San Francisco tenants' movement rises up and sets the agenda
Despite the rain on Feb. 8, organizers of a citywide tenants' convention at San Francisco's Tenderloin Elementary School wound up having to turn people away at the door. The meeting was filled to capacity, even though it had been moved at the last minute to accommodate a larger crowd than initially anticipated.
"Oh. My. God. Look at how many of you there are!" organizer Sara Shortt, executive director of the Housing Rights Committee, called out as she greeted the hundreds in attendance. "Tenants in San Francisco, presente!"
The multiracial crowd was representative of neighborhoods from across the city, from elderly folks with canes to parents with small children in tow. Translators had been brought in to accommodate Chinese and Spanish-speaking participants.
Six members of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors also made an appearance: Sups. John Avalos, David Campos, Eric Mar, Malia Cohen, Jane Kim, and Board President David Chiu.
In recent weeks, the convention organizers had convened a series of smaller neighborhood gatherings to solicit ideas for new policy measures to stem the tide of evictions and displacement, a problem that has steadily risen to the level of the defining issue of our times in San Francisco.
Ana Godina, an organizer with the SEIU, went to the convention with her daughter Ella, 5. Godina drove from Sacramento to support her colleagues. Three of her fellow union members have been evicted recently, all of them Tenderloin and Mission residents. Guardian photo by Amanda Rhoades
While several legislative proposals are on track to move forward at the Board of Supervisors, the meetings were called to directly involve impacted communities and give them an opportunity to shape the legislative agenda on their own terms, according to various organizers.
Addressing the crowd, Shortt recalled what she termed "some amazing jiu jitsu" during last year's tenant campaigns, which resulted in a 10-year moratorium on condo conversions rather than simply allowing a mass bypass of the condo lottery, as originally proposed.
That measure, which won approval at the Board of Supervisors last June, was designed to discourage real estate speculators from evicting tenants to convert buildings to tenancies-in-common, a shared housing arrangement that's often a precursor to converting rent-controlled apartments into condos.
That effort brought together the founding members of the Anti Displacement Coalition, and momentum has been building ever since. "This is the beginning of a movement today," Gen Fujioka of the Chinatown Community Development Center, one of the key organizations involved, told the gathering. "We are shaking things up in our city."
Around 160 participants attended the first in a series of neighborhood tenant conventions in the Castro on Jan. 10. The one in the Richmond a week later drew so many participants that organizers had to turn people away to appease the fire marshal.
"The idea of the neighborhood conventions was to solicit ideas," explained Ted Gullicksen, head of the San Francisco Tenants Union. "The idea of this event is to review existing ideas and ultimately rank them." From there, the campaign will pursue a ballot initiative or legislative approval at the Board of Supervisors.
Ted Gullicksen, director of the San Francisco Tenants Union, and his dog Falcor. Guardian photo by Amanda Rhoades