What to Celebrate After Ten Years in District 6

by Paul Hogarth on July 16, 2010

Tomorrow at 10:30 a.m. at Herbst Theater (401 Van Ness), Supervisor Chris Daly will host a District 6 Symposium to reflect on all that we have accomplished as a community in the past ten years. It’s a legacy that deserves praise, and should be well commended as he leaves office in January. Despite the constant thrashings he takes in the media, City Hall won’t be the same without him. When I think of Chris Daly, I always think of the line my hero – the late Paul Wellstone – would say: “sometimes, you have to start a fight to win one.” Daly would certainly pick fights at City Hall, even at times when allies suspect the wisdom. But we’re glad he’s there – because he’s always stood up for the most vulnerable in our district. I first came to District 6 ten years ago, and SRO tenants have made real changes under Daly’s watch. Here are three reasons why I will be attending tomorrow’s symposium to celebrate …

Uniform SRO Visitor Policy

I’ll never forget my first week on the job in the Tenderloin, doing outreach to help SRO tenants get repairs made – five months before Chris Daly was elected. It was July 2000, and a tenant at the Dahlia Hotel had come to see me about awful living conditions there. I said I’d go visit the tenant at the Hotel, walked a few blocks and entered the building.

“Five dollars!” shouted the hotel desk clerk, as I told her that I was there to visit a tenant. When I looked at her dumbfounded, she repeated “five dollars!” – and held out her hand.

Visitor fees. They were legal back in 2000, and every SRO tenant suffered the indignity and humiliation of having anyone – their mom, a social worker, their best friend – pay a fee just to go visit them. Of course, the reason why hotel landlords did this was obvious – if the building had drug dealers or prostitutes, they made a killing. And that was life.

Chris Daly’s campaign platform that year included making visitor fees illegal – but that was the easy part. After he won, the hard question was how to make sure landlords did not respond by simply banning all visitors. Daly brought hotel tenant activists to City Hall, and we helped craft the Uniform SRO Visitor Policy – which allowed all tenants some minimum visitor rights: unlimited daytime visitors, eight overnights per month.

Since then, our challenge has been to monitor the Uniform Visitor Policy – and the SRO Collaboratives (funded with Chris Daly’s help) have been the community’s eyes and ears. Daly drafted the legislation to give tenants minimum rights, so landlords could provide more – which encouraged more organizing. At the Hotel Pierre, Joe Brown worked with the Tenderloin Housing Clinic management to give additional rights for THC tenants.

SRO Sprinkler Ordinance

Fast-forward to Easter Sunday – April 15, 2001. The Raman Hotel at 6th & Howard had a fire – and over a hundred SRO tenants were now homeless. It was a growing problem in the Tenderloin, SOMA and North Mission hotels. At one point, there were six hotels on Sixth Street that had burned out. All it took was for one tenant who smoked in bed or leaves a hot plate on, and the building was charred. The solution was simple: sprinklers.

I was with the Raman tenants on a cold, April morning – as we marched up Sixth Street to City Hall with two demands: extend their Red Cross vouchers for three weeks, and pass a law requiring that hotel landlords install sprinklers in every room. Chris Daly was there to meet us on the front steps as we walked inside, visiting every Supervisor’s office.

Again, it was easy to pass the law – and we were grateful to have Chris Daly there to make that politically possible. The hard part afterwards was enforcement, and over the next several years tenants the SRO Collaboratives worked hard to get landlords cited – and Rent Board petitions for a “decrease in services.” But the ultimate impact cannot be denied – we don’t see entire hotels burn down anymore. Fires are contained in one room.

SRO Mailbox Ordinance

With Chris Daly in office, we knew that SRO tenants could always count on a champion – and someone who would help our community organize to pass basic legislation. So we started contacting his office on a myriad of problems that affect residential hotel tenants.

Like individual mailboxes – a right that every apartment tenant takes for granted. SRO tenants didn’t have any, and their monthly GA or SSI checks were at the mercy of hotel desk clerks – after the mailman dumps a bag in the lobby. Tenants would complain about their checks being stolen, or the mail clearly having been opened before they received it.

Daly wrote the SRO Mailbox Ordinance in 2006 – which required every residential hotel to install locked mailbox receptacles in their lobby. Landlords were given a 12-month period to comply.

But again, it was all about enforcement – and then organizing tenants to make it happen. Two years later, some hotels had complied while others had not. In December 2008, the U.S. Postal Service announced they would stop delivering to SRO mailboxes that had not been installed – effectively taking scofflaw landlords off the hook. City Attorney Dennis Herrera has filed suit against the Postal Service, and SRO Collaboratives have helped gather evidence.

These three issues – the right to have visitors, a sprinkler in your unit, and the dignity of having your own mailbox – are what middle-class tenants take for granted. But ten years ago, it was beyond the reach of District 6’s most vulnerable constituents. Regardless of who you’re supporting to replace Chris Daly, tomorrow’s symposium is about celebrating what we’ve accomplished in the last ten years – and looking ahead at future struggles.

Daly has outlined more accomplishments at Fog City Journal – such as the historic Trinity Plaza agreement, but you’ll have to attend tomorrow to learn more. We have advanced as a stronger community under Chris Daly, and his leadership will help us stay organized in the future as District 6 endures more changes and challenges.

Paul Hogarth is a District 6 resident, who has worked at the Tenderloin Housing Clinic and the Central City SRO Collaborative for ten years.

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