The Housing Rights Committee has counseled more than 300 tenants across The City in the past yeas. (Courtesy photo)

A year in housing justice on San Francisco’s West Side

The Housing Rights Committee of San Francisco, a tenants rights organization that has been working for housing justice since 1979, opened a new office in the Richmond District in January 2016.

In the past year, we’ve counseled more than 300 tenants from all over The City. We’ve assisted tenants with a variety of problems, including noise complaints, capital improvement pass-throughs, buyouts, owner move-ins, Ellis Acts, harassment, fires, illegal evictions and much more. While the nucleus of the housing crisis is often seen as the SoMa or the Mission, the pressures have been bubbling out to the West Side of The City. According to the Rent Board’s Annual Statistical Report for the fiscal year of 2015-16, the Richmond has seen the second highest number of Ellis Act petitions, pre-buyout declarations and wrongful eviction reports. The Sunset and Richmond have the highest numbers of OMIs, coming in first and second, respectively.

And this is only the data captured by the Rent Board, which does not fully represent the stories from the West Side that we see every day. Like the tenant who continues to receive letters in English, despite three separate requests of the Housing Authority to have written notices and correspondence sent in Chinese, to which she is legally entitled. Or the single-room-occupancy building a block away from our office that has 15 unfixed violations of habitability, including overcrowding, dysfunctional fire extinguishers and extreme mold, which the landlord refuses to mitigate. Or the tenant who was displaced from his apartment three years ago because of a fire and is still waiting for his the landlord to rehab the building so it’s habitable again.

While we have seen many challenges, our Richmond office has also seen many successes. We have gotten tenants into public housing, which is often one of the few ways to secure affordable and stable housing for low-income or working-class tenants. We have prevented verbal evictions. We have sustainably trained leaders from the community to be tenant counselors and to be community organizers through the our People’s Leadership, Organizing and Tenants rights series of workshops. Last November, we co-hosted the largest District 1 Supervisors Candidates Forums’ of the 2016 election season, along with many of our community partners, and engaged candidates around issues that matters to tenants and other marginalized communities in the district.

We pour energy into organizing and community building around housing justice on the West Side because we believe that housing is a right everywhere. Harassment and refusing to adhere to standards of habitability is an infringement on that right. Unaffordable housing is an infringement on that right. Evictions are an infringement on that right. San Francisco blatantly refuses radical progressive values by hypocritically claiming pride in our sanctuary city status but concurrently catering to private interests, disinvesting from public infrastructure, refusing to keep tech companies and real estate accountable. In attempt to preempt the massive displacement that may devastate the existing low-income communities of color on the West Side, we are taking action and doing our best to ensure that the most vulnerable can exist here.

Earlier in January, we hired another organizer to tackle bigger projects like Parkmerced and Kirkham Heights. As a tenants rights and housing justice organization, we remain resolved. We will continue fighting for tenants because a year in housing justice has taught us that we have much to lose if we don’t organize now.

Cynthia Fong is a tenant organizer with the Housing Rights Committee of San Francisco in the Richmond District. Tenant counseling hours are available at 4301 Geary Blvd. from 9 a.m. to noon on Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays.

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