On April 26, the San Francisco Chronicle published an exposé on the conditions in single-resident occupancy hotels (SROs) used as permanent supportive housing (PSH). Many of us took a calculated risk in speaking to the Chronicle over a multi-year period concerning the issues we face every day, and many tenants felt a sense of being on the precipice of victory; we were winning and felt on top of the world looking down on creation.
However, those feelings of elation were short-lived. Supervisor Ahsha Safaí—who represents a district that does not have any SROs used as supportive housing—decided to exploit our pain by introducing a charter amendment creating a flawed oversight commission without even consulting the affected tenants within a week of the Chronicle exposé. Many of us permanent supportive housing tenants were alarmed by the speed with which he put out this proposal and the lack of tenant input: His office would not even speak to us throughout the process.
There were two major problems with the proposal. First, the make-up of the proposed commission, like that of too many oversight bodies, would be majority mayoral appointments. The article implied that the mayor’s office was responsible for a lot of the issues in PSH, so tenants have no reason to trust mayoral appointments to advocate for their needs. Just two years ago, voters approved two commissions, one over the Sheriff’s Department and the other over Public Works, neither of which were not mayor-majority, because it is clear that mayoral appointees will not represent the broader communities the commissions are meant to protect/support. This will lead to no real oversight—only long meetings that result in bad policy.
Another issue: One of the mayor’s seats on the commission was to be reserved for a representative of a merchant or neighborhood group. These groups have never cared about our interests, have no knowledge of our traumas and programmatic issues and only have an interest in keeping us out of public spaces. At worst, these associations even doxxpeople—I should know: I have been stalked by a so-called “neighborhood council” that enabled transphobic Nazi stalkers who made my life hell for over a decade.
Despite our organizing efforts against it, and despite the fact that Supervisor Safaí ignored us, condescended to us, and misrepresented his proposal as having community support, the Board of Supervisors unanimously approved what is now on the ballot as Proposition C. Anybody who cares about us supportive housing tenants must vote against it.
To add insult to injury, notorious slumlord Randy Shaw, who runs the Tenderloin Housing Clinic, advocated in July for a vast expansion of sober housing, and called for redirecting “Our City, Our Home” funding for this very purpose. Many supportive housing tenants take issue with housing that forces sobriety, which has classist and ableist undertones. Shaw, for his part, never consulted with the Our City Our Home Oversight Committee on his proposal. Safaí even quote-tweeted his statement the next day.
Then, Rev. Amos Brown, a conservative former Supervisor and close ally of Mayor Breed, wrote an op-ed in the San Francisco Examiner claiming that the solution to the issues in permanent supportive housing and lack of accountability is to get the Black faith community involved. It should be evident that any faith community’s involvement in homelessness response and PSH would lead to a false solution that penalizes tenants, and that Rev. Brown’s proposal will drive a wedge between the Black and LGBTQ communities, both of whom have disproportionate experience with the homelessness response system.
Between all those incidents, and various demagogues crowing about a “housing-earned” approach, there is a pattern of people proclaiming that they know what’s best for us when they don’t. And to them I say: “Stay the Fuck Out of Our Lives”.
We need a rights-based approach to these crises. We need to address the issues in a direct manner rather than putting more restrictions on everyone else. We need people to stop treating us as a monolith, and we need for any solution to be by us and for us.
I know that there is a certain urgency to these issues, and from the outside looking in, it may seem like the government is being overly rigid. However, equitable and workable policies can only be created by engaging the affected communities—in this case, permanent supportive housing tenants—as equal or even senior partners. We live in a city that has a strong mayor system of government, and that has led to a culture of great pronouncements where the devil lies in the details. The only way that there can be lasting change is if we are at the center of a deliberative process.
Board of Supervisors, when you come back from summer break, I say to you, “stay the fuck out of our lives”—that is, unless we invite you, and you agree to treat us as equal or senior partners, we set the vision, and you turn it into workable policy. Treat us like adults who deserve, at the very least, the rights of any other tenant. We live in places where we have been subject to habitability and accessibility issues, and we need real solutions, not paper tigers.
Jordan Davis (she/her) is a permanent supportive housing tenant who pushed for and won 30% rents for permanent supportive housing tenants; she can be reached at email@example.com.