Resisting Displacement

Art by Ernesto Yerena

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Raimagine!

Her Arkipelago

By Christine Joy Ferrer

Interview with Marie Romero, founder and owner of Arkipelago Books, the only Filipino Bookstore in San Francisco, with a foreword by Beatriz Datangel, her daughter.

Marie Romero. Courtesy of Kanlaoan/anthropologist.wordpress.com.Arkipelago Books has thrived in San Francisco’s SoMA district for over 20 years. It has a wide selection of readings, from fiction and nonfiction, to poetry and children’s books, as well as historical text from a wide variety of Filipino and Filipino American authors. There used to be a larger population of Filipinos in San Francisco. In the 1960s, San Francisco was home to a vibrant Manilatown, which stretched almost 10 blocks along Kearny Street near Chinatown. Then, Filipino businesses and residents were forced out after the expansion of the Financial District in the late 1960s. And in 1977, many Filipino tenants faced eviction from the International Hotel. In the aftermath, some businesses and residents left the city altogether, while others migrated to the South of Market, filling the residential hotels and small apartment buildings along the district’s many alleyways. In 2017, the struggle for cultural communities to hold space in San Francisco continues.

Foreword: Beatriz Datangel on Marie Romero
When I was a kid, I remember always coming to the bookstore [Arkipelago] and reading. My mom couldn’t find a babysitter, so my brother and I just sat around and read a lot. Some of my favorite books in general are reading the bilingual children’s books with colloquial sayings in English and Tagalog and looking at the illustrations. The stories remind you to be playful. They teach the real deep enchanting mysticism of the Philippines.

My mother wanted to raise us to be proud of who we are. A lot of folks that are my age or my brother’s age, their parents were so ashamed of being Filipino. They didn’t want to teach Tagalog or their native dialect. They wanted you to “enjoy being American,” because we immigrated here.

My parents immigrated here, too, and they wanted to teach us about Filipino and Filipino American accomplishments. But that wasn’t common knowledge and it wasn’t easily accessible. You just didn’t see it. You hear about Ceasar Chavez, but don’t hear about anyone else in the farm movement; or you learned about the history of interracial marriage between Blacks and whites, but not about other interracial relationships.

Most of the books we sell are from the Philippines. In the last 15 years there’s been a resurgence of people who want to preserve [their] history and document their own stories. In the young fiction collection, a lot of writers have been documenting their families; their lolas (grandmothers) and their struggles—listening to our grandparents speak only Tagalog, trying to translate their stories into English. Everyone’s family has struggled to be who they are now. It’s a mix of things from the Philippines but also folks like me who are first generation, and so forth.

My mother instilled in me, as a young woman, pure respect and appreciation for a female-owned store in San Francisco, where it is a highly competitive market. She was a single mom with health issues, yet remained steadfast in owning and maintaining a store. You think a hard life, first world problem is “Oh, I missed my meeting,” or “I can’t miss my deadline.” But what she does is real work, day-in, day-out. It has always been about community loyalty, belonging and empowerment.


Interview with Marie Romero
Christine Joy Ferrer: What made you want to open a Filipino bookstore in San Francisco?

Marie Romero: Twenty-something years ago you couldn’t find any reading materials geared to Filipinos or Filipino Americans, especially for the young ones. You’d go to libraries and, nothing. Or if you did find something, its pages were falling apart. In the early ‘90s, I started collecting books for my children. My daughter Beatriz was barely walking. I wanted to read her bedtime stories. Because I couldn’t find any books, I traveled back and forth to the Philippines, finding books, buying books, then I started sharing my books with friends back here in America. Then it was the funniest thing because my friends started arguing over the books, about who was going to borrow what.

But, this gave me an idea to start a mail order and book publishing business. Word spread about our first location on 6th street between Bryant and Harrison. When more and more locals started visiting us, my husband and I expanded our office into a show room. But then we divorced, and I carried on the business by physically having a bookstore. My ex-husband was more into publishing. I moved the bookstore to the Mint Mall on Mission and lasted there for [about] 10 years. And now, I’ve been at the Bayanihan Community Center since 2006.

Ferrer: The Mint Mall in the late ‘90s early 2000s was one of the last Filipino community spaces in the city. And a decade before that, the combination retail and low-income housing building, was home to about a dozen Filipino businesses and organizations. Then evictions reduced the number of Filipino businesses to a handful. Did you fear displacement?

Romero: I was a lucky one. I actually was one of the few businesses to have a long-term lease. There were about eight of us Philippine-owned businesses then [but] most didn’t have leases. And if we did have a lease, we still worried that the owner of the building would shut us down. Conditions were also very poor. Water leaked from the ceiling, walls and floors. The insurance companies didn’t even want to insure us anymore. The dot-com boom threatened everyone.

But, our communities rallied behind us. Rain or shine at City Hall, I remember hundreds of people coming out to support us. Many of my customers attended the rallies —librarians, locals, other community organizations—it was just such an overwhelming support from so many. We really appreciated it. And from that paved the way for Pistahan [The annual Pistahan Parade and Festival is a celebration of Filipino culture and cuisine. It’s deemed the largest celebration of Filipino Americans in the U.S. organized by the Filipino American Arts Exposition] and SoMA Pilipinas [San Francisco’s newly established Filipino cultural and heritage district that honors the rich history and legacy of the filipino community in SoMA].

But eventually everyone vanished. And then it was just me as the forefront tenant until the Bayanihan Community Center invited me to join their space. I have never felt unwanted.

Courtesy of Arkipelago BooksFerrer: What is like being a Filipina business owner in San Francisco?  What has sustained you?

Romero: It’s all about trial and error. I got divorced, was awarded the retail side of the businesses and did the best I [could] with two kids. It’s survival that teaches you. The bookstore has been my fulltime job for the last 20-something years. Libraries all over the world support my business—Norway, Russia, countries in Africa—I didn’t even know there are Filipinos in Russia. I focus solely on Philippine literature. I must admit, I don’t get walk-in traffic as much, but a lot of institutional orders. Local Filipino community organizations and teachers from San Francisco State University and City College send their students here.

I could write a book about the experiences I’ve had. I love what I do. Every day I look forward to coming to the bookstore. I’m excited every time a book arrives in the mail. I get to read it. I scan it so I share it with my costumers in case they are looking for something of that particular topic. I used to travel everywhere to sell my books. We get invited to San Jose, New Jersey, New York... but it requires a lot of marketing and I no longer have the time or energy. I hope one day someone will carry on its legacy. If I win the lotto, there would be more Arkipelago bookstores.

Ferrer: Can you tell me a little bit about your immigrant story?

Romero: I am under 60 years old. I’m from Baguio City in the Philippines and came to America at age 16 or 17. My dad was a bank officer in the Philippines who traveled for work. Dad first got sent to New Orleans. Immigration was really easy then. So the rest of my family followed. My dad would travel back to the Philippines every six months. It was such a long journey from Louisiana to Texas and then from California to the Philippines. So when my mother got sick, our family decided to settle in California.

I graduated from San Francisco State University in 1981 or ‘82 and majored in business  and accounting/hotel and restaurant management. I also went to culinary school at City College of San Francisco (CCSF). There were so many Filipinos at CCSF during that time.

After I married and had children, I decided to raise my kids in San Mateo, but I picked San Francisco to open my business because it’s an international city. It was so welcoming when I first came. I have always loved the Golden Gate Bridge, the fog and San Francisco food is so good.

Ferrer: What is one of the most memorable events you’ve had at Arkipelago Books?

Romero: It was the book launching of Memories of Philippine Kitchens by Amy Besa and Romy Dorotan. [The book is] filled with food stories and documents the role of Filipino food in society. The hallways at the Bayanihan community center were transformed into a mini house with a cooking demo. We had three [multi-generational] speakers: one talked about cooking for the dead; a little boy, about 10 years old, told everyone about his grandmother’s delicious cooking; and someone else spoke about Filipino food in the 1920s and ‘30s. We sold almost 500 copies. People were so homesick.

And that’s what the bookstore is. It allows people to remember. While others just want to learn more about their culture.

When I first opened the bookstore, I remember this student who would come in regularly to buy books. Then she disappeared and after a few years she came back with two children in tow. “I haven’t been around because I had two kids and have been so busy,” she told me. Her kids are now eight and 10 [and] she’s collecting children’s books. It all comes full circle.

Ferrer: Why is it so important for a bookstore like this to exist; a cultural space that allows the knowledge of Philippine ancestry, culture and history to be passed on?

Romero: Our identity has been covered up politically for so long, but we are here to stay. A good percentage of Arkipelago books are from the Philippines. And U.S. publishers are increasingly accepting manuscripts about Philippine culture and life—on becoming Filipino and Mexican; being of interracial decent; other ideas that were normally taboo. Publishers like University Press simply can’t turn [us] down.

When I first started the business, I remember going to BookExpo America in New York City. They discriminated against me and didn’t take me seriously as a Filipino publisher and for being a woman from the Philippines. Here I was, braving my way to New York and bringing my books, showing people that we do have such a thing as literary and scholarly materials. I felt like [saying] “Yes, we draw well, we write well and we have wonderful messages in our content, even if our overall packaging isn’t up to your standards!” No one can deny our presence anymore.

Christine Joy Ferrer is a designer and web editor for Reimagine! RP&E and founder of Eyes Opened MVMNT, Media + Design, eomvmnt.org.

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"When I first started the business, I remember going to BookExpo America in New York City. They discriminated against me and didn’t take me seriously as a Filipino publisher and for being a woman from the Philippines..."

Time Runs Short to Stop SF Public Land Giveaway

Street art by Ivy Jeanne McClelland, part of Clarion Alley Mural Project in San Francisco’s Mission District. cc 2017 Marcy Rein

Community college and low-income residents face big loss of public resource

By Marcy Rein and Christine Hanson

On weekdays the windswept lot next to the main campus of City College of San Francisco (CCSF) can hold close to 1,000 cars belonging to students and teachers. On weekends a motorcycle safety class practices there, as does the marching band from Archbishop Riordan High School. This lot, the Balboa Reservoir, is one of the largest tracts of public land in land-starved San Francisco—and a key arena in the city’s fight to stem displacement of its vulnerable communities and the institutions that serve them.

The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC) dug the reservoir in 1957, but never used it to store water. The utility owns 60 percent of the property. The rest of the parcel belongs to CCSF, the 80-year-old community college that many call “San Francisco’s most important working-class institution.”

In 2014, the reservoir became the first site to be studied under San Francisco’s Public Land for Housing program, which is supposed to ensure 30,000 units of new housing by 2020, one-third of them affordable.

After two years of community outreach tightly managed by the city, the Balboa Reservoir Citizens Advisory Committee (CAC) issued their “Principles and Parameters” for the project. These development guidelines cede the 17.5 acres of public land to private interests, and do little to protect City College against encroachment, including loss of its parking lot. They address existing traffic congestion with proposals to encourage alternatives to driving, and to build shared off-street parking to absorb the impact of as many as 500 new housing units.

“The Reservoir has implications for the whole city; there is an opportunity to set precedent for the [use of] public land and impact the housing crisis,” says Jessie Fernandez, an organizer for PODER (People Organized to Demand Environmental and Economic Justice). “The attack on public resources like City College is consistent with the attack on housing,” he says.

Planning Slams the Door on Alternatives
Mayor Ed Lee and Supervisor Norman Yee, who represents District 7 where the project is located, appointed the nine members of the CAC. City staff from the mayor’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development (OEWD) and the Planning Department worked directly with the committee. From the first CAC meeting, members of the community commented that the project seemed to be a “done deal.” Indeed, the city always seemed to be driving the committee towards a destination, with the voices of the community trailing along behind like cans tied to a bumper.

“The Mayor brought his people out there to school us, show us what is what, and make a show of listening,” says Monica Collins, a resident of the nearby Sunnyside neighborhood and recently retired CCSF employee.

The city proudly announced that the guidelines call for 50 percent affordable housing, but in fact only one-third meets the definition of affordability under state law, and only 18 percent is earmarked for low-income families.1 Two-thirds will be unaffordable or market rate—in a city that is falling far short of its affordable housing goals.2

“They need to construct decent housing for low-income people,” says PODER member Maria Elena Ramos. “All the families I know pay high rents, and we have no space for our children,” she says. The city maintains that the market-rate housing is necessary to subsidize the affordable units.

“Without these subsidies, the Balboa Reservoir affordable housing would take funds away from other affordable housing projects in the city,” OEWD’s Emily Lesk explained to the December 2016 CAC meeting.

Affordable housing experts say that other building and financing options are possible. Cutting the cost of land, for one thing, would go a long way towards reducing the costs of development and making more affordable housing feasible.

“There is no reason to pay market rate for the land. There are provisions in the City Administrative Code that would permit sale below market rate for enterprise departments, including the PUC,” says Joseph Smooke, an affordable housing developer and activist who serves as the Richmond District Director for the Housing Rights Committee of San Francisco.3

“The mayor’s office is caught in an ideological world-view in which the only solution is market-driven,” says Council of Community Housing Organizations (CCHO) Co-Director Fernando Martí. The Council brought a paper to the CAC that laid out several scenarios for increasing the project’s affordable housing, but the group wasn’t granted space on the agenda. Instead, it was restricted to two minutes in public comment.

“The Reservoir Project has been able to steam ahead because the City has successfully framed it as an affordable housing effort,” says Alvin Ja, a Sunnyside resident who has followed the issue closely. “It needs to be framed, instead, as a transfer of public assets to private interests.”City College was built on public land that had been the Sheriff’s Ingleside Jail from 1876-1934. Courtesy of Bancroft Library, UC Berkeley.

Transportation = Education Access
Development at the reservoir site will eliminate the lot that furnishes one-third of the total parking spaces at City College’s Ocean Campus. Failure to replace these spaces could cripple the school, already battered by an accreditation crisis that began in 2012. Enrollment has plummeted by an average of 6,000 students per year—from more than 90,000 to around 66,0004—since the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC) issued its sanctions. (See RP&E Vol. 21-1, “‘School Reform’ and Land Grabs Threaten SF’s City College.”) City College is a commuter school; Ocean is the largest campus and the only one of CCSF’s ten locations with direct freeway access. Loss of parking would create another obstacle for students already struggling with class cuts, restrictions on repeating courses, and other rules student activists call “push-out” policies.5

“Our students’ lives are fragile, packed. You have single parents, part-time workers, people who have to take a car if they want to go to City College. They don’t have time to take one MUNI bus after another,” says Collins, who worked in CCSF’s financial aid office for 15 years. In a survey of CCSF students, faculty, staff and administrators, 90 percent cited “arriving on time” and 73 percent named “travel time” as “very important” or “extremely” important considerations when choosing transportation to school.6

Parking will also be essential for CCSF’s long-planned Performing Arts Education Center (PAEC). The PAEC, with its 650-seat theater and audio/video recording facilities, would complete the college, allowing it to expand its job training, and raise revenue by hosting performance festivals and events. The CAC didn’t discuss the reservoir project’s effects on City College until six months into its process, and the first draft of the Principles and Parameters failed to even mention the possibility of the PAEC. CCSF supporters gamely endured presentations on such issues as “design variation in building architecture” and “landscape, lighting and greenery” before being able to voice the school’s needs. After multiple meetings, they got language into the Principles and Parameters that acknowledges the PAEC and promises to “ensure that development at the Balboa Reservoir site does not negatively impact City College’s educational mission and operational needs.”

The Principles and Parameters are merely guidelines, however; they have no legal standing. And they neither call out the impact that loss of parking will have on the school, nor name mitigation of the loss as a solution. “The Reservoir is a tipping point,” longtime CCSF Music Dept. Chair Madeline Mueller says. “If they take the parking and don’t replace it, we’re on our way to being a really small college.” City College will need to aggressively enforce its interests—and administrators installed since the 2013 state takeover have so far participated in the downsizing of the school, the sell-off of land, and private meetings with city agencies.

Emergency Managers Sell Off Land and Partner with the City
After the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges ruled in July 2013 that City College should close, the California Community Colleges Board of Governors put the school under emergency management. Robert Agrella became the Special Trustee With Extraordinary Powers (STWEP) and the elected Board of Trustees was sidelined.

In September 2013 Agrella scuttled the PAEC, sending $38 million in matching funds for the project back to the state. Next he began marketing the college’s administration building at 33 Gough Street. Then the Civic Center Campus was closed on a half-day’s notice at the beginning of the 2015 winter term, displacing 1,700 students, most of them new immigrants learning English as a second language.

After the elected trustees regained power early in 2016, the development agenda rolled on, with several City College administrators, all hired by Agrella when he was STWEP, consulting regularly with the city planning department, the mayor’s office, and the SFPUC on the Balboa Reservoir project as well as City College facilities planning.

At the CAC meeting in January 2016, CCSF music instructor Harry Bernstein inquired about these unpublicized meetings among city staff and college administrators. “It is appropriate for public sector colleagues to meet,” OEWD’s Emily Lesk said in her prepared response at the next meeting. But the process has lacked transparency: The proceedings of these collegial meetings weren’t even shared with campus committees charged with facilities planning.

Ultimately City College signed a deal with a private developer to build housing at 33 Gough St., only one-third of it affordable.7 It is still pondering development plans for the Civic Center site. A revived PAEC appears in the draft of the college’s new Facilities Master Plan, alongside a 60-foot-wide access road leading not into the campus, but into the planned reservoir development. This comes after the CCSF trustees stated in their July 2016 resolution, “CCSF cannot grant the city a roadway between the Multi-Use Building and the planned PAEC.” The elected board, however, is not invited to the meetings between city staff and college administrators. Site of the proposed Balboa Reservoir project, now a CCSF parking lot. © Madeline Mueller

Moving Forward
The city took its first public step toward finding a developer for Balboa Reservoir in November 2016. The developer’s proposal must pass an environmental impact review under CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act), and secure approvals from the SFPUC, the Planning Dept., the Planning Commission, and the Board of Supervisors. Each of these approvals can be an opportunity for community mobilization.

The CEQA study in particular offers City College a valuable tool, though the administration will need to be pushed to use it, according to Alvin Ja. The Trustees and administration could insist that the reservoir project be required to pay for replacement of all the parking it takes away. “This would be in line with CEQA requirements for mitigation of adverse impacts on public/educational services,” Ja says. It would also help the adjacent neighborhoods, whose streets take up the slack when parking demand exceeds capacity.

But the CEQA review won’t come up until 2019, according to the San Francisco Planning Department.8 well after community members and City College students, staff and faculty will have been worn down by four years of frustrating advisory meetings, and the even longer fight to defend and rebuild the college.

“It’s late in the process for leverage,” says Joseph Smooke. “If people want to change the direction of the process, they will have to build serious power,” he says, and confront a Board of Supervisors that tilted towards developers in the 2016 election.

The stakes are as high as the challenges are daunting. “Sites like the Balboa Reservoir represent an indispensable public resource that should be prioritized as a public good for this and future generations,” says CCHO’s Martí. Providing 100 percent affordable housing while protecting the parking needed by CCSF students and faculty is eminently possible, according to Martí. Indeed, the Ocean Avenue side of the reservoir is already home to an attractive apartment building featuring 100 percent affordable housing, built on public land acquired for less than market rate. “It is totally a question of political will,” Martí says.

Christine Hanson is an Equine Bodyworker, continuing CCSF student and Save CCSF Coalition member who lives in the Excelsior District. Marcy Rein is a longtime contributor to Race, Poverty & the Environment.

Endnotes
1. The city gets to 50 percent affordability by offering 18 percent of the housing for low-income families earning up to 55 percent of the Area Median Income (AMI), or $56,050 per year for a family of four; another 15 percent for families earning 120 percent of AMI, $129,250 for a family of four; and another 17 percent for a range of income levels up to 150 percent AMI, $161,550 for a family of four.

2. Peter Cohen and Fernando Martí, “The ‘affordable housing balance’ keeps getting worse,” San Francisco Examiner, April 16, 2016, http://www.sfexaminer.com/affordable-housing-balance-just-keeps-getting-worse/ accessed Dec. 8, 2016.

3. For more information, see Dyan Ruiz and Joseph Smooke, “Chasing Unicorns! 5 Reasons Why SF is Delusional Giving Up Public Land for Market Rate Development,” April 6, 2015, http://peoplepowermedia.net/housing/chasing-unicorns-5-reasons-why-sf-is-delusional-giving-up-public-land-for-market-rate, accessed Dec. 26, 2016.

4. California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office—Data Mart. (2016). Retrieved September 28, 2016, from http://datamart.cccco.edu/Faculty-Staff/Staff_Demo.aspx)

5. From 2012-2016, 774 classes were canceled, and the City College administration announced plans to cut another 26 percent by 2020. Students are also facing bureaucratic rules that make it more difficult to enroll, cuts in federal Pell Grants for tuition, and loss of state fee waivers if they try to return after failing to complete more than half their classes one semester.

6. CCSF Facilities Planning Survey, May 5-20, 2016, accessed at http://www.ccsf.edu/dam/Organizational_Assets/About_CCSF/Admin/facilities_planning/English TRANSIT only.pdf

7. Michael Barba, “CCSF cuts $11.5 million deal as fiscal cliff looms,” San Francisco Examiner, Oct. 19, 2016, http://www.sfexaminer.com/ccsf-cuts-11-5-million-deal-developers-fiscal-cliff-looms/ accessed Jan. 3, 2017.

8. http://sf-planning.org/balboa-reservoir - timeline

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“The City has framed the Balboa Reservoir as an a affordable housing effort. It needs to be framed, instead, as a transfer of public assets to private interests.”--SF resident Alvin Ja

Renters Rise

San Francisco Renters Day of Action ©2016 Joseph Smooke

By Joseph Smooke

Under the banner of “Homes For All,” renters from coast to coast are pulling together in a national movement to demand a freeze on rent increases and an end to unfair evictions.1 Their National Renters Day of Action2 in fall 2016 announced that they are organized, united and ready to fight for their right to a stable home—and that their level of unity and resolve is more necessary than ever, now that a real estate tycoon with a documented history of discrimination and abuse of tenants is occupying the White House.

An alliance of diverse groups called Right to the City3 created the Homes for All4 campaign “to protect, defend and expand housing that is truly affordable and dignified for low-income and very low-income communities…”5 Homes for All coordinated actions in 48 cities on Sept. 22, 2016, declaring a National Renter State of Emergency. Some of the rallies involved hundreds of people like the one in Los Angeles organized by the Renters’ Day LA Coalition and the protest in San Francisco staged by the Anti-Displacement Coalition. Others were important for being the start of people coming together to make demands on housing issues. One such mobilization was organized by the statewide 9 to 5 chapter in Colorado whose members, working women, came together to rally as tenants for the first time.

For generations, there has been the myth of the democratization of land ownership, the unattainable goal for everyone to be able to own their own home, as foundational to the “American Dream. The rate of US homeownership peaked in 2004 at 69.2 percent and has since dropped to 63.4 percent, which is the lowest in nearly half a century.6 Many see this decline in homeownership as the rise of a “renter nation.”7

The national homeownership rate became inflated by a system of corruption, collusion and greed. A system of banks and the government-backed secondary market for home loans made home buying look deceptively easy. People across the country with no financial capacity to purchase a home suddenly found themselves living beyond their means. When the whole fraudulent scheme came crashing down, it nearly took the world’s intertwined economy along with it. So many millions of people experienced first hand that banks and the government never really meant to democratize land ownership, they only meant to profit from it. The whole system was a cynical exploitation of people’s dreams of stability and ownership. By far the hardest hit when the foreclosures started sweeping the country were Black and Latino families.

After that bubble burst, it only became re-inflated by the insatiable demand at the high end of the market made possible by the government using our tax dollars to bail out all the corrupt banks, and the simultaneous explosion of massive tech corporations paying extremely high wages so they could maintain an advantage over their competition. The real estate industry’s shift to the highest end of the market supported by this frantic race for highly specialized talent created an upward trend that landlords have twisted themselves around to take advantage of. Tenants who are at the moderate and lower tiers of the economic spectrum have found themselves at risk as landlords look for every law and loophole to get lower paying tenants out in order to replace them with high wage tenants. This phenomenon is not just contained to “hot market” cities like San Francisco, New York and Los Angeles where tech has a firm grip. As rents in these cities become expensive for all but the most lucrative companies, others trying to compete have had to attract talent to other more affordable cities like Nashville and Denver that have started to experience the same rise in rental costs and evictions as the “hot market” cities. Again, Black, Latino and working class households are the most impacted by rising rents.

Pressures facing renters are diverse across the country, from struggles in public housing to abuses by private landlords. Many tenants are also facing challenges that go beyond housing instability. Therefore, a number of the Homes for All members such as 9 to 5’s Colorado chapter are also involved in fights to raise wages, have better public transportation and access to work. As Andrea Chiriboga-Flor, Organizer for 9 to 5 Colorado said, “access to public transit is the lifeline for low wage working women,” so having housing that’s affordable near public transit is essential for getting out of poverty. Organizers at 9 to 5 Colorado are seeing low wage workers being displaced as new light rail lines are being built, so low wage workers are pushed farther away from work. Andrea says, “when they’re forced to leave, they live in outlying areas of the Denver metro area” farther from work and farther from quality public transit which is why the women they organize have started to identify housing as their number one issue.

Los Angeles Renters Day of Action ©2016Farther west, issues for workers in Los Angeles are similar. Mike Dennis of the East LA Community Corporation (ELACC) said “Renters Day was born out of Los Angeles in response to a housing affordability crisis that has crippled the working poor – the very folks that make LA the great city that it is. Homes For All made a collective decision to scale up the Renters Day movement because these conditions aren’t unique to LA or California. Millions of renters are continuing to be marginalized, criminalized and oppressed through market forces that aim to extract profits over their human right to affordable and dignified housing.”

Each of the local actions made demands specific to the condition of renters in each area, but months of coordination led to Homes for All making the following set of global demands:

  • A National Rent Freeze, a National Livable Rent and a Livable Wage for all people; a national Livable Rent Standard that ensures no family pays more than 30 percent of their income on rent.
  • A freeze on ALL unjust Evictions. We call for any eviction without cause to be met with fierce community resistance AND for local, state and federal governments to institute immediate moratoriums.
  • Community control over land and housing in our communities. No one should be forcibly or violently displaced as a result of development. Vacant, underused and foreclosed upon land should be placed under the democratic control of communities through Community Land Trusts and Cooperatives to create affordable housing and serve the needs of communities of color and working class communities.
  • The right of all tenants to organize and bargain collectively with landlords without fear of discrimination, retaliation or eviction.

Not Just Big Cities
Pressures facing renters are not confined to desirable major cities like Los Angeles, Denver, New York and San Francisco. The same issues of rising rents and forcible evictions have left residents homeless in cities often thought to be more affordable like Nashville, Tennessee.

Shamita Granberry tells the story about how her landlord evicted her from her apartment in Nashville with no notice, and confiscated her belongings. Finding a new place that she can afford has meant putting her name on wait lists for public housing, Section 8, private apartments, any vacancies and opportunities she can find. She asks, “When you’re able to go to school, get your education, work, are able-bodied, and are homeless. How does that happen?”

She continues to ask further, “How would you feel if I came to your house and I said, ‘I want your neighborhood? It’s like someone coming to your home and saying ‘This is my street now. You have to go. You’re no longer wanted here.’ That’s what it feels like. It feels like our whole city’s getting evicted.”

The overriding issue is that housing, the basic need for all people to have shelter in order to survive, is not seen as a human right in the U.S. Instead, it’s seen as a commodity where the owner has absolute power, and any attempt to shift any control to a renter, to someone who doesn’t have any ownership standing is seen as an offense. Malcolm Torrejon-Chu, Organizer with the Right to the City Alliance said, “Housing as a human right is the internationally affirmed idea that all people need and deserve a safe home to be able to survive and thrive at their fullest potential. Sadly, in the U.S. and around the globe, the housing crisis is fueled by developers, politicians and speculators that prioritize corporate profits over this fundamental human need.”

Nearly 250 years ago, the founders of the United States retained the social stratification inherent in land ownership and all the legal systems that protect land owners which meant that tenants have less rights and less economic stability than those who own. Throughout the U.S., the gap between landlords and tenants is the same as the widening gap between rich and poor, and disproportionately has profoundly destabilizing consequences especially for people of color.

The Renters Day of Action was timed to raise awareness of this nascent movement as the presidential campaign was hitting its peak. Malcolm Torrejón-Chu says that “The Renters Day of Action was a call for us to radically rethink how land and housing are controlled and used in the U.S. and around the globe. The Renters Day of Action emerged following the historic Homes For All #RenterPower2016 gathering in Chicago in April 2016 at which more than 125 leaders from throughout the country came together to build unity and strategize the future of a national movement for housing as a human right.”

In addition to that high profile presidential race, the San Francisco Bay Area had a fistful of Rent Control and Renter Protection measures on local ballots.

On the positive side, Oakland, Mountain View and Richmond all voted to approve new or increased protections for renters. In San Francisco, voters rejected two cleverly crafted measures from the realtors that would have meant less affordable housing.

Of great concern for the movement is the fact that the new president is notorious for his evictions and abuses of tenants.8 He also has a history of excluding people of color and people with low incomes from renting in his buildings.9 The concern, now that Trump has been elected president is that he will support landlords who deploy such discriminatory and abusive business practices. His pick for Housing and Urban Development, Ben Carson, indicates that public housing will likely face a renewed assault.

Stabilizing renters means stabilizing communities, and our economy. Unfortunately, this is seen as a threat to the ruling class of elite landlords. It will take a sustained campaign and building a movement of renters acting locally and in coalition nationally to bring justice to this issue of systemic denial of people’s basic human right to housing.

Joseph Smooke is cofounder of peoplepowermedia.net, an online platform broadcasting community voices to impact public policy. He is also a program director with Housing Rights Committee of San Francisco, a member organization of Right to the City and Homes for All.

Endnotes

1           http://homesforall.org/renters-day-of-action/demands/
2           http://action.righttothecity.org/p/salsa/event/common/public/search.sjs?distributed_event_KEY=737

3           http://righttothecity.org
4           http://homesforall.org
5           http://homesforall.org/renters-day-of-action/about/
6           http://www.cnbc.com/2015/07/28/home-ownership-rates-drop-to-lowest-since-1967.html
7           http://finance.yahoo.com/blogs/breakout/u-s—becoming-a—renter-nation—says-olefson-151329558.html
            
http://righttothecity.org/cause/rise-of-the-renter-nation/
8           http://money.cnn.com/2016/03/28/news/trump-apartment-tenants/index.html
9           http://www.salon.com/2011/04/28/donald_trump_discrimination_suit/

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Under the banner of “Homes For All,” renters from coast to coast are pulling together in a national movement to demand a freeze on rent increases and an end to unfair evictions.

Resist!

Resist! We Are the Ones We’ve Been Waiting For
Commentary by Dawn Phillips

Art by Shepard Fairey The Trump victory is devastating. Devastating for communities of color, immigrants, women, Muslims and queer communities. Devastating for us.

Trump has given new voice to deeply rooted white supremacy, gender violence, xenophobia and hatred. Hatred of everything that we are. Hatred of everything that we have struggled for.

There are no illusions, we have lived a long time with terror and injustice. But it is no illusion that this marks a new phase: A new phase in the development of fascist demagoguery in the belly of the beast.

We were not ready to jump on the Clinton bandwagon. Not ready to support her neoliberal agenda at home and promotion of American empire abroad. Not ready to forget her tone-deaf engagement with Black and immigrant organizers and lack of interest in taking action on race. She was not our grandmother and she did not speak for us. But despite her limitations there should be no illusion that we have ended up with the greater of two evils. Trump’s fascism over Clinton’s neoliberalism.

We have always resisted. Resisted the lies of the two-party electoral game. Resisted police beatings and murders. Resisted environmental degradation and the evils of corporate polluters. Resisted male violence and transphobia. Resisted the rich bosses and landlords who own the airwaves and politicians.

This is not about an election or a policy or a political party. Our vision of transformation is deeper and will require not only a change in the system, but a change within ourselves.

Resistance is our legacy. Resistance is our duty. We have resisted a long time. We will continue to resist.

Our goal is transformation.

A world where housing is a right and there is a guaranteed living wage for all. A world where neighbors come together to decide the future of their communities and development serves human need, not profit.

A world where treaties are honored, where there is self-determination for Native and Black peoples. A world where women, young people and queer folks make decisions about public resources and policies. A world without borders, where we are free to move for health, for love, for work, for family.

We want to transform racial divisions between and within our communities of color. We want to transform structures of hetropatriarchy in our families. We want to transform the very nature of our relationships from the individual, to the community, to the societal.

This is not about an election or a policy or a political party. Our vision of transformation is deeper and will require not only a change in the system, but a change within ourselves.

Our strategy is to organize and build power.

We will continue to talk to our neighbors, to those facing evictions and deportations. We will come together in our living rooms and kitchens to share our struggles, articulate vision, strategy and plans. We will take collective action to fight and win locally where we have had the greatest impact on improving lives and conditions.

We will build movement. We will engage our differences with respect and honesty. We will connect our humanity and unite around our shared needs and interest. We will build trust and solidarity.

Local Organizing
A renter movement has emerged in the Bay Area that is as concerned with racial justice as it is with housing justice and this vision is reverberating nationally.

Immigrant women are growing a domestic worker movement that is invigorating the labor movement and winning local and state level fights across the country. In Maricopa County, thousands of Latinos organized to oust Joe Arpaio and end 24 years of racist policing.

Local organizing matters. Local power matters. Change and transformation will rise up from our neighborhoods and cities, it will not flow down from D.C., the President or the Democrats.

The outcomes and impacts of this election are still unfolding. While our assessments and interventions are still in development, one thing is clear. Now more than ever, there is a need for our resistance, our vision of transformation and the hard work of organizing, building power and growing our movement.

There was no illusion that things were going to get easier, only the reality that our struggle continues and must become stronger and more effective.

Onward.

Dawn Phillips is Co-Director of Programs at Causa Justa :: Just Cause and Executive Director at Right to the City Alliance.

 

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City College: Free, Accredited and Still Fighting

By Marcy Rein

Relentless organizing by labor, students, and community members won San Francisco the most inclusive free community college plan in the country. Yet the program approved by the City College of San Francisco (CCSF) Board of Trustees on Feb. 9, 2017 fell short of proponents’ goals. Assistance for students who already get state tuition waivers will be much more limited than originally planned, and many undocumented students will get no help at all.

Approval of the free tuitiThe campaign for Proposition W clearly linked the tax to Free City Collegeon plan came just weeks after City College learned that it would be fully accredited for the next seven years. The Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges announced its decision Jan. 13, after putting the school through a four-and-a-half year ordeal that bled it of students, faculty, and classes. (See “School ‘Reform’ and Land Grabs Threaten SF’s Community College,” RP&E Vol. 21-1)

“Nothing could be better for City College than to turn the final pages of the accreditation crisis into a victory that looks like this. This is a victory for public education,” says Alisa Messer, a CCSF English teacher and political director for American Federation of Teachers (AFT) Local 2121, which represents City College faculty.

AFT2121 launched the “Free City” initiative in 2016 as a way of galvanizing support for the school, and enlisted San Francisco Supervisor Jane Kim to champion it at the Board of Supervisors. The Board voted 10-1 to put the tax that would fund Free City on the November 2016 ballot—a tax on the purchase or sale of real estate worth more than $5 million.

Local 2121 anchored the campaign for the “mansion tax,” Proposition W, working closely with student organizers. The San Francisco Labor Council, along with community groups such as Jobs With Justice, Young Workers United, and Community Housing Partnership, turned out members to rally and canvass, as did progressive local candidates. On Nov. 8, almost 62 percent of San Francisco voters approved the measure. (It was a good election for City College all around. The extension of the parcel tax to support instruction at the school passed with 83 percent of the vote, the biggest “yes” for anything on the ballot, and two strong advocates for rebuilding the school, Shanell Williams and Tom Temprano, won election to the Board of Trustees.)

But San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee used the election results as an excuse to refuse to fund Free City, defying the voters and the supervisors. His office cited the defeat of a local sales tax that would’ve funded transit improvements and services for homeless people, and the fear that the city would lose federal dollars because it is a sanctuary city.[1]

Technically Mayor Lee had the right to shift budget priorities. San Francisco’s charter gives the mayor lots of power, including discretion over spending, and Prop W was put on the ballot as an unrestricted tax so it would only need a simple majority to pass. (Taxes for restricted purposes, like the parcel tax, need a two-thirds vote.) But all the discussion of Prop W linked it to Free City, as did the supervisors’ votes and posters all over town.  

“A promise is a promise,” Supervisor Aaron Peskin said at the Dec. 15 board meeting. “Ten of 11 members of this Board voted to prioritize City College with Prop W, and it was all there in the campaign,” he said.

Lee’s stance reflected his history and priorities. “The battle over Free City and the revenue measure is example of the mayor’s lack of leadership in saving this institution that is so very important, especially for San Francisco’s low income and immigrant communities,” says former supervisor Eric Mar. “It’s consistent with his not being there for City College during the crisis,” says Mar, who represented the city’s Richmond district until he was termed out at the end of 2016.

Free City backers began a determined effort to push the mayor to do the right thing.  The supervisors took two more votes in favor of a $9 million appropriation for the project and the Democratic County Central Committee passed a resolution supporting it.

“We hoped by building enough public pressure we could encourage Mayor Lee to avoid the embarrassment of going against the will of the voters who passed Prop W to fund Free City,” says Local 2121’s community organizer, Athena Waid. On Jan. 6, Supervisor Kim stood next to the mayor as they announced an agreement that the city would use $5.4 million of the mansion tax revenues to fund Free City. The news went viral, with Lee claiming his share of the credit for the project he tried to scuttle. "To California residents who are living in San Francisco, your community college is now free," Lee said at the news conference.

San Francisco’s program is far more inclusive than other free community college plans. Free City is available to all residents of SF who qualify for in-state tuition at CCSF, no matter their age or educational path. It isn’t restricted to students who enroll in specific majors, attend full time or make good grades. Students who receive tuition support through the state Community College Board of Governors’ fee waiver program will get a stipend they can use for books and other costs, such as transportation to and from school.

But the $5.4 million the mayor agreed to spend is just a little over half the amount appropriated by the Board of Supervisors, and is only 12 percent of the $44 million[2] the San Francisco Controller’s office estimated the tax will net in an average year. This cut means the stipends will only run about $500 per year instead of the $1,000 Prop W backers originally hoped. And the majority of undocumented students, who pay out-of-state tuition, will not be eligible at all.Community support lights up the side of CCSF’s Science Building. Courtesy of the San Francisco Projection Department.

The plan agreed on by the mayor and Supervisor Kim will only cover college-credit courses for undocumented students who fall under AB540 and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA); non-credit courses such as beginning English will continue to be free to all.  AB540 is a state law that allows students, regardless of immigration status, to pay in-state tuition at all of California’s public community colleges and universities. To be eligible, they must have graduated from high school in California after attending for at least three years, and meet other criteria. DACA is an Obama-era policy that allows eligible undocumented residents to work in the US legally for two years.

Non-AB540 students were excluded by replacing the words “San Francisco resident” with “California resident” in the agreement, and excluding part-time workers. San Francisco issues an ID card to all residents, but students holding the card might not meet state residency requirements. If they didn’t, the city would need to cover the much pricier out-of-state tuition fees, $280 per unit rather than the $46 per unit charged to California residents.[3]

“There is some proposed legislation that would extend AB 540 eligibility that we hope to help move,” says AFT’s Messer. “There are a lot of ways we could cover these students, and I think we can do it—and it’s going to take some additional work to get there in a way that is thoughtful and responsive to the times,” she says.

“The decision to exclude the San Francisco ID is politically motivated,” says Lalo Gonzalez, who was a student organizer at CCSF at the height of the accreditation crisis. “It would've conflicted with business interests that depend on immigrant labor (the underground economy) and the cost would be much higher for the City,” Gonzalez says.

Members of the CCSF students’ Solidarity Committee took the lead in protesting the exclusions at the Board of Trustees. “There is no liberation for some of us unless there is liberation for all of us,” said Solidarity Committee member J.J. Vivek Naryan. “If we are truly to be a sanctuary campus, we need to be committed to fighting to be sure this reaches all of our students.”

The Trustees passed a resolution directing the administration to secure funds for grants or scholarships to help the excluded students, and passed the Free City proposal amid much jubilation at their Feb. 9 meeting.

“People keep coming up to me and saying, ‘Is city college going to be free? I’m going to come back and take these classes,’” Trustee Shanell Williams said. But they may not find the classes they want. Williams and like-minded trustees are fighting alongside students and faculty against a program of deep class cuts set in motion by the current administration installed during the state takeover. City College has earned passing grades from the accreditors, and broad public support, but the fight against the policies of austerity continues.

 

 

 

 


[1] Emily Green, “Trump’s sanctuary city threat, shortfalls lead SF to revise budget,” San Francisco Chronicle, Nov. 28, 2016

[2] San Francisco Controller’s Office, Office of Economic Analysis, “Transfer Tax Increase on Properties Over $5 Million in Value: Economic Impact Report,” Item #160604, June 29, 2016

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Raimagine!