It's been a slow, quiet move-in, but the Housing Rights Committee (HRC), a tenants' rights organization that offers free counseling for San Franciscans, is now up and running in its new second office at 4301 Geary Blvd.
After being priced out of its former location at 15th & South Van Ness in the Mission in 2015, the HRC reopened a few blocks away, at 1663 Mission St. But with the help of District 1 Supervisor Eric Mar, it was also able to secure some extra funding for a westward expansion to the Richmond, allowing it to serve more of the city.
Richmond District program director Joseph Smooke said that the money for the new location came through last October. By the end of 2015, the HRC was able to hire more staff, and the western office opened at Geary and 7th Avenue in February. "And we just got more funding in the last couple of weeks," he said. "We'll be expanding a bit this year."
So far, the new office has been "great," Smooke said. "It's so great ... We're now more accessible to tenants on the west side. People will even come to us from the Tenderloin, the Marina, and Pacific Heights, because the transit is more direct."
The services offered at the new office differ from the HRC's headquarters, too. "The focus of our work [in the Richmond office] is really community engagement," Smooke said. "It's taking HRC in a bit of a different direction. HRC had been focused just on tenant counseling and tenants' rights; now, we're working on building some new leadership so that we can have organizing happening in a part of the city where it hasn't been happening before."
According to Smooke, District 1 has one of the highest rates of owner-occupancy and Ellis Act evictions in the city. "There are a lot of homes for sale," he said. "But the amount of Ellis Act evictions has gone down [here] since we've been out here."
He said that a lot of successful eviction avoidance boils down to adequately informing and representing tenants. "Once we go to the land trust, or begin talks with the landlord or the buyer, it raises the risk for the buyer," he said. "Once one of the parties sees that the tenants are aware of their rights, it really changes the dynamic of the conversation."
With the new round of funding, Smooke said his first priority is to hire more people who can serve the neighborhood's non-English-speaking denizens, especially the Russian community. "We're having a really tough time covering all the different languages," he said.
Once that's in place, he said, the HRC will work on expanding beyond the Richmond, to better serve other western city neighborhoods.
As part of its work in the Richmond, theHRC is hosting a forum with District 1's Supervisor candidates at Alamo Elementary next Thursday, September 29th. Topics will include housing, displacement, homelessness, small business stabilization, and more.
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