Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Article 25.

(1) Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.

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A Place to Hang a Hat: Property Rights and the Law

Commentary by T.J. Johnston

The Oprah Winfrey Show threw a spotlight on Sacramento’s tent cities in March 2009. Now, more than 100 homeless people will move from encampments to apartments and other temporary housing as part of a compromise between the city, its homeless residents, and area nonprofits.

The homeless folk will be allowed to bring their stuff along this time—and given safe storage for it.
A year and a half prior to this settlement,  a class action suit was filed against Sacramento for civil rights violations incurred when police and sheriff’s deputies confiscated homeless people’s belongings during sweeps. Usually, homeless people are issued citations for “abandoning property” and sometimes their belongings are destroyed.  Often, this is standard procedure in most cities nationwide.

Loaves & Fishes, Sacramento Housing Organizing Committee, Francis House, and 11 homeless individuals allege that the rights of homeless residents under the Fourth, Eighth, and  14th Amendments were violated.

In short, they said they deserve the right to have a place to keep their stuff as much as housed people do.

When the term “property rights” is bandied about, usually it arises from companies who assert their dominion over the assets they own and reap profit from. Seldom does one hear such arguments from individuals, let alone poor and homeless ones.

The property seized from homeless people is often necessary survival gear: clothing, sleeping bags, identification, medicine, and other items that those with homes can take for granted. By necessity, such materials are carried in bags and trucked along in shopping carts; often, no notice is given when they are taken away. The loss of personal security accompanies a loss in housing. People who stay in shelters with no storage facilities usually keep their belongings nearby for fear of theft.

Human rights activists argue that people’s personal safety and security of their possessions is an extension of the right to housing under the U.N. Declaration of Human Rights.

More than likely, the city and county of Sacramento were less concerned with such lofty ideals and more with the precedent set by a similar case last year in Fresno, where homeless people were awarded $2.3 million.

Such payouts—or any negotiations between governments and their unhoused citizenry—wouldn’t be necessary if every one had a place to hang their hat.

T.J. Johnston writes for Street Sheet and Street Spirit, newspapers serving the homeless community and their allies. His work also appears in Newsdesk.org and the Poor News Network. 

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Hobos to Street People

Artists’ Responses to Homelessness from the New Deal to the Present

Available in book form at www.freedomvoices.org/new/hobos

In the Great Depression of the 1930s many artists began to address issues of human rights. The large number of poor, displaced, and homeless people was one important focus. Artists were not only observers, but they actively found ways to influence society through exhibition and distribution of their work. In the late 1970s, with the rise of the modern era of mass homelessness, many artists again began to focus on what was happening to poor people in our society. Structural changes in the American economy and a return to fiscally conservative ideology began a period of increased poverty and economic inequality. By 2008, an estimated 3.5 million Americans lived without housing and homeless children in school exceeded 900,000, according to the US Department of Education.

The Hobos to Street People exhibition presents the work of artists who have sought to bring attention to the tragedy of homelessness. Some of the artists in this exhibition personally experienced homelessness and poverty, some worked directly with organizations to combat poverty. They felt that their art could be used to focus attention on issues of homelessness. They believed their art would engage society in the struggle for a better world, and that everyone should take an interest in the well-being of less fortunate people.  

Hoboes to Street People Exhibit and Events
California Historical Society
678 Mission Street, San Francisco
through August 15, 2009

Panel Discussion
The Role of Artists in Social Commentary and Advocacy
Thursday, June 4, 2009, 6:00-8:00pm
Speakers from: Western Regional Advocacy Project, San Francisco Print Collective, and other arts organizations. Moderator: Art Hazelwood, Curator of Hobos to Street People

Panel Discussion
The History of Documentary Photography to Address Social Issues
Wednesday, June 17, 2009, 6:00-8:00pm
Speakers: David Bacon, Francisco Dominguez, Ira Nowinski. Moderator: Ken Light

Panel Discussion
The History of Public Funding and the Arts
Thursday, July 2, 2009, 6:00-8:00pm
Speakers: Lincoln Cushing, Tim Drescher, Mark Johnson. Moderator: Gray Brechin, Project Scholar, California’s Living New Deal Project

Labor Fest Event Exhibition walk through and Mural Tour
July 18, 2009, 2:00 p.m.
An exhibition walk through with curator Art Hazelwood, independent scholar Tim Drescher and artist Jos Sances.

Artists’ Panel
Hobos to Street People Artists Discuss Their Work
Thursday, August 6, 2009, 6:00-8:00pm
Speakers: Christine Hanlon, Joe Sances, Jesus Barraza, Doug Minkler Moderator: Art Hazelwood, Curator

August 30- October 25, 2009, the exhibit will be at:

Kolligan Library, University of California, Merced

To preview the exhibit visit the Western Regional Advocacy Project website: www.wraphome.org. 
For information about the traveling exhibition: www.ceraexhibits.org; info@ceraexhibits.org;  (415) 525-1553 

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Mortgage Meltdown

Solutions stop the Foreclosure Crisis

The foreclosure crisis continues to build momentum, two plus years into the mortgage meltdown. More than two million Americans have lost their homes to foreclosure, and that number could top eight million over the next five years, according to many estimates. This crisis has decimated personal wealth, particularly wiping out assets in communities of color disproportionately impacted by subprime lending. And the ripple effects of the crisis keep spreading, as it drags down neighborhoods, public infrastructure and services, and local economies.
Dynamic collaborations between grassroots organizations, community groups, and policy advocates have helped drive the housing debate in a more progressive direction. More such efforts are needed. Several recent examples spotlight the possibilities that open up when local organizing efforts link with state and national strategies to move community solutions to the foreclosure crisis and push for the right to housing.

Local Initiatives to Fight Foreclosure
San Francisco’s assessor-recorder, Phil Ting, has helped to convene several gatherings of city officials and community groups in the Bay Area interested in figuring out what can be done at the local level to stem foreclosures. City assessors and recorders are responsible for determining the value of real estate for property tax collection, as well as keeping public records of notices of default. Ting and other Californians in this position have raised the problem of declining property tax revenues due to foreclosures, and underscored its impact on cities.

“Municipalities and counties have inherited this problem. Some blame property owners, others lenders, but everyone can agree cities had nothing to do with it and we are stuck with this situation,” Ting says. “Property tax revenues are starting to be negative in places like Contra Costa County. There are public safety issues, blight issues, school district issues, public works, and public health. There are huge costs to cities.”

Home foreclosures can cost cities anywhere from $6,000 up to $30,000 for each abandoned property. The public pays these costs, either in higher taxes or in reduced city services. Ting wants to charge financial institutions a “foreclosure fee” and is pursuing a local measure to implement it. Such a fine could add pressure on lenders to modify loans instead of foreclosing, and raise much-needed funds for municipal budgets as well.

The foreclosure issue has motivated more housing and community economic development organizations as well as tenants’ rights groups to work together.

“Putting these two groups together is a powerful statement. In San Francisco those groups have been pitted against each other,” Ting adds. “It’s a powerful way to talk about how important it is for people to have a safe, affordable place to call home. This is not negotiable—it’s something we will fight for.”

Assessors and other local officials in Contra Costa and Solano counties, as well as the cities of East Palo Alto and Vallejo, have begun exchanging ideas on  how local jurisdictions can do more on foreclosures. Advocates hope city policies can also drive a statewide discussion on more progressive legislation, while giving communities more organizing handles to create “no-foreclosure zones” in their neighborhoods.

Protecting Tenants and Neighborhoods
At least one-third of California’s residential properties in foreclosure are rental units, meaning that more than 225,000 renters were affected by foreclosure in 2008, according to a recent report by San Francisco-based Tenants Together.
“No longer can the mortgage meltdown be viewed solely as a homeowner problem,” says Dean Preston of Tenants Together.
Most renters living in foreclosed properties face evictions from banks, which say they want the properties vacated so they can prepare them for sale. But, many properties sit empty while some tenants have been forced into homelessness. Banks have also argued that they were not party to the rental agreement and therefore are not required to return security deposits. Tenants endure utility shut-offs and lack of notification that their rental homes have gone into foreclosure.

The California Reinvestment Coalition and its community allies began raising these issues at meetings with banks earlier this year. At the time, financial institutions claimed to have little to no awareness of the ways their foreclosures affected tenants. Representatives of several large banks expressed some willingness to address the needs of renters in their foreclosed properties—though they remain wary of “becoming property managers.” There are two pending California bills, sponsored by Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) and the Western Center on Law and Poverty respectively, to protect renters in foreclosed properties, as well as national legislation proposed by Rep. Keith Ellison of Minnesota.

Calling attention to renters in the foreclosure crisis has helped to broaden the discussion about the community-wide impacts of housing policies. Grassroots groups like Just Cause Oakland and ACORN have been working in the hard-hit East Bay to bring together local allies in defending homes against foreclosure and address the effects foreclosures have on neighborhoods.
“We started out tenant organizing, and then recognized that housing impacts working class folks of color whether they are homeowners or tenants,” says Kim Ota, a Just Cause organizer. “Over time we’ve expanded. Last year we reached out to public housing residents and now we are building toward how to make the neighborhoods stronger—including reaching out to churches and small businesses.”

Local Leaders Advocating National Solutions
Jaime Silahua, a resident of Antioch, California and a member of the Pacific Institute for Community Organizing (PICO) affiliate—Contra Costa Interfaith Supporting Communities (CCISCO)—helped lead an anti-foreclosure rally in Holy Rosary Church attended by 800 concerned residents in October 2008. A few months later, he was in landlord-tenant court, trying to stave off eviction after he lost his home to foreclosure due to a family medical emergency. He and other CCISCO leaders took that opportunity to argue that instead of going to landlord-tenant court to ask for more time before eviction, he should have the right to go before a bankruptcy judge to seek a modification of his home loan so that he and his family could remain in their home and in the community of which they have become such a big part.

  The Recovery Express:
PICO's Foreclosure Awareness Raising Trip

People Improving their Communities through Organizing (PICO) leaders recently embarked on a cross-country trip designed to raise awareness about foreclosure issues. The “Recovery Express” departed from Antioch, California on March 6, 2009 and arrived in Washington, D.C. on March 9. Along the way, the bus caravan made stops in six cities and held public rallies to put a human face on the housing crisis plaguing neighborhoods across the country.

PICO has been actively involved in trying to prevent housing foreclosures. They found that the most at-risk are homeowners who were victims of predatory lending, and are now paying the price while they watch banks get bailed out. One in 10 home mortgages is either delinquent or in foreclosure. Over 13 million families owe more on their mortgage than their home is worth.

So far, over three million families have lost their home to foreclosure, and another 10 million could do so before the crisis ends. In Antioch, foreclosures are expected to continue over the next five years. In Aurora, Colorado, 34 percent of people with mortgages may be eligible to benefit from President Obama’s comprehensive foreclosure plan. In Kansas City, Missouri, PICO pastors and leaders organized a community-based loan modification event to help borrowers who were victims of predatory lending. In Springfield, Illinois, just in 2009, approximately 3,300 families have lost their homes to foreclosures. In Chicago, Illinois, the Recovery Express was joined by riders who previously waged a successful campaign that resulted in Cook County imposing a moratorium on all foreclosure evictions. In Flint, Michigan, riders saw how high unemployment leads to blight and crime. In Camden, New Jersey, foreclosures were up 164 percent in 2008, but PICO leaders have partnered with city officials to develop a program that makes “forgivable loans,” which burn off at a rate of 20 percent per year. Finally, in addition to the Recovery Express bus stops, the cities of Bakersfield, California, and Las Vegas, Nevada held solidarity events in support of the caravan.

While in Washington, Recovery Express riders joined with over 300 PICO faith and community leaders and held meetings with members of Congress and the Obama administration.
They specifically asked that Congress:
1. Hold banks and lenders accountable to families and communities by creating requirements and incentives for financial institutions, especially those receiving taxpayer assistance, to perform loan modifications that help keep families in their homes;
2. Swiftly enact bankruptcy reform to empower homeowners whose banks will not work with them to modify their loans in court;
3. Create new regulations for the financial industry to protect the American public and prevent a crisis like this from ever happening again.
To further underscore the importance of this critical issue, a prayer rally was held in front of the Capitol Building. Another 300 PICO faith leaders, including Recovery Riders, pressed for quick passage of bankruptcy reform legislation. The rally was covered by CNN, Associated Press, Reuters, CNBC, PBS, ABC, CBS, and Fox, and reached an estimated 9.3 million homes. Momentum for foreclosure reform has increased dramatically.

On Sunday, March 15, 2009, Rev. Lucy Kolin, Recovery Rider and national clergy spokesperson for the PICO National Network, appeared on CNN’s “Face of Faith.” She made a clear request to Members of the United States Senate to give struggling homeowners—whose banks will not work with them—an option to save their homes by passing bankruptcy reform legislation.

This article was contributed by the PICO National Campaign to Stop Preventable Foreclosures, www.piconetwork.org/keep/familiesinhomes.

Weeks later, Silahua and other CCISCO leaders boarded a bus to travel to eight cities for anti-foreclosure actions, before arriving in Washington, D.C. to lobby for bankruptcy reform legislation. [See “The Recovery Express” above.]

This spring, both the federal government and the state of California rolled out policies to help homeowners avoid foreclosure. The Obama Administration’s plan, announced in early March, aims to assist three to four million people by using $75 billion to subsidize loan servicers in modifying mortgages. Most advocates see the plan as a welcome first step despite its shortcomings. It still relies on voluntary incentives to prod servicers into making loan modifications, though they should have been doing so all along to prevent thousands of preventable foreclosures. The plan also fails to promote principal reductions. California leads the nation with 1.9 million borrowers whose mortgages exceed the value of their  property (more than 30 percent of all borrowers) according to First American CoreLogic.

California’s foreclosure prevention law went into effect in May 2009. While the law theoretically calls for a 90-day moratorium on foreclosures, CRC opposed the legislation because it lacks the means to monitor what loan servicers are actually doing.  Furthermore, it doesn’t require them to prove that they are actually modifying loans to be affordable and sustainable.
However, these policies should keep the spotlight on loan modifications for the next phase of the foreclosure crisis. Advocates will have to look at ways to implement modifications, monitor their success, and address the issues of fair lending and disparate servicing outcomes for people of color, immigrants, and low-income populations.
The California Reinvestment Coalition has continued to emphasize four main points about foreclosure prevention that are becoming even more critical now:

1. There must be an adequate moratorium of 90 to 180 days so the highly disorganized and overwhelmed servicing system can revamp itself under the federal and state guidelines. Without this, it is all too likely that many borrowers will fall through the cracks.
2. Loan principals must be reduced to make loan modifications meaningful. Modifications that only lower interest rates for a few years without writing down the principal will make it more likely that many borrowers will again default.
3. Bankruptcy reform must give judges the option of modifying home loans by “cramming down” or lowering the principal loan balance. This is a necessary “stick” to enhance the effectiveness of the government’s voluntary program. The threat of cramdown by bankruptcy judges is key to pushing servicers to make more modifications on their own.
4. Reporting requirements need to be in place to monitor whether loan modifications actually get made—by which companies and under what terms— and who is being helped according to their race and ethnicity, language spoken, and income. This data should be made publicly available so that borrowers, communities, and policymakers can see whether the plans are working, which companies are part of the solution, and whether all members of the community benefit equally.


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Organizing and Winning in Oakland Chinatown

The Right to Affordable Housing
By Chin Jurn Wor Ping (CJWP)*

"Let the sheriffs come and drag me out.” So said Yen Hom, an elderly tenant and resident who stayed to fight evictions at the Pacific Renaissance Plaza (Pac Ren) when she and other residents of the 50 affordable housing units in Tower II of the Plaza received eviction notices. As the struggle to keep the housing intensified, Art Hom described his mother’s strategy: “In the 60s, we conducted sit-ins. Well, for the last six months, my mom has been conducting a live-in.”   

In April 2003, over 150 people started moving years of belongings, memories, and hopes out of the heart of Oakland Chinatown, scattering to senior housing, market rate and other apartments in Oakland, and as far as Fremont and Los Angeles. Like Mrs. Hom, the elderly tenant who had witnessed the spectacular evictions of elderly manongs from the International Hotel nearly 30 years earlier, those who stayed became the soul of a community struggle for the right to affordable housing in an era of rampant gentrification and housing speculation.

This struggle links them, and us, to prior displacements of people of Chinese, Hong Kong, and Taiwanese descent, low-income communities of color across the nation, and to larger movements for justice, dignity, and human rights. We, Chin Jurn Wor Ping (CJWP) or “Moving Forward for Peace” in Cantonese, are a collective of people of Chinese, Hong Kong and Taiwanese heritage with progressive political worldviews, working together in the Bay Area for peace and social justice.

Together with the tenants, we re-envisioned the meaning of community, and offered “staying in place” as an act of defiance to centuries of forced movement. We struggled not only against the developer Lawrence Chan, but also against and alongside the City of Oakland, and within our coalition. What was won was a little piece of something we might call resistance to the seductions of global capitalism—imagining alternatives that reflect our communities’ strongest self-image, honoring past struggles, and creating a future where human rights, justice, and dignity are valued and honored.

Why Places Like Chinatown Matter
Chinatowns in Oakland, San Francisco, New York, Boston, Philadelphia, and Los Angeles came into being not as the tourist attractions or bustling places of business as seen now, but as way-stations for migrant workers going to farms, ports, and railroads. They were ethnic immigrant ghettos on the outskirts of town, places of refuge for “the Chinee” from rampant anti-Asian sentiment and violence at the end of the 19th century. Thus, Chinatowns have historically been an organizing center against and refuge from racial discrimination, expulsion, relocation, cultural marginalization, forced evictions, lack of legal tenure, low affordability, and gentrification.
Although a residential community, Oakland Chinatown was categorized and zoned as a light industrial area and not subject to protections and controls for property owners’ rights and land values for most of the first half of the 20th century. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Chinese business owners petitioned City Council for funds and a redevelopment plan to replace dilapidated shops with new buildings. Living in the era of the Black Panthers and the International Hotel housing struggle, Oakland Chinatown community activists fought for community benefits in the plan: affordable housing, the Asian Branch of the Oakland Public Library, a cultural center, and the public plaza.

Working with other organizations in the Stop Chinatown Evictions Coalition (SCEC), the initial goals of the campaign were to stop the evictions and secure the right to stay for the few families who had not moved out after the eviction notice, and the right of return for those who had. With the initial stay of evictions granted in September 2003, the campaign’s goals shifted—at the insistence of the tenants and their families—to keeping the 50 units at PacRen as affordable housing and the repayment of the loan forgiven under the developer’s false claims.

Research revealed that (a) the history of PacRen’s “community benefits” were a direct result of organizing efforts in the 1960s and 70s, and (b) the City forgave a loan to PacRen’s developer, Lawrence Chan, to the tune of $7 million, which would have been worth over $17 million upon repayment to our cash-strapped city. The first finding challenged us to honor the work of movement predecessors. The second, offered us a legal lever to keep the 50 units as affordable housing. Through a protracted legal strategy that included three community law suits involving the City, some tenants, and several nonprofit organizations, the coalition sustained pressure on the City and the developer to successfully maintain affordable housing at PacRen.

The Tenants
The opportunity to live at PacRen meant more than just affordable housing, it was also access to doctors and other service providers speaking their languages, proximity to friends and family, and accessibility to community churches, temples, and schools. Many tenants in the affordable units were elderly and disabled; a few were young couples with children. Most were new immigrants and non-English speakers of Mandarin, Cantonese, and Vietnamese.

Some elderly tenants fell ill immediately and died in the first few months after the evictions. Other tenants’ health deteriorated rapidly. Several were forced to enter nursing homes. Over the course of the lawsuit, one tenant’s diabetes became severe. He lost his eyesight and use of his legs. As we saw, and health researchers have found, the psychological and emotional toll of evictions are severe, and for seniors, may result in premature death. Senior rights’ organizations advocate strongly for the right of elders to age in place.

Amidst all the local controversy, some community members and the Chinese paper portrayed the developer as a respected community leader and businessman. Chan claimed that it was his vision that turned PacRen into the epicenter of all activities in Oakland Chinatown. Tenants were portrayed as ungrateful liars, suing Chan self-interestedly to get cheaper rent. Some were sympathetic but many felt the evicted tenants had gotten lucky with a great deal and should feel fortunate for the 10 years they spent in the affordable units.

The tenants expressed not only immense stress from being displaced, but also shame. They were upset about what had happened to them and even more so once they learned about the history of affordable housing in Chinatown. We struggled to talk to the tenants in our broken Chinese. They began to finally open up after six months of community meetings. Through gatherings, they began to allow themselves to feel angry, and this united them in a collective struggle.

Volunteer organizations have a long history of active support in winning campaigns for human rights, dignity, and justice. While we could not be plaintiffs in the lawsuit, we worked on the campaign in many additional ways. At times, not being central to the lawsuit allowed us to branch out into other areas. Here are some of the things we learned along the way.

Make tenants the locus of transformation. Encourage tenant leadership and organizing as they are the best people to speak about their own needs. Provide opportunities for involvement and education by tenants through community meetings, rallies, and personal exchanges. This was a deep motivating factor throughout the time of our involvement, and it included not just the spaces of community organizing, but also the ones of familial bonding and obligation: dinners, banquets, Lunar New Year visits, and commemorations.

Learn from the past. When the word of PacRen first got out among Asian American activists, many of our movement elders immediately made the connection to the I-Hotel. Activists from that struggle participated in our events, and we learned a great deal from our predecessors. We also linked to key struggles around housing and gentrification throughout the Bay Area, and to struggles for historical preservation of a previous Chinatown. Benefit from diverse interests. CJWP’s members brought interests, expertise, networks, and skills that included researchers, artists, and organizers. We encouraged each member to help out in the ways that they felt most strongly about. Our multilingual and cultural abilities allowed some of us to act as interpreters between the lawyers and the tenants while other skills, interests, and networks led us to play roles as, liaisons with other affordable housing advocates; writers and designers of press releases and pamphlets; and community outreach conductors to students and religious groups—work that staffed NGOs did not have the capacity or funding to do at the time. In addition, our perspective on political education and movement linking led us to introduce the PacRen tenants to people in the San Francisco Chinatown Tenants Association and brought a strong cultural component to the campaign. We also accessed youth and arts organizations that the other coalition organizations did not. Similarly, our political analysis forced us to consistently advocate for coalition members to search for and take more innovative solutions than they would have otherwise, which ultimately led to a creative solution that the nonprofits, elected officials, and the City of Oakland were able to claim as their victory.
Cultural work for memory, inspiration, strength. CJWP members wrote and performed street theater and poetry, painted tenant’s stories and Chinatown struggles on canvas and glass, created a video-poem that was widely shown, and provided documentation of years of action through photographs, audio recordings, and writing. Elders and young people alike expressed pride in the storytelling and identified with what Ching-In Chen called “the rhythm of bilingual children, singing a cross-continent creation story.” At the conclusion of the campaign, we advocated for an arts and cultural component, which has been implemented through a mural for PacRen. It will serve as a visual tribute to the legacy of Oakland’s Chinese communities and our struggles for self-determination.

There’s a lot of freedom when you have no funding. Since we had no budget, we never had to worry about our various actions or “programs” competing for resources. In our best moments, CJWP and the more formally resourced organizations in the coalition were able to mutually support and benefit from each other.

Issues framing. The early part of the campaign focused on portraying tenants as victims. This was useful for mobilizing others, to support them, but was not an empowering framework for the tenants. An anti-racist and rights framing helped the tenants to see themselves as powerful, take pride in their courageous actions, and accept recognition for their historical wins.

Sustained media presence. We believe that a sustained presence of progressive views in the ethnic press will, over time, result in a base of knowledge that will predispose other members of our community to progressive thought. This requires building up language capacity, including challenging dominant vocabulary or reclaiming derogatory phrases. We would get together to practice—or reclaim and reinvent—words and phrases related to the specific issue.

Staying grounded in your values. CJWP’s values included having the tenants at the center. They also included increasing housing options like land trusts and maintaining the rental housing stock. Early proposals presented by other coalition members would have resulted in the loss of the PacRen units and/or the rental status of these units. Over five years, we pushed the coalition to explore and create options that did not compromise these values and demands, eventually coming to an agreement of which we could all be proud. While the final result was not what we had been pushing for (a land trust, which through the process of research and exploration, we came to understand to be a difficult solution), the process and dialogue itself pushed all the individuals in the coalition to strive for a better result, far more than what would have been won for the community otherwise.

The story of Oakland Chinatown is being repeated across the continent: communities and neighborhoods built by working class immigrants have become sought-after places to live and playgrounds for the wealthy.

As a collective of volunteers, CJWP was able to support the campaign through community organizing, cultural work, and political education, and by consistently pushing for the realization of “unrealistic” goals.

We are already seeing the legacy of PacRen’s struggle. Both tenants and volunteer activists have become engaged in the future of this and other Chinatowns, with some CJWP activists now working on similar efforts in San Francisco, Washington, D.C., and Riverside, Calif. These are lessons learned over and over again and we offer our appreciation and gratitude to older generations of Bay Area activists, the brave Pac Ren tenants and all the people of SCEC.

Residential Displacement in Oakland Chinatown: A Historical Timeline, Compiled by Eric Chang
1880: Oakland Chinatown located at 8th Street and Webster.
1906: San Francisco earthquake spawns influx of San Francisco Chinatown refugees into Oakland Chinatown. Overcrowded housing and rising rents ensue.
1910-30: Chinatown zoned as a “light industrial” area, creating a buffer between the more livable downtown area and the heavy industrial area by the waterfront.
1945-55: Construction of Nimitz Freeway destroys nearly 2000 low-rent housing units along 6th Street and Castro.
1960: Chinatown’s business leaders generate idea of redevelopment in their neighborhood.
1970s: BART District facility displaces 50 Chinese families, who move to East Oakland.
1987–90: City of Oakland chooses Lawrence Chan to develop Pacific Renaissance Plaza, with over $30 million in public subsidies for building the Oakland Asian Cultural Center, public library, and 1500-space underground parking garage and another $7 million construction loan. In exchange, Chan agrees to allocate 50 apartment units as affordable housing for a minimum period of 10 years.
1993: Occupancy commences at 50 affordable apartments at Pac Ren.
1999: Chan’s companies engineer transactions that ultimately lead to the complete forgiveness of the City’s $7 million loan (worth nearly $17 million with accrued interest).
2003: In April, residents of PacRen’s 50 affordable housing units receive eviction notices. Tenants and community advocates organize and initiate a lawsuit. They lobby the City, which agrees to sue the developer to reclaim the $7 million loan.
2008: Litigation concludes. Settlement agreement includes the sale and management of the 50 units at Pac Ren by EBALDC, as first time home ownership units, to remain affordable for 45 years, with profits going toward building permanent affordable rental units in Chinatown.


* This article was written primarily by Diana Pei Wu, Jen-Mei Wu, Pui Man Wong, and Stella Ng. Other members of the Chin Jurn Wor Ping Evictions Committee who were involved include Eric Chang, Emily Jie-Ming Lee, Ching-In Chen, Kenji Liu, and Xiaojing Wang. Gordon Lee, Joy Liu, Steve Louie, Darryl Dea, Le Quach, Michael Wong, Derek Chung, Francis Chang, Art Hom, and the tenants at Pac Ren were essential to the work of the committee. For more information visit www.cjwp.org.

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"Let the sheriffs come and drag me out.”

Richmond Residents are REDI for Housing Rights

Even a determined family effort was not enough to keep Jessica Peregrina’s home out of default. “We bought a six-bedroom home in San Pablo for $540,000 to house our large tight-knit family and keep us close together,” says Peregrina. Shortly after they bought the house, their mortgage lender went bankrupt. Another bank bought the mortgage and switched it to an adjustable rate. The house lost 30 percent of its value, while the family’s payment ballooned by $1,200 per month, sending them into foreclosure. “My family has sought help from multiple sources,” says Peregrina.  “I looked everywhere for an organization or program to help and I can’t find any.”

Peregrina and many others told their stories at a Housing Crisis Town Hall meeting at St. Mark’s Church in Richmond, California. More than 500 community members and elected officials packed the church for the March 12, 2009 event sponsored by the Richmond Equitable Development Initiative (REDI).
Housing as a human right is under threat, perhaps as never before. Richmond is one of cities most impacted by the housing crisis in the San Francisco Bay Area. Richmond’s Iron Triangle neighborhood, home to St. Mark’s, saw 254 homes go into foreclosure last year.

As Peregrina and others testified, images of abandoned and blighted properties flashed on a wall behind them. The abandoned properties themselves drag down the quality of life in the neighborhood, one resident said. One longtime resident (who wants to remain unidentified) says she is surrounded by foreclosed properties that have been taken over by illegal activity. Drug dealers set up shop in several homes while others are used to traffic stolen property. Someone was gunned down in front of her house. Her friends are afraid to visit and she is afraid to go outside.  “Eventually, something’s going to go down and someone’s going to get hurt,” she says. “Bullets don’t have eyes.” She has called the police department hotline and nobody answers. She has called other city departments, but nothing has been done.

The testimonies evoked tears and outrage, but the church erupted in cheers when Richmond Mayor Gayle McLaughlin and a majority of the City Council members signed on to REDI’s comprehensive housing program and committed to meeting with the group within 30 days to begin making the proposals real.

REDI created a partnership of advocacy, research, and community-based organizations, including the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), Asian Pacific Environmental Network -Laotian Organizing Project (APEN-LOP), Communities for a Better Environment (CBE),  Contra Costa Interfaith Supporting Community Organization (CCISCO), East Bay Alliance for a Sustainable Economy (EBASE), The Greater Richmond Interfaith Program (GRIP), and Urban Habitat. It aims to build a Richmond in which every resident has access to affordable housing, quality education, health care, a clean environment, and safe and reliable public transit that connects them to living-wage jobs.

Already on the ground for two years working on local employment, just cause eviction and fair rents, REDI’s collaborative efforts crystallized with the General Plan Campaign. A city’s general plan defines the type, amount, and location of future growth and development. It guides decisions made by city officials and staff and can have a deep impact on people’s lives. For example, a general plan can require developers to include a certain percentage of affordable housing units in new projects.

When Richmond’s General Plan came up for revision in 2006, REDI saw an opportunity to influence city policies affecting the lives of low-income people and people of color. Through research, community meetings, and trainings with city officials and members of its partner organizations, REDI developed several policy recommendations. One of these called for strengthen­ing Richmond’s Inclusionary Housing Ordinance.
Redi's Housing Platform

Keep Families in Their Homes

Require banks to modify loans to make them affordable. We urge Congress to enact bankruptcy reform as quickly as possible.
Require the State of California to provide clear data on which banks comply with the state moratorium on foreclosures and which banks modify loans.
Pass county legislation requiring banks to identify, disclose, and record all investors on foreclosed properties and to fine them $1,000 a day if they do not comply. Apply the fines to a job training program that rehabilitates homes to “green” standards.
Pass state legislation to protect tenants impacted by foreclosure by allowing families who are paying rent to remain in their homes and requiring any notices or legal documents to be written in the tenants’ native languages.

Revitalize Neighborhoods
Establish a community land trust to keep homes permanently affordable for Richmond families.
Bundle bank-owned foreclosed properties and sell them to the City of Richmond, nonprofit housing developers, and the community land trust.
Aggressively enforce SB 1137 to fine banks $1,000 per day for failing to maintain properties. Use this revenue for a job training program that rehabilitates homes to “green” standards..
Set up a revolving home ownership loan fund to help Richmond families acquire vacant foreclosed properties, giving preference to families victimized by predatory lending.

Create Long-Term Sustainability for Affordable Housing
Adopt a Just Cause Eviction/Fair Rent ordinance.
Modify the law that requires new developments to include affordable housing to make more units available. Increase the in lieu fee so that it covers the actual cost to construct an affordable unit.

Create a Safe and Healthy Living Environment
Adopt city policies and programs to rehabilitate substandard rental housing without displacing existing residents or raising their rents. Require the city to make an annual report on the number of rental units inspected and their general conditions.
Provide a city rehabilitation assistance program to ensure that rental units are maintained and rehabilitated to comply with health and building codes.
Create a city fund for educating tenants on their legal rights under health and building codes.
Use the General Plan to ensure that contaminated lands near current or planned residential areas are cleaned up to meet state health standards and that improvements funded by the city benefit low-income communities. 

The ordinance now povides an option for developers to pay a small fee, called an “in lieu fee,” instead of constructing affordable housing. The fee is so small that it doesn’t cover the city’s true cost of developing affordable units on its own. In effect, the policy discourages affordable housing. REDI recommended increasing in lieu fees to encourage development of more affordable housing.

Delegations of community leaders, residents, and organizers met with elected officials to present this and other recommendations, and a large, well-attended community forum followed.

But land use planning moves at a slow pace. Richmond was supposed to adopt its new General Plan in early 2008. By 2009, a draft had yet to be published—and the housing crisis had thrust itself to the top of the public agenda.

In Richmond, with a population of just over 100,000, more than 2,000 homes were in foreclosure as of March 2009. The Richmond Finance Department projected that 3,000 more would go into foreclosure in the next year. The hardest-hit neighborhoods—the Iron Triangle and North and East—have large populations of African Americans, Latinos, and Laotians, many of whom have low-to-moderate incomes. 

REDI’s report, “Transforming the Housing Crisis in Richmond,” [1] indicates that nationally, subprime lenders disproportionately targeted communities of color, regardless of income. The report goes on to describe how in 2004, minority homeownership surged past 50 percent for the first time in history, with a foreclosure rate below one percent.[2] Now, however, minority homeownership gains seen in the past are slipping away, with African American homeownership rates nationwide falling back under 50 percent.2 Black borrowers will lose between $61 billion and $122 billion during this crisis, while Hispanic borrowers will lose between $76 billion and $129 billion.[3] A 2008 United for a Fair Economy report indicates that the current foreclosure crisis will result in the greatest loss of wealth for people of color in recent United States history.[4]

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights identifies adequate housing as one of the most basic human needs and a human right. In the United States, the right to quality, affordable housing is under attack, and the current economic crisis exposes how vulnerable historically marginalized communities continue to be. The current crisis requires accountability from financial institutions and new policies at all levels of government that will keep families in their homes, revitalize neighborhoods, and promote affordable housing.

REDI developed its Housing Platform to guide organizing and program development towards these goals. (See box above.) The platform, as presented to Richmond officials at the March 12 Town Hall, includes modifying loans so they are affordable; establishing a community land trust composed of foreclosed properties purchased from banks; a city revolving home loan fund; tenants’ rights education programs; passing just-cause eviction and fair rent legislation; and funding employment-training programs to teach residents to rehabilitate homes according to green standards.

Michael Katz is the REDI outreach coordinator. 

1.         Hartley, Kris, et al., Transforming the Housing Crisis in Richmond, California: Richmond Equitable Development Initiative (REDI), March 2009.
2.        Bajaj, Vikas and  Nixon, Ron. “For Minorities, Signs of Trouble in Foreclosures.” New York Times. 22 February, 2006.
3.         Carr, J.H. “Responding to the Foreclosure Crisis.” Housing Policy Debate 18.4 2007.
4.         Foreclosed: State of the Dream 2008, United for a Fair Economy, January 15, 2008.

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Right of Return

Public Housing in San Francisco's Hunters Point

Many call Hunters View the most distressed public housing project in San Francisco, and even in the United States. But 149 families call it home and they want to stay there once it is redeveloped. They are demanding their right to affordable housing, due process, and inclusion in decisions that affect their lives. They are determined to defy the history of public housing “improvements” that have shoved tenants aside like so much dirt dug out for new construction.

Hunters View will be the first project redeveloped under HOPE San Francisco (HOPE SF), the city’s alternative to the federal HOPE VI program. Before it shuts down in 2006, HOPE VI had displaced tens of thousands of public housing residents across the United States.[1]

Under HOPE VI, the San Francisco Housing Authority (SFHA) demolished and rebuilt projects in Hayes Valley, Valencia Gardens, Bernal Dwellings, Western Addition, and North Beach. From 1994 to 1999 the projects lost more than 230 units. Hundreds of residents, mostly African-American, lost their homes and were forced out of San Francisco.[2]
The Housing Authority applied for HOPE VI funding for the Hunters View rebuild as well. By 2005, it had already selected the developers.

In response to stories about HOPE VI that had circulated from project to project, Hunters View residents gathered hundreds of signatures opposing SFHA’s HOPE VI application. However, the agency pursued its agenda until the federal program ended. It then transferred the project to the new local program and formed the HOPE SF Task Force to create guiding principles for the new program.

Community participation and one-for-one replacement of all public housing units are included in the HOPE SF guidelines, but many residents at Hunters View have little faith in developers, the Housing Authority, and the city to fulfill those promises.
The Hunters View Tenants Association began sending letters and public records requests several years ago demanding that the residents be informed of and included in the redevelopment process. Hunters View lies in a Redevelopment Area—which includes the Hunters Point shipyard—adding to residents’ suspicion. The Redevelopment Agency’s post-World War II urban renewal in the Fillmore District and the Western Addition—a.k.a. Negro Removal—killed the thriving African-American district, displacing some 2,500 families and causing nearly 5,000 businesses to close.[3]

“We need to be informed about development plans in progress for our homes in Hunters View,” Tenants Association President Tessie Ester wrote in a public records request to the Housing Authority on February 25, 2008. “In the past, we have not been given information relevant to the future of Hunters View, at other times we have been given misinformation.”

Hunters View will be the first mixed-use public housing redevelopment in San Francisco to include market rate homeownership, which is intended to pay for the construction of the public housing units. The plan includes one-for-one replacement of all existing 267 public housing units, along with 105 affordable rental units, 49 affordable homeownership units, and 315 market rate homes for sale.

Gaining a Voice in Decision-Making
“There’s been a tremendous amount of outreach and resident input,” claims SFHA Executive Director Henry Alvarez. But the developers didn’t form the resident working group in charge of making recommendations to the relocation plan until November 2008—three years into the redevelopment plans. According to Sara Shortt, HOPE SF Task Force member and Executive Director of the Housing Rights Committee, the firm hired by the SFHA to oversee the plan, Overland, Pacific & Cutler (OPC), has a reputation for sloppy relations with residents. “OPC did everything they could to do a bad relocation job.”

Once it formed, the relocation working group of 10 to 15 residents spent two months making changes to OPC’s plan, with the legal and technical support of the Housing Rights Committee, Bay Area Legal Aid, and the Bar Association’s Volunteer Legal Services Program (VLSP).

“We went into this knowing how they treated the other public housing residents. We didn’t want anybody displaced,” says Lottie Titus, a member of the relocation working group, whose members were also responsible for distributing information to neighbors. “We were adamant about having a say.”

Securing the Right to Return
The working group revised the relocation plan to include a comprehensive needs assessment of all residents to try to ensure that no one would be displaced due to lack of an appropriate unit. They demanded fairer rules governing eviction and return, and written guarantees of the right to return, including for former residents who have moved away since the 2005 developer agreement.

“One sneaky way of getting people out is, ‘whoops, we don’t have the right unit size or we don’t have an accessible unit and you’re in a wheelchair, go somewhere else,’” says Shortt. Another pitfall in getting tenants back to their units is the challenge of keeping in touch with the relocated tenants. “We’ve seen what happened at North Beach and Valencia Gardens,” says Tessie Ester, who sent the Housing Authority numerous requests for records of tenants displaced by HOPE VI redevelopments in San Francisco.

The first draft relocation plan of November 2007 stated that in order to return to the new site, residents had to have all their rent completely paid up; be in compliance with all provisions of the lease agreement; have the ability to obtain service from utility companies; and be free of felony convictions since the date of the initial relocation notice. This likely would have made it easier for the Housing Authority to refuse the return of many people, especially since almost half the units are vacant due to the high number of evictions carried out since talk of redevelopment began.
Hali Reiskin, a lawyer with VLSP, says that while there were gains in promoting the right to return in the relocation plan, “federal regulations and public housing authority policy permit and promote evictions of entire families for alleged acts of a guest or household member.”Reiskin calls the 1996 federal law on public housing “draconian.” Known as “one strike you’re out,” a tenant who has been accused of an offense is banned from federal public housing assistance thereafter.

Fighting Eviction
For the last few years, the SFHA has boarded up vacant units at Hunters View instead of moving people into them. The 118 vacant units will make it possible for the SFHA to carry out its plan for phased on-site relocation of tenants during rebuilding. But tenants feel unsafe next to empty units, which are sometimes occupied by squatters, and they question the exponential increase in evictions in recent years. Many have seen former residents become homeless and end up begging downtown.
“The problem with phased [one-for-one] relocation is that anyone who has a problem with the Housing Authority is getting evicted to make room for relocation on-site,” says Rene Cazenave, a housing rights activist who serves on the HOPE SF Task Force.

“It appears that for some time the SFHA has conducted an eviction program at Hunters View, which purposely denies the targeted tenants their civil and due process rights,” the Hunters View Tenants Association told the Housing Authority in a June 15, 2007 letter. The letter called for the creation of a joint eviction review committee that would review all evictions dating back several years.

Instead, in March 2008, the city set up the “Communities of Opportunity” program to curtail evictions and avoid displacement, in addition to linking residents to social services. Though the program is housed in a lavishly converted unit right at the center of Hunters View, many residents don’t trust the facility, because it’s connected to the Housing Authority and the city, and they don’t really know what it is, according to Sara Shortt.

No Loitering

The John Stewart Company, which manages North Beach Place, will manage the rebuilt Hunters View housing as well. Its lease includes a 17-page list of house rules that overlap with the Housing Authority’s rules but are much stricter. Based on the experience of North Beach residents, the Hunters View tenants fear they may have to fight to keep their living space livable.
Although activist tenants at North Beach Place achieved one-for-one replacement after the rebuild there, many of the John Stewart Co. house rules have gotten people evicted.

“They don’t let you stand on the sidewalk, so I have to stand on the street waiting for my children to come home from school,” says an African American resident of North Beach Place, as she stands near fast traffic between two parked cars, fearful of getting pegged for loitering and then evicted. “They won’t let my kids play.”

Indeed, North Beach residents are not allowed to roller-skate, ride bikes, or play ball. As a result, a boy bounces a ball on the sidewalk near the busy street.

Barbequing is prohibited. Residents must wear shoes in common areas. Bathrobes are not allowed in common areas. Audio or video recordings are prohibited without permission from management. The use of medical marijuana is prohibited and quiet hours begin at 10 p.m.

“How you going to tell a grown woman not to have guests after ten o’clock?” says Venitta Logan, a grandmother and volunteer with the tenant-led group, Mothers Against Crime and Mothers Committee for Environmental Justice. “I’m not signing nothing. Those rules are not humane,” she says. Logan has contested several eviction notices in her nine years at Hunters View, and considers herself a victim of harassment by the Housing Authority.

“There are house rules that are adaptapted for each development,” says Margaret Campbell, project manager for John Stewart Co. “But there are certain rules we feel strongly about.” The rules haven’t been discussed with tenants yet. The company says tenants will have an opportunity to make recommendations. 

The Housing Authority sent the final Draft Relocation Plan for Hunters View to the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development for approval on January 8, 2009. The process is supposed to take three months. The Draft Relocation Plan could be approved any day now, quickly propelling Hunters View to a very different future.

In February 26, 2009, the San Francisco Housing Authority Board of Commissioners adopted a city-wide resolution as a result of the demands of Hunters View residents and advocates around the relocation plan. “Based on the policies developed for the Authority’s first HOPE SF site, Hunters View, the following policy regarding right to return is recommended for all other HOPE SF sites: All residents that are determined to be eligible for relocation benefits at HOPE SF sites will have the right to move into the revitalized units provided that they have not been evicted or served by the Authority with a summons and complaint of eviction,” reads the resolution.

Next in line for HOPE SF redevelopment are Sunnydale/Velasco in Visitation Valley, Potrero Terrace and Annex on Potrero Hill, and Westside Courts in the Western Addition.

“We’re hoping that the developer does exactly what we’ve asked them,” Titus says. “We’re hoping they keep their word.”

Deia de Brito is a freelance writer. She teaches elementary school students in a garden program in West Oakland.

1.        Tracy, James. “Hope VI Mixed-Income Housing Projects Displace Poor People,” Race Poverty and the Environment, Vol. 15, No. 1, Spring 2008.
2.         Howard, Amy. More than Shelter: Community and Activism in San Francisco Public Housing, 1938-2000, Richmond University. A forthcoming book based on her Ph.D. dissertation.
3.          Close, Carl. “How ‘Urban Renewal’ Destroyed San Francisco’s Fillmore District,”  www.independent.org/blog/?p=141

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