by Robert Link
Collaboration with city government, business and nonprofit organizations is one of SFAA’s most significant functions. As representatives of the rental housing industry, we are a spoke in the wheel of our community and are expected to be a participant in its leadership.
Civic engagement is the cornerstone of much of our work, and SFAA is continually involved with city and community groups, as well as other local nonprofit agencies. SFAA works diligently to lend a helping hand to many city agencies and task forces, and SFAA Executive Director Janan New sits on several advisory boards and boards of directors of local nonprofits. She has served on the board of the Neighborhood Parks Council, the Bay Area Women’s and Children’s Center and recently served on the Community Action Plan for Seismic Safety project, which led to the recently enacted soft-story legislation.
New also sits on the board of the Community Benefit District for Civic Center. This board is made up of resident and small business owners dedicated to improving the environment and community that we work and live in. The mission is to create a cleaner, safer and more commercially hospitable environment that fosters growth while preserving neighborhood character.
SFAA also participates in a number of city task forces, volunteering to help the city in a number of different spheres and projects. SFAA staff members sit on the Renewable Energy Task Force, the Asthma Task Force, and also participated in conferences on mental health and hoarding and cluttering in the past. SFAA staff members also participated in the Tobacco Free Coalition, which presided over discussions about smoking in 2011 and 2012. This task force led to the Tobacco Smoke Disclosure Policy for San Francisco Rental Housing Providers, signed into law this past January.
SFAA is itself a not-for-profit business, and we believe that it is important to support other local nonprofits as well. We have given financial support to the Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club, Plan C, the Housing Action Coalition and many other worthy organizations. We also participate in and are members of the Chamber of Commerce and the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association.
SFAA also accepts some funding from city departments in exchange for work within the community. The acceptance of grant money allows us to keep membership dues as low as possible, while still participating in the formation of policy that affects the rental housing industry.
SFAA works under the San Francisco Department of Building Inspection’s Code Enforcement Outreach Program in collaboration with local tenant groups, including the Housing Rights Committee of San Francisco, the Tenderloin Housing Clinic and the Chinatown Community Development Center. The outreach program is funded by DBI and is designed to improve communication and cooperation between tenants and rental property owners, and improve living conditions for renters.
Last winter, SFAA was called upon by the Housing Rights Committee to intercede in an issue between a landlord and tenant. Tenants who were living in substandard conditions in their Bayview in-law apartment called HRC to file a grievance about the habitability of the unit. The apartment lacked a working heating system and most of the appliances were in failing or near-failing condition.
HRC called DBI code enforcement outreach and, after a city inspection was made, a notice of violation was drawn. The owner, in retaliation, removed the refrigerator from the unit without replacement. A call was made to SFAA to see if we could help, and on that Friday, an associate member stepped forward and delivered a working refrigerator to the tenant free of charge.
Additionally, space heaters were purchased and provided so that the family (with two children) had working heat in the one of the coldest times of the year. This is a great example of the generosity of our associate members and our commitment to fostering good will between landlords, tenants and our associate organizations.
Finally, SFAA board leadership is called upon to discuss pending or soon to be proposed legislation that affects quality of life issues for all San Franciscans, not just those relating to landlord-tenant issues. In the last election cycle, the SFAA board met with many of the sponsors of the local propositions so that we could evaluate the impact of each proposition and decide its relevance, if any, to our membership.
San Francisco Housing Foundation Through the leadership of State Senator
Leland Yee, SFAA started a community-based nonprofit in 1999. At the time, then-Supervisor Yee believed that all city funding was going toward the tenant
organizations, so he wanted to balance this with a onetime grant to start a housing foundation for low-income property owners. He started the SF Housing Foundation, and through the SFHF, SFAA offers free monolingual classes so owners can learn the laws and intricacies of the rental ordinance in their native languages. This past year, SFAA hosted property management classes in Chinese, Spanish and Russian. Classes were held in different locations throughout the city where cultural representation was most concentrated.
The SF Housing Foundation also offers legal assistance for low-income housing providers, working with local attorneys to provide low-income owners with a few hours of pro bono legal work. If an owner’s case is more time-intensive, the SFHF will work with an attorney to subsidize their hourly billing rates.
One of the most recent civic collaborations that SFAA was a part of involved a program with Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing and Bevan Dufty’s Housing Opportunities Partnership and Engagement program. VASH assists veterans in need of housing and Dufty’s program assists homeless residents of San Francisco.
It became widely apparent that many of our homeless population were, in fact, veterans. VASH and HOPE approached SFAA because many of their clients were unable to come up with the security deposits needed to secure housing. The concept of “virtual deposits” was developed to fill this need. The idea was to leverage the integrity of SFAA to assist homeless veterans find safe, clean and affordable housing in the city, while in partnership with these two organizations. The virtual security deposit would be a pledge to the ownership that SFHF would cover damages at the end of the tenancy.
In one instance, a building in the Inner Mission was converted from a youth hostel to permanent residency for vets in conjunction with the office of Housing and Urban Development. Thirty-two units of housing were created and rented at approximately $1,600 per month per unit. SFHF pledged $1,000 per unit in virtual security for a total of $34,000 for homeless veterans.
SFAA Deputy Director Vanessa Khaleel worked tirelessly with HUD and HOPE to bring this project together. It was a great opportunity to collaborate with various organizations to make this possible. We are very proud of the fact that we were able to assist in the process and look forward to further collaboration with our industry partners in the future.
The SF Housing Foundation is funded through the leadership and generosity of the members of the Professional Property Management Association, the San Francisco Association of Realtors and the Coalition for Better Housing. The fundraising efforts have added to the seed money Senator Yee entrusted to us and allow us to keep the programs active. We are proud to be celebrating its 14-year anniversary.
Building collaborative relationships with city leadership and other organizations is one of the most important functions of the board and SFAA leadership. Ideological differences can sometimes alienate people and/or groups, but it is always important to keep the proverbial doors of communication open to dialogue. It is our passion and a privilege to provide useful services to our members and to our city.
Robert Link is president of SFAA’s Board of Directors and co-owner of S&L Realty. He can be reached at 415-386-3111.