliciting and raising funds for the campaign,” said Don Falk, executive director of Tenderloin Neighborhood Development Corporation (TNDC). Many of these housing providers are hosting a fundraiser this week with State Senate President Don Perata that should raise significant funds for the statewide effort.

But passage is still open to question. Prop 1C is part of the Governor’s coordinated package of five infrastructure bond measures, and one of 13 measures on a very crowded state ballot. With voters being asked to vote on a whole slew of bond measures, there is legitimate concern that Prop 1C could fail without a serious get-out-the-vote operation. Two years ago, San Francisco failed to pass a $200 million local affordable housing bond – but an extra 8,051 votes would have made the difference.

With thousands of non-profit supportive housing units in San Francisco, a massive voter registration drive among SRO residents would seem like a natural part of the campaign to pass Proposition 1C. The Non-Profit Housing Association of Northern California (NPH)’s newsletter urges its members to “educate your tenants through voter registration and get-out-the-vote efforts,” and provides resources to help run a drive on its website. But locally, engaging tenants in non-profit buildings and making sure that they are registered to vote has not yet surfaced as a high priority.

“I honestly don’t recall having been contacted by anyone this [election] cycle,” said John Elberling of TODCO (Tenants and Owners Development Corporation), who explained that while they do not run voter registration drives in their buildings, they allow outside organizations to come in and table in the common areas. TODCO also provides each new tenant a voter registration form as they come in. “We don’t have the staff resources at the present time to run a GOTV drive,” said Don Falk of TNDC. “But we will place voter registration forms in our offices, lobbies and common areas.”

However, simply providing registration forms may not ensure a healthy turnout in the SRO’s. The NPH’s website includes a 21-page Voter Registration Toolkit that explains the necessary steps for a successful voter registration drive. In “Six Easy Steps Housing Providers Can Take to Implement Voting Campaigns,” the website recommends that non-profits “get people to fill out the form in your presence, collect the form from them and return it to the local election authority. Setting a goal and keeping a running tally of the number of people you register will get people more excited about registering, educating and mobilizing voters.” The brochure also encourages project-based housing units to “identify tenant leaders who can orchestrate door-to-door registration campaigns.”

Some tenants in non-profit housing who have attempted to register voters in their own building have faced resistance from management. Jazzie Collins, who lives at 1166 Howard Street (a TNDC building), says that the manager won’t let her register voters because it’s ‘soliciting.’ “I put up a public notice about a public meeting,” she said, “and they said that it was a violation of my lease.” Another TNDC tenant who wished to remain anonymous said that he didn’t encounter resistance from management about registering people to vote – but the ambivalence he got was disquieting. “They rely on the goodwill of the passage of these measures for their housing,” he said, “but when it comes to actually getting their own tenants to vote, they don’t seem to care.”

In response to these concerns, Falk explained that TNDC needs to balance competing concerns. “We don’t allow door-to-door solicitation in our buildings under any circumstances because of tenant safety concerns – whether it’s from staff, visitors or tenants in any uncontrolled way,” but they are willing to provide access for voter registration materials in the lobbies and common areas. Jazzie Collins believes that the resistance she encountered was not so much from the top – but more from the lower management like the desk clerks and building managers. “Lower management needs to be educated on the issues,” she said.

As part of the City’s Care Not Cash program, Episcopal Community Services has had a large influx of new SRO tenants who have recently moved in and may not yet be registered to vote. “We absolutely have a major effort,” said Reggio. “We provide voter registration materials, and have town hall meetings to help spread the word. Door-to-door and community meetings shouldn’t be a problem.” As far as tenants being denied access by management, Reggio assured me that he wanted to be aware of that if it was going on in one of their buildings. “They shouldn’t be blocked access.”

Some SRO tenants may believe that they are not eligible to vote because of a prior felony conviction. But unlike many states (like Florida), California automatically restores the right to vote for ex-felons once they have completed their parole. The trouble is, most are not aware of that. New tenants who have moved into their buildings must register to vote by Monday, October 23rd at 5:00 p.m. in order to vote in the November election on Prop 1C. Last-minute registrants are encouraged to drop off their forms at City Hall.

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