As a result of a 2006 proposal from the Families and Immigrants workgroup’s Housing First for Families Campaign, the City is building 4,500 subsidized housing units over the next 10 years. This sounds like great news for the city’s many low-income and homeless families, but in reality only a small fraction of these units are available to these families. Of the 498 units being built this year, only 62 are available to our lowest-income and homeless families. For varying reasons, ranging from income to family size, efforts to house families in San Francisco have come up short. Although a $3 million shallow subsidy was created for the purpose of lowering family rents in San Francisco, few very-low-income and homeless working families qualify for this subsidy.
On Thursday, May 10, the Housing First for Families Campaign held a rally and action in honor of Mother’s Day on the steps of City Hall. The rally was em-cee-ed by Wanda Green, a volunteer at the Coalition on Homelessness, and Alma Jimenez, a volunteer from La Voz Latina at Tenderloin Housing Clinic. Families from all over San Francisco turned up to be informed of the City’s stance on the issue, and to listen to and support the campaign’s next steps. The people were asked to support the campaign’s requests for changes to the existing subsidy that would qualify more homeless and low-income families.
The requests were as follows:
- a $5 million City-funded operating subsidy to create a deeper rent subsidy for families living at the lowest income levels, to enable them to move into affordable housing being created by the Mayor’s Office of Housing and Development;
- that 50% of the units built over the next 10 years be available to low-income and homeless families;
- that the arbitrary one-to-two-year time limit on the subsidy be abolished to create a need-based subsidy, as originally intended.
Children from several families came to City Hall with the intent of speaking with the Mayor late in the afternoon. They came organized and prepared with letters they had written in support of their families’ tireless efforts to provide affordable housing. They had painted a banner and created a video essay for the Mayor to watch. The Child Lead Organizer was 11-year-old Leslie Flores-Martinez, a fifth grade honor roll student at Buena Vista Elementary School.
At 4:15, the children organized on the steps and entered City Hall. They were full of energy and excited at the thought of speaking to Mayor Newsom. As they reached the Mayor’s office, the security guard standing in front stepped inside… and locked the door! Unaffected, the children moved next door to find it locked as well. They quickly ran up three doors and entered the office. They asked to speak to the Mayor. Just as they were being told that the Mayor’s office was Room 200, the same security guard came in from the side door to lock the kids out of the entire string of offices in that hall.
The children assembled outside the Mayor’s office and knocked on the door. They waited and knocked again. Soon, the Mayor’s representative, Daniel Homesey, came out from a side office and asked the kids who they were coming to see.
Leslie politely replied, “We want to speak to the Mayor.”
When Mr. Homesey told them that the Mayor did not know they were coming, they gave him the letter they had written requesting a meeting that the Mayor meet with them and their families. Unflustered, Homesey told them that the Mayor was in an important meeting, and could not see them at that time.
Leslie answered, “If I was the Mayor, and you were me, and I wouldn’t listen to you, how would you feel?” “Pretty bad,”Homesey replied, looking a bit embarrassed, “but I’m really sorry:The Mayor can’t talk to you right now.” The kids told him they would wait for the Mayor, and that they would not leave until they spoke with him. Mr. Homesey told them that the Mayor was very busy, but that maybe he would come out in 10 minutes. Homesey asked the kids if maybe they wanted to come back another time. Leslie firmly told him that they would wait to speak to the Mayor. Homesey said he would let the Mayor know that the children were out there, and excused himself.
The kids decided to walk around the whole floor, and call out for the Mayor to come out and talk to them. They marched up the halls, clapping and changing, “Newsom, talk to the kids!” Some of the smaller ones ran ahead to see if they could see him come out. As they reached the Mayor’s door again, a member of the Sheriff’s Department stopped the group and asked who was in charge. Leslie stepped forward and said, “Iam.” He started to speak, but she cut him off: “We want to speak to the Mayor.”The gentleman told them they had a right to do that, but that they couldn’t make so much noise because they were disrupting meetings.Karla Marquez, one of the mothers, called out, “The kids want to talk to the Mayor, and he won’t come out.” “We won’t leave until we speak to the Mayor,” reaffirmed Leslie. They were again welcomed to wait for the Mayor, but were told that they would have to be more quiet.
Now, the kids began to get strategic. Instead of just waiting in front of his office, they positioned themselves in