Guardian Voices: Hassle-free housing


I'm talking to the amazing organizers at Causa Justa:: Just Cause (CJJC) about their work to protect homeowners from foreclosure by the big banks, about their long history of tenants’ rights work, and what they are up to right now. Blanca Solis says they've launched a new campaign for what they're calling the “Hassle-Free Housing” ordinance. She’s a grassroots leader from CJJC, and she’s asking for our support. To protect tenants from unscrupulous landlords. To stop unfair evictions. To stop wringing our hands about gentrification and families leaving the city. She says we can do something very straightforward to keep working families in their homes.
On Tuesday July 31st, Solis will join other tenant leaders, advocates and supporters at city hall to call for an end to tenant harassment by landlords. The San Francisco Tenants Union will be there. Organizers at CJJC have learned from years of experience with Latino tenants struggling to make ends meet in the midst of this rapidly gentrifying city that “one of the quickest and cheapest ways to evict a tenant is by harassing them until the situation becomes unbearable and the tenant moves on their own. Whey they leave, the landlord has an empty unit that they can rent to new tenants at market-rate rent.”
Faced with a pattern of such blatantly unfair practices, tenant activists took the issue to the voters in 2008; when “Prop M” passed, it was an important victory for this still-majority-renter-city. But then, the landlord’s lawyers got hold of it, and sued to stop implementation.
No one seems to be denying that landlords do this, and that it’s wrong. But what can a family do to stop the harassment, hold on to their housing and get some relief? Here’s where the “Hassle-Free Housing” ordinance comes in. It builds on Prop M and addresses the landlords’ legal issue. It would “allow tenants to claim damages from their landlords for each incident of harassment in small claims court to collect statutory damages of up to $2,000 for each incident.”
Sounds good, let’s do it. City Hall - get on it.
All over San Francisco, probably every night, people are sitting around shaking their heads about how expensive the city has become. How families have been pushed and priced out. Folks shrug and say “But, what can you do?”
There is a long, proud, and painful history in San Francisco of everyday people organizing to put a stop to unfair evictions, developer-driven displacement, and the over-production of luxury housing. From the African American community’s fight to save the Fillmore from redevelopment’s “negro removal” in the 1960s, to the Filipino-led struggle to stop the eviction of elderly men at the I-Hotel in the 1970s, and to Mission activists’ campaigns to control land use during the intense gentrification of the 1990’s dot-com boom. (Just this week there’s a big celebration marking the 35th Anniversary of the I-Hotel struggle.) 
These “housing justice” fights are ultimately about who has the power to shape the future of our city and who has the power to determine who can and cannot afford to live here. That’s where we all come in – all of us who are renters whose lives will be better with a “Hassle-Free Housing” ordinance; all of us whose housing is insecure – because we fear foreclosure or are a paycheck away from homelessness. This is an issue of people power, and you can do something now – attend the press conference at 10am tomorrow on the steps of City Hall, or go to CJJC's website to sign up as a campaign supporter. Being right is good, but ultimately it’s people power that matters.
When Solis was asked why she joined the hassle-free housing campaign and why she’s coming to City Hall tomorrow, she said:
"Que los supervisores aseguren que los inquilinos estemos protegidos de los desalojos injustos por parte de los caseros y asi mismo vivamos en lugares dignos, seguros y libres de hostigamiento"
"So that the supervisors can ensure that we, tenants, are protected from illegal and unjust evictions by landlords and be able to live in homes that are dignified, safe and free of harassment"
Solis and the other incredible grassroots leaders at CJJC are full of courage and determination, and have not given up hope that there is a bright future for San Francisco. Let’s join them!