As I write this, it is Labor Day, and I am struggling to get through this overly hot weekend, especially as a tenant in a 100+ year old building master-leased for formerly homeless folks. Furthermore, as the COVID-19 crisis continues, we are urged to stay at home, but what happens if home is too hot for us?
And speaking of COVID-19, as an activist, I must advocate for supportive housing rights remotely, but this often is complicated by the fact that Zoom meetings being data-intensive, and thus, I must shell out $55 a month to log into an Xfinity hot spot, since my building, like many older buildings, do not have our own Wi-Fi hot spot.
Through all this, I really think that housing for the formerly homeless needs to have both air conditioning and free Wi-Fi, and the city needs to make this happen.
Now, I know, you, the reader, may think these are frivolous luxuries and we should just be glad we have a home. And in the few years I served on the Single Room Occupancy Task Force, such ideas would be pooh-poohed by landlords and their sympaticos, who would then lambast me for being “unpragmatic” and “radical” no matter how the issue was framed. But with the dual crises of climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic, we must meet the moment and realize that air conditioning and Wi-Fi connectivity are now essentials for our most vulnerable tenants.
As San Francisco has historically had milder summers, many of our older housing stock was not built for SoCal-style heatwaves. And while we must do everything we can to reduce the impacts of climate change, air conditioning will become a necessity in the future, and since there is a significant senior and disabled population in our buildings, these individuals are vulnerable to hot temperatures. The non-profits could be held liable if somebody died from heat stroke.
Furthermore, the need for air conditioning also exists in the context of San Francisco’s minimum heat law, which was passed in response to a scandal involving SRO slumlords. However, there is no maximum heat law, and a November 30, 2019 article in the San Francisco Examiner detailed the struggles of tenants in overheated buildings. Not only does the city need a maximum heat law, but they may need to re-evaluate and potentially take a scalpel to the current minimum heat ordinance, which has caused problems in my building with tenants who live near the heater complaining about the excessive heat exacerbating their health conditions.
As for Wi-Fi, this may seem like a luxury, however, if you see people on the street hawking so-called “Obamaphones,” which provide free cell phone and limited data service to low and lower income people, you will see that the phones offered in the last few years are smartphones, which were once considered luxuries, but has become more necessary for jobs, services and health care. Many more SRO tenants are using smartphones, and since the COVID-19 pandemic and physical distancing requirements, access to the internet and bridging the digital divide has become even more crucial.
This is why San Francisco needs to have free Wi-Fi throughout the city, however, a short-term solution would be to require supportive housing buildings to have a free and accessible (but password protected) hot spot for their tenants to be able to log into from their devices.
Supportive housing, especially in SROs used as such, are provided very little, and it is time the city meets the moment.