In late 2021, the #30RightNow campaign concluded when all the permanent supportive housing tenants in buildings under the Department of Public Health were transitioned to a 30% rent standard. At the same time on the other side of the country, another campaign led by and for supportive housing tenants was wrapping up a legislative push. In December 2021, the New York City Council passed the Supportive Housing Tenants Bill of Rights, which would later be signed by the mayor. The proposal, in a nutshell, would require supportive housing providers to inform tenants of their rights while living in supportive housing, including eviction protections. The lead organization was Supportive Housing Organized and United Tenants (SHOUT), a 15-member group of supportive housing tenants in every borough except Staten Island who were united by poor treatment by non-profit housing providers, as well as difficulties in even getting placed in housing. Now, the tenants in SHOUT have been meeting with the city about implementation and had a major retreat to discuss where they will go from here.
“SHOUT was able to pass two pieces of legislation at the end of last year, after months of organizing,” says Craig Hughes, a social worker with the Safety Net Project of the Urban Justice Center, a non-profit advocacy organization in New York. “The legislation is largely reflective of our demands—despite significant efforts by City bureaucrats and supportive housing landlords and providers to squash or significantly water down the bills—because supportive housing tenants demanded that be the case and were deeply involved in the final bills that were voted on.”
I reached out to Jenny Akchin, a lawyer for the policy research non-profit Take Root Justice who assisted in the campaign, to arrange a Zoom meeting between alumni of the #30RightNow campaign and SHOUT members, to share information and inspiration. The meeting happened in February, and it was a very fruitful discussion. One of the major takeaways was that people who live in permanent supportive housing are not recognized as tenants, instead as “residents” or even the problematic term, “clients.” In fact, the #30RightNow legislation does not even use the term “tenant,” instead opting for “clients.”
Words matter, and in order to seek the housing justice that we supportive housing tenants deserve, we need for people to understand that we are tenants and we deserve rights. Another major takeaway was the similarity between our cities in terms of housing crises and the way homeless people are treated. There was a lot of resonance when I was describing various issues with supportive housing. One major commonality is misinformation throughout the process of getting and keeping housing.
One NYC supportive housing tenant who was featured in press around the legislation, Kat Corbell, is a former San Franciscan who moved to New York and was misled every step of the way—even being told that her emotional support animal wasn’t allowed, in violation of various disability rights laws. Another commonality is infantilizing policies around rent payment and visitors, which was touched on in testimony from a New York-based organization called Coalition for the Homeless, which is similarly named but not related to the San Francisco-based Coalition on Homlessness.
There are also some differences between our two campaigns and two cities as it relates to homelessness and supportive housing. While San Francisco’s Supportive Housing Providers Network supported #30RightNow and was a proud signatory and major partner, New York City’s network was not, and worked against the tenants. While it is great when supportive housing providers support tenant issues, we cannot depend on them for every fight, and we must not be afraid to challenge power. Another major issue in New York City is that tenants are pressured to move into shared apartments rather than individual units as a cost-cutting measure, even though there is significant scattered-site supportive housing spread throughout the city.. While that may not necessarily be an issue in San Francisco right now, we need to get ahead of any situations that might occur.
So, the $64,000 question is: Can the success of NYC SHOUT be replicated here in San Francisco? To answer this question, let’s take a look at both our city governments. New York City has ten times the population of San Francisco, with a city council almost five times larger than the Board of Supervisors. The legislation also passed unanimously, a major feat considering that several New York City Republicans and Democrats are considerably more conservative than their counterparts here in SF. In addition, the legislation in New York City does not confer new rights to tenants, but informs them of their rights and makes disclosures concerning the funding and administration of the supportive housing site.A few other supportive housing tenants and I are looking at similar legislation here in San Francisco and we are hoping to not only make it easier for supportive housing tenants to know their rights, but we wish also to address issues around infantilizing policies and the lack of protections. To get involved, please email us at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.