The Tenderloin Housing Clinic: 25 Years of Improving Tenants’ Lives

by on February 7, 2005

In 1980, The Tenderloin Housing Clinic opened as an all volunteer operation in a one-room office building in Glide Memorial Church. Today, with over 189 full time employees, the Clinic is San Francisco’s leading provider of legal services to low-income tenants and operates the city’s largest permanent housing program for single homeless adults. The path from that one-room office to this year’s 25th anniversary celebration has included these highlights:

*1982: Bringing Heat to SRO Residents
The Clinic uncovers a widespread lack of heat in the city’s SRO’s (single room occupancy hotels), resulting in extensive local and national media coverage. The San Francisco Chronicle makes the “heatless hotel” crisis its lead story for a week, leading to emergency enactment of the nation’s toughest heat and hot water laws.

*1983: Winning Visitor Rights and Ending Illegal Lockouts
In response to “no visitor” policies in some SRO’s, the Clinic files a lawsuit to stop the practice. The Clinic wins a historic Court ruling striking down “no visitor” policies in residential hotels. The Clinic leads a campaign to end illegal lockouts, a common practice by which landlords displaced tenants without using the courts. Our campaign led the police to draft a new Lockout Training Manual which required officers to prevent lockouts; after a prominent landlord was arrested and taken to jail, lockouts largely stopped.

Providing Eviction Defense
After initially providing eviction defense assistance only to Tenderloin tenants, the Clinic becomes San Francisco’s chief provider of in pro per eviction defense assistance citywide. The Clinic provided such assistance to over 2500 tenants annually through 1991, and the project now operates independently with city funding as the Eviction Defense Collaborative.

*1984: Stopping Health Department Evictions
The Clinic sues to stop the Health Department’s practice of closing down hotels on 72 hours notice and displacing tenants due to the landlord’s failure to make repairs. The Health Department agreed to cease this practice.

*1985: Defeating World’s Biggest Slumlord
The Clinic launches a campaign to expose the abuses of the Tenderloin’s biggest landlord, German multimillionaire Guenter Kaussen. Kaussen’s vast holdings in Germany, Vancouver, Atlanta and San Francisco lead Germany’s leading magazine to describe him as the “world’s largest slumlord.” Using legal and media strategies, the Clinic’s campaign ends with Kaussen’s worldwide real estate empire in shambles. The Clinic’s battle against Kaussen receives local, national, and international media coverage, including a story on CBS’ 60 Minutes.

*1985-Present Using the Courts to Assert Tenants’ Rights Clinic lawyers file and win dozens of major habitability and wrongful eviction lawsuits for residents of the City’s poorest neighborhoods. In the past 25 years, the Clinic has represented hundreds of tenants in lawsuits seeking damages for substandard housing and illegal evictions. Thousands more tenants have received counseling services.

*1988-1989: Modified Payment Program Begins
With its own funds, the Clinic initiates the Modified Payments Program (MPP), a successful effort to reduce homelessness that eventually replaces the City’s notorious “hotline hotel” program. From 1982-1988 the hotline program spent millions on giving homeless persons one-three night stands in rundown SRO’s, taking over 1,000 units off the permanent housing market. The MPP gets tenants SRO rooms at 1980 rents, dramatically reduces homelessness, and significantly improves living conditions in low-cost hotels. In time, the MPP becomes the City’s largest permanent housing program for homeless single adults.

*1990: Strengthening Residential Hotel Ordinance
After winning amendments to strengthen the City’s residential hotel ordinance in 1985 and 1987, the Clinic wins passage of a new more restrictive Ordinance that also gives nonprofit groups the right of enforcement. The Clinic obtains over a dozen injunctions against illegal hotel conversions, and successfully defends the constitutionality of the law in both state and federal court.

*1992: Prop H: Tenant’s First Ballot Victory
The Clinic initiates a citywide organizing project for rebuilding San Francisco’s tenants’ movement. The process leads to the Clinic becoming the chief funder of Proposition H on the November 1992 ballot, an in initiative that cut the 4% allowable rent increase by more than half. Although outspent 10-1, Prop. H becomes San Francisco’s first winning tenant ballot initiative, saving San Francisco tenants tens of millions of dollars.

Improving Housing Code Enforcement

The Clinic leads the fight for improved housing code enforcement, joining with other tenant groups in public protests and media events to highlight the Bureau of Building Inspection’s (BBI) refusal to enforce the housing code. After our complaints are ignored, the Clinic joins with the Residential Builders Association in collecting 68,000 signatures for a Charter Amendment to replace the publicly unaccountable BBI with a Department of Building Inspection controlled by a Commission. The Charter Amendment – Prop G – overcomes vigorous attacks by the Chronicle and Examiner and passes in the November 1994 election. In early 1995, the newly created Commission enacts tough new code enforcement procedures that make San Francisco the national leader in ensuring decent housing for tenants.

Community House Program
For the first time the Clinic offers supportive housing services to tenants through providing case management and employment services for tenants living in the privately owned Baldwin House hotel at 74 6th Street.

*1995: Shelter Plus Care Program
The Clinic partners with the Cadillac Hotel to provide federal subsidies and on site services for disabled tenants.

*1996: Publication of The Activist Handbook
Clinic Executive Director Randy Shaw publishes The Activist Handbook (University of California Press) which analyzes the strategies and tactics activist’s should use to win social change. The book uses case studies of successful campaigns across the country, including accounts of Clinic campaigns against proposed luxury hotels in the Tenderloin, homelessness, Guenter Kussen and the passage of Prop. H.

*1997-1998: Renters Tax Credit Restored
The Clinic leads a statewide effort to restore the Renters Tax Credit, which was suspended by the state in 1993. Campaign falls short in 1997 but under leadership of new state Senate Present John Burton succeeds in 1998. The revised Credit restores $250 million annually to tenants.

*1999: Hotel Leasing Begins.
As the dot-com boom doubles SRO rents, the Clinic seeks a new strategy for housing city welfare recipients. We first urge the City’s Department Human Services to begin leasing hotels, and when no group expresses interest, the Clinic takes on the task. On May 1, we begin leasing the 204 room Seneca Hotel, and in October takes on both the Mission Hotel (248 rooms) and the Jefferson Hotel (110 rooms). The Clinic currently leases 1263 units in twelve hotels, and provides complete staffing-from on-site case managers to desk clerks and maintenance crews-for all of the properties.

National Housing Advocacy.
The Clinic creates Housing America in 1999 as a vehicle for increasing federal housing funding. In March of that year Housing America and the Doc 4 Kids Project at Boston Medical Center co-author “There’s No Place Like Home: How America’s Housing Crisis Threatens Our Children.” The study wins nationwide media coverage for its breakthrough research on the impact of America’s housing crisis on children’s health nutrition and educational success.

Ellis Act Reform.
Working with State Senator John Burton the Clinic spearheads the first major reform to the state Ellis Act since its passage in 1985. The reform extends the Notice requirements for Ellis eviction of senior and disabled tenants to one year, and reasserts that the Ellis Act does not preempt local laws regulating demolitions or to unit conversions.

*2000: Winning Increased Federal Housing Funds.
Housing America works with Religious Witness with Homeless People on a National Call for Action on Housing signed by over 425 prominent religious leaders. HUD Secretary Cuomo credits the letter with influencing Congress to provide thousands of new Section 8 vouchers.

*2001: New SRO Sprinkler Law Passed.
After over 700 rooms are vacated due to hotel fires, the Clinic leads the successful fight for a law requiring sprinklers in all SRO rooms. Since sprinklers have been installed in individual rooms, no SRO has been closed due to fire.

*2002: Winning Latest Battle at Hastings.
After 17 years of battling Hastings Law School over its development plans for Golden Gate and Larkin Street, Clinic initiates civil disobedience at Hastings’ June Board of Directors meeting. Following the arrests, the Board approves an eight story, 885 space parking garage for the site. The day after our protest, Senator John Burton threatens to eliminate state funding for the school unless the Board rescinds its approval. The Board so acts, and Hastings now plans to ensure the replacement of the over 100 SRO units it demolished on the site.

*2003: SROs Exempted from Ellis Act.
The Clinic sponsors AB1217 which would exempt SROs from the Ellis Act. Thanks to the assistance of the Western Center and Herculean efforts by Assembly member Mark Leno, the bill becomes law.

*2004: Beyond Chron Launched.
In response to the San Francisco Chronicle’s increasingly linking its news coverage to its anti-tenant editorial views, the Clinic creates Beyond Chron, an alternate on-line daily newspaper ( Beyond Chron provides news that the Chronicle either ignores or distorts, and offers an editorial perspective that counters that of the City’s business elite.

The Clinic looks forward to adding to this list in the future.

Filed under: Bay Area / California