By Leslie Dreyer, Raia Small and Jennifer Friedenbach
Long-time disinvestment from low-income housing and mental health services has led to the severe crisis playing out on our streets. Instead of addressing the root causes of this crisis, many of those in power have responded by rewarding speculators. Senator Wiener has introduced two bills in the state senate that will make the housing and homelessness crisis worse: Senate Bill 50, which will increase luxury development, and Senate Bill 40, which makes it easier to take a person’s civil rights away through conservatorship. In a world where global wealth is siphoning off our communities, we need to resist exploitation, alienation, and criminalization of targeted residents who keep this city running. They have every right to build families, to live near their work and to access the services they need to survive and thrive here.
For decades San Francisco tenant, disability, and homeless advocacy groups have been organizing to preserve, protect and provide housing for residents who desperately need it. We’ve shed light on tenants becoming homeless or dying as a direct result of eviction. We’ve pleaded with the city to stop the sweeps, which are retraumatizing residents who already have to endure unimaginable trauma every day. We’ve detailed how quality affordable housing is key to stabilizing a person’s physical and mental wellbeing. Unfortunately, it seems Senator Wiener and his supporters are making moves to displace or detain poor folks rather than let them determine what’s best for themselves and their communities. This is why we are uniting to demand that poor and working class folks have a right to the city and to self determination.
SB 50 incentivizes more luxury development all over San Francisco, which will inflate property values and encourage landlords to harass tenants out so they can inflate the rents. This leads to more evictions, which leads to more homelessness in a city that has no truly affordable housing left and a shelter waitlist over 1200 names long. Approximately 70 percent of our homeless residents used to be tenants in SF and long-term black tenants have been hit particularly hard. This should be a wake-up call to stop displacement and build housing for poor people, not to build more market-rate housing in a city already meeting its goals for luxury development. Our city is already rated the third most unequal in the U.S., the most unequal country in the developed world. Now is not the time to make matters worse. Now is the time to stop real estate speculation and redistribute the wealth through progressive taxation.
The recent campaign by luxury condo owners to prevent a homeless shelter from being built in the Embarcadero is indicative of the hateful, exclusionary climate that often accompanies expensive housing. It is in this climate that Mayor Breed has cracked down on “visible homelessness,” throwing away residents’ tents, their only shelter from the cold and rain, instead of addressing the heart of the problem – disinvestment, rampant inequality, housing financialization, and lack of deeply affordable housing and real rent control, including vacancy control. Senator Wiener offers a similar approach with SB 1045 and SB 40, legislation enabling the detainment of people suffering from behavioral health issues who may be considered an eyesore to wealthy folks, rather than offering adequate treatment and housing to our homeless neighbors. SB 40 broadens SB 1045 to put homeless residents under a new form of state conservatorship, stripping them of their autonomy instead of expanding much needed mental health services and housing options. This new conservatorship no longer relies on a determination of harm to self and others. It simply uses the number of detentions by police under the 5150 code.
The housing crisis is a public health crisis. Solutions won’t down trickle down from the same capitalist entities that created both crises. They will be built from the ground up, meeting exploited communities where they’re at and putting their needs over profit. Protecting and providing quality affordable homes is key to maintaining physically and mentally healthy communities. Join us in opposing SB 50 and SB 40, in fighting to halt displacement, and in demanding quality housing and health care for all who need it in our city. San Francisco can be a sanctuary for poor and working class folks if we work together to resist the hate and tear down these exclusionary legislative gates.
Leslie Dreyer is an Organizer with Housing Rights Committee of San Francisco. Jennifer Friedenbach is the Executive Director of Coalition on Homelessness. Raia Small is an Organizer at Senior and Disability Action.