Thursday, December 08, 2016

Booming Tech Economy Drives Looming Extinction Of Oakland SRO Hotels, Forcing Low-Income Tenants Facing Boot To Sue In Effort To Hang Onto The Roof Over Their Head

In Oakland, California, the San Francisco Chronicle reports:
  • Orlando Chavez has no intention of leaving the tiny, cluttered room where he has lived for eight years, with its bent window blinds, tattered carpet and leaky bathroom ceiling. Upstairs, construction crews tear through walls inside the six-story building, one of downtown Oakland’s last single-room-occupancy hotels.

    They’re turning this into a tech haven,” Chavez, 65, said about the 113-year-old Hotel Travelers, which is being converted into dorm-style housing for young professionals.

    Chavez and two other tenants refused to move after the landlord, NDO Group, gave them 60-day eviction notices in July. Now five tenants, including Chavez, are suing NDO Group, alleging harassment and violations of Oakland’s tenant protection ordinances.

    The Hotel Travelers is one of many buildings that have historically provided housing for the city’s poor but now face transformation for a wealthier demographic. With rents escalating rapidly and Uber preparing to take over the old Sears building, adding thousands of new employees to the downtown area, two City Council members are pushing for legislation to preserve these old hotels.

    Single-room occupancies have traditionally been a housing of last resort for people with bad credit, people who are sick, who have addictions or mental illness that would otherwise put them on the streets,” said City Council President Lynette Gibson McElhaney, who is leading the effort. She noted that residential hotels do not require credit checks, proof of income, large security deposits or long-term leases, making them more accessible than other forms of housing.

    If they disappear, the consequences could be dire, particularly because the city already has a big homeless population, McElhaney said. The most recent one-night homeless census, taken in January 2015, found 1,400 people sleeping outside.

    “We have a need for these buildings,” she said. “The fact that they’re going away has my stomach in knots.”

    The problem isn’t limited to Oakland, said state Sen.-elect Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley. Since 1960, she said, the number of single-room-occupancy hotels in Sacramento has dropped dramatically — from 78 to 14. In Los Angeles in 2008, city officials passed a law to protect 336 residential hotels.

    Strong city ordinances have kept the number of SROs relatively stable in San Francisco, but some of those rooms are now going to students, tech workers and tourists.
    In downtown Oakland, where a commercial boom has been under way for years, residential hotels have been replaced with more profitable ventures. A city report written last year by UCLA graduate student Brian Warwick documented some of these transformations. The Alendale Guest House near Lake Merritt became a market-rate apartment building, and the Hotel Westerner on San Pablo Avenue was demolished to make way for the Uptown development. The shuttered Will Rogers Hotel, ravaged by fire in 2002, was reborn in 2009 as the Clarion, a boutique hotel with a fitness center and two restaurants. The former Lake Merritt Lodge reopened in 2014 as a student dorm for the Hult International Business School in San Francisco.

    With 18 SRO hotels left in Oakland’s downtown corridor, public officials are looking at how to help residents like Chavez. But, there’s no legal mechanism to stop the SRO conversions.

    Oakland’s housing laws do not prevent residential hotel owners from turning their buildings into something that generates more income, such as a boutique hotel or condominiums. Building owners can even convert low-income hotel rooms into restaurants or offices, as long as the benefits of the conversion outweigh the loss from the city’s housing supply.

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