San Francisco City Attorney David Chiu is suing three single-room-occupancy (SRO) hotels in the city’s Chinatown over neglect that allegedly made the properties unhealthy and unsafe for residents. The city says it’s fed up after years of working with landlords to bring the properties up to code.
A type of low-cost housing, single-room-occupancy (SRO) hotels rent out small rooms usually furnished with a bed, chair, and shared kitchens and bathrooms.
SRO hotels are among the most affordable housing in San Francisco, but their numbers have been steadily diminishing for decades under pressure from gentrification and urban redevelopment. Now, most SRO hotels are in the Tenderloin neighborhood, while only a few remain in Chinatown, according to SF Gate.
Many SRO hotels don’t look like hotels, instead being converted residences, and provide low-cost residential housing to many people who’d otherwise be priced out of living in San Francisco, or be driven into homelessness.
That’s made many see SRO hotels as a vital part of San Francisco’s Asian American communities, leading to efforts to protect them, and the rights of their tenants. When the International Hotel was demolished in the ’70s, it galvanized the community to organize activist groups that are still around today.
As ABC 7 News reported, Chiu accused the landlords of neglecting the properties badly enough they became unsafe for residents.
ABC 7 interviewed one 3-decade resident in one of the Chinatown SRO hotels named in the suit, Yang Fen Liu, who said she pays $300 a month for a tiny 10-by-10-foot room, helped by a subsidy.
But since the building was bought by Laurel Realty in 2014, she says it’s been beset by problems—rats and roaches, leaking ceilings and no hot water.
Malcom Yeung, executive director of the Chinatown Community Development Center, said ‘You cannot do [these] kind of things in Chinatown in San Francisco because if you do, the city will step in.”
A grassroots organization involved in diverse efforts to improve the standard of living in Chinatown, the Chinatown CDC said the investors in all three hotels ignored complaints and constantly delayed needed repairs. They hope the lawsuit will help finally bring improvement to the living conditions for residents.
Supporting the lawsuit, the city’s Department of Building Inspection said it’s been working with the landlords on the issues, but now things have gotten out of hand. Chief Housing Inspector James Sanbonmatsu called the landlords’ actions a persistent “cycle of neglect,” and said the City Attorney for raising pressure with the lawsuit is a “gamechanger.”
Three SRO hotel owners are being sued, over their alleged neglect of the properties at 1449 Powell Street, 790 Vallejo Street and 912 Jackson Street, all in Chinatown.
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