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Church, States of Displacement, and Real Estate: 242 Turk Street Tenants Stand Up For Their Rights “I am in a bit of a quandary about my relocation. I have been there for ten years, I feel like I’m being ripped out against my will. I would rather not move.” stated Vincent Vassalo, summing up much of the anxiety shared by his fellow tenants of 242 Turk Street when they received notice that they would have to leave their homes by this summer.

The venerable residential hotel is set to be demolished and reconstructed as Transitional Housing for aged-out foster care youth and adults in recovery. The building once housed nearly 100 people on a permanent basis. Only 39 tenants remain now since the Salvation Army has not filled vacancies in two years.

You read here first, dear readers. As money for permanent subsidized housing dries up, social welfare agencies will “re-tool” their programs to make program costs. It is no longer enough to be in need of housing to get housing, because you simply aren’t making enough money. The wave of the future is all about sub-populations and transitional housing. The only problem is that without either an amazing crash in the real estate market (the newspaper says this has already happened, but don’t believe the hype, especially if you’re poor) or new permanent subsidized housing people will transition right back into the streets.

In January, concerned tenants contacted Right to a Roof about their concerns about relocation. Working together, we drafted a list of tenant demands, in consultation with Steve Collier of Tenderloin Housing Clinic. In a packed meeting with Salvation Army representatives, the tenants stood strong and united, presenting their demands, concerns and request for clarification.

By and large, the Salvation Army bargained in good faith. The tenants received about 80% of their requests in writing. In addition to generous relocation benefits, the tenants made sure that the Salvation Army and the hired Pacific Relocation Consultants, adapted the plan to accommodate for the realities of apartment hunting for people who make well less that the Area’s Median Income (AMI).

At the meeting, resident Tracy Ned remarked “I already got my relocation, but I’m sticking in it to make sure that everyone gets a safe, decent and affordable place to live.” That is the character of these tenants — they won’t drop out just because they got theirs. They won’t stop until the lowest-income tenant among them has a place to live.

“I’m still worried that the 42-month subsidy period will be a 42 month notice of homelessness. A lot of us pay good rents because of rent control. I’m not sure where we’ll find that again,” remarked Ronald Lasher. While relocation now seems to be going well, the tenants are pursuing building a “safety net” for their community members by asking the Planning Commission to certify that relocation has been successful in order to receive a demolition permit. If this happens, the tenants will achieve much more than their own relocation — they will have shown the way for tenants who find themselves in future similar situations.

One tenant who asked not to be identified said “[The process of organizing] was informative. We got information on what we could expect — what their next game plan would be. By being organized we made them [the Salvation Army] more organized. They saw we were serious. If we hadn’t worked together as a group they might have never of listened to us. We’ll wait and see. I’ve lived here for five years — we’ll see where it lands.”

Credit should also go to Stacey Cornell of the Salvation Army, who offered principled and fair negotiations on behalf of the agency. But tenants found little good to say about Pacific Relocation Consultants representative’s condescending speech about how “grateful” they should all be, and how they should just take what was being offered without comment.

These members of the Tenderloin community have every right be angry about the displacement of their tightly- knit community, and they have every right to ask questions and organize!

“Working together with tenants and the Coalition on Homelessness has been a big help. We got things we wouldn’t have gotten by ourselves. It has been helpful, The Coalition has done a hell of a job within the confines of the situation,” Ronald Lasher remarked. “Someone working at the Salvation Army asked why I got involved. Some people are scared, some don’t know what to do. Some employees are afraid of being involved — they might be laid off. We didn’t know how to organize against a large entity. I’m concerned about how people will fall through the cracks. The Coalition helped us band together and gave us tools to work with, sent us in the right direction, helped us do our own research. They allowed us to be activists.”

Tenant Bob Sweem put it like this “Right to a Roof was like Peanut Butter or glue — they helped us keep together.”

The 242 Turk Street tenants define the word solidarity. We can only hope that they stay involved with the larger housing fight — in San Francisco the bulldozer is always outside someone’s door.

Affordable Housing Trust Fund Reintroduced to Congress — Bay Area Representatives Could Care Less? The good news is that the National Affordable Housing Trust Fund Legislation is back from the dead after last year’s Conservative sabotage at the hands of HUD Honcho Mel Martinez. House Resolution 1102 is off and running with 185 co-sponsors. This legislation would create over 1.5 million news homes over ten years by recycling excess Federal Home Administration (FHA) loan payments.

Catch is, that none of San Francisco’s “liberal” Congressional Representatives have yet become co-sponsors.

Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi’s office has stated in response to a recent demonstration that, because of her new “leadership” position, she would co-sponsor less legislation.

Think about it — San Franciscans get less representation on issues crucial to our community because of so-called leadership?

Some of our readers get a little hot under the collar when, in past issues, we have talked about building broad based people’s movements along the lines of the Unemployed Worker’s Movements of the 1930s. Believe us, we would love it if we were wrong about it, if it were possible to let our leaders lead, and have faith that our best interests are being watched after. However, this illustrates a simple point: we can’t.

We have to organize, agitate, and act up when necessary. If folks concerned with social and economic justice can’t cause the Pelosis, Feinsteins, and Boxers to become co-sponsors of this common-sense bill, we can’t expect to make any progress around peacemaking, living wages or healthcare. Don’t be discouraged. It’s obvious that people are getting organized, but we still have a lot of work to do.

Towards this end, Right to a Roof is sponsoring a fun, interactive workshop linking militarism abroad with the war at home, and we’ll conspire together for an action to support the Housing Trust, coming up in June.

All are invited Saturday, May 17th, 2:00 at St. Boniface Church, Golden Gate between Hyde and Leavenworth. Childcare and translations will be available.

Support the Gonzalez‚ Rent Control Legislation! Recently, Board President Matt Gonzalez introduced legislation, making some very minor, but important changes in the Rent Control ordinance. Landlords turned out in droves to oppose such “radical” measures as protection of tenants in “in-law” units, giving protections to residential hotel tenants equal to apartment dwellers, and a bunch of other no-brainers that are a matter of basic equity.

Of course those who make their living from other people’s wages have plenty of time to bombard political process, crying that even the lightest reforms will throw them out
of business.

We would love to report that Gonzalez had busted out with some legislation that would actually do this, but in reality the bill is just good, basic consumer protections. For information on the legislation call our friends at the SF Tenants Union (415) 282-6545.

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Author: Street Sheet Editor

The STREET SHEET is the oldest continuously published street news paper in the United States. Organizationally, it is the public education and outreach tool of the Coalition on Homelessness. Every month, the STREET SHEET reaches 32,000 readers through over 200 homeless or low-income vendors. Our vendors are charged nothing for the papers they receive, and keep all money they earn through STREET SHEET distribution.

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