by Jordan Davis
In late October, I dyed my hair blue as part of a Halloween costume: I was going as death metal singer (and vegan animal rights activist, friend of trans community, and all around girlboss) Alyssa White-Gluz of Arch Enemy. I decided that since I like the color blue, and I have connections to the ocean, I would keep my blue hair permanently. I use Arctic Fox hair dye, which is not only vegan and cruelty free, but also free of harsh chemicals. This will become relevant later.
But I don’t write for this paper to wax poetic about my musical tastes or to be a brand ambassador for beauty products. At the August 3, 2023 meeting of the Homelessness Oversight Commission (HOC), I was among several permanent supportive housing (PSH) tenants who presented solutions to the permanent supportive housing eviction crisis, including a redline of a weak policy document by the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing (HSH). We all presented solutions proposed by tenants and eviction attorneys that would balance autonomy, tenant protections and the safety of the building.
But what made a feature in 48 Hills was how, while advocating for tightening up the criteria for nuisance evictions, I discussed my landlord, the Tenderloin Housing Clinic (THC)— one of the more problematic supportive housing providers.I described how THC has been giving me a hard time, writing me up for having blue hair dye stains on my bathtub, and falsely claiming that the dye is a fire hazard.
This highlights a major issue with THC and other providers:the landlords’ monthly habitability inspections. The providers claim that these inspections, which are done in conjunction with “pest control”, keep the building safe. However, inspection findings are often used punitively to build a case for eviction, to harass tenants that the building manager may not like, and to retaliate against those who are publicly critical of the provider. There could be a situation where if a tenant’s unit is otherwise habitable but not necessarily “cover of Good Housekeeping” material, they could get written up.
Over the past eight years of living in PSH, I’ve seen people get cited over small things, like having shoes under their bed or “missing a spot,” as well as for issues out of the tenants’ control, such as clogged toilets and roaches.I’ve gotten some of these citations as well. The Department of Public Health has guidelines for inspections, but it is left at the landlord’s discretion to interpret them, and when a tenant gets a violation, they can’t appeal it, leaving little recourse to deal with abuse of power by the building manager.
I know that I am getting harassed and retaliated against. I am a non-binary trans femme who dyes her hair blue, has a nose piercing, frequently dresses in black, and is perceived as being youthful. I also have a long history of PSH tenant advocacy, which has involved being a vocal critic of my landlord. My building manager is an older, more conservative Italian male who may not like who I am and what I stand for, and wants me out.
When I got dinged for my blue hair dye, I went to Supervisor Dean Preston’s office to complain, and while his aide was concerned, she told me to contact the Housing Rights Committee. When I did, the tenant counselor told me to file a grievance with my provider, but that meant I was required to file a complaint with the same manager that wrote me up. This sounds almost as sketchy as the fact that the same provider also gets an exclusive contract with the Department of Building Inspection (DBI) to run the Central City SRO Collaborative, which is supposed to be an independent watchdog to help tenants assert their rights, but is run by serial evictors. Conflict of interest much?
I filed a grievance and, as of press time, have yet to hear back. The internal grievance process is done on paper within THC, and staff told me to save documents; this was reminiscent of the same DBI who still had, as of September 2020, a paper-based process for permits. HSH also has a policy of requiring PSH tenants to exhaust all internal procedures with the provider before filing a grievance with the department. Those that are formerly incarcerated may feel a sense of familiarity, as this “exhaustion” requirement seems clearly inspired by the Prison Litigation Reform Act, which made it more difficult for people in prison to get justice. If processes for us PSH tenants to seek redress of grievances are based on carceral systems and processes in departments that have been involved in multiple corruption scandals, then there is a real problem here.
So, what is the solution? I personally think that habitability inspections should be ended or severely curtailed, especially in step-up buildings, as it does not serve a purpose other than to make it easier to evict tenants, and is an example of punishing the poor. A City Hall staffer confided in me that they live above a restaurant and thus have to have their unit sprayed frequently, and no other class of tenants has to deal with these inspections. The City must also adopt the recommendations that PSH tenants presented at the HOC meeting, which include limiting nuisance evictions to substantial nuisance having a clear impact on other tenants and requiring pre-eviction arbitration, as well as ending internal grievance processes, and possibly, as an equity measure, giving PSH tenants the right to counsel for issues relating to harassment, retaliation, health, safety, and autonomy. Why should the right to counsel only apply when faced with eviction, which is an expensive process in and of itself, not to mention that it strains emergency systems?
Also, if these providers are continuing to harass and evict tenants for frivolous reasons, there needs to be real accountability, including the City cutting ties with the nonprofit and a just transition into new housing that doesn’t cause tenant displacement. We have been dealing with these issues for 20 years, and we’ve had enough of the lack of accountability.
Jordan Davis (she/they) is a permanent supportive housing tenant advocate who has successfully fought for a 30% of income standard in PSH and is working on PSH eviction protections, and may be contacted at email@example.com