The Sunnyside Hotel and Jefferson Hotel renovation, organized by the Tenderloin Housing Clinic, were the first of their kind, using the labor of formerly homeless recipients to renovate the building.
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Homeless Renovate Old 6th Street Hotel
Program puts people to work refurbishing their own units
By Rachel Gordon
When you’re homeless, Wayne Walker found out, it can be mighty handy to know how to handle a hammer and a paintbrush.
By combining his predicament with his skills, he created a home for himself and dozens of others like him under an innovative housing rehabilitation project funded with federal earthquake relief money.
Walker was foreman for the renovation of the Sunnyside Hotel, a privately owned residential hotel on Sixth Street in the heart of San Francisco’s skid row district.
The $113,000 renovation project, organized by the Tenderloin Housing Clinic, was the first of its kind, using the labor of formerly homeless welfare recipients to renovate the building.
Work just started on another building, the 100-room Jefferson Hotel on Eddy Street in the Tenderloin.
“The program’s really helped. I have a job and a nice place to live,” said Walker, who lived in the city’s South of Market homeless shelter as an unemployed construction worker before moving into the Sunnyside Hotel.
His new room, small, neat and packed with his worldly goods, smells of fresh paint. It’s a far cry from the dilapidated state of many residential hotels that house the city’s poor.
“It’s really pretty nice here – for a Sixth Street residential hotel.” said Eric Keesler, an unemployed paratransit driver living on welfare, who lives across the hall from Walker.
“If I had my choice, I would live in my own apartment, not exactly known for being the elite of society. But for now, this is what I’ve got.”
At the Sunnyside, Walker and his work crew spent a few days working on each room, putting in new carpeting and sheet rock, painting the walls and fixing broken windows and doors. Similar work just got underway at the Jefferson Hotel, which is undergoing a $140,000 interior upgrade.
In return for the improvements to the buildings, the owner, Ramesh Patel, has agreed to put a cap on rents for next five years. The cost of a small room is $260 a month.
The rent can be increased to $300 a month within five years. There are no kitchens on the premises and tenants must share the bathrooms.
The rent may seem high, particularly when compared to shared housing situations in the Haight and Sunset districts, for example, where three or four people can share a house replete with private bedrooms, common rooms and a kitchen for the same price the hotel residents are paying.
But housing activists say although shared rentals may be preferable to residential hotels, they’re often not feasible.
“At residential hotels, the residents don’t have to pay security deposits and they also don’t have trouble getting a room. A lot of landlords won’t rent to someone without a job or a good housing record,” said Jaime Sanbonmatsu of the Tenderloin Housing Clinic.
Money to rehabilitate both hotels was allocated by the city’s Redevelopment Agency. The funding was part of the $5.2 million federal earthquake relief money issued to the city after 1989’s Loma Prieta earthquake.
The bulk of the money is being used to fund the city’s two homeless shelters.
The Sunnyside, at Sixth and Minna streets, is getting another infusion of redevelopment funds for the development of two artist live-work spaces on the ground floor of the hotel.
“The development of two artist live-work spaces at the Sunnyside begins a process of creating a positive economic renaissance of the Sixth Street area,” said Randy Shaw, executive director of the Tenderloin Housing Clinic, which is receiving $17,500 to oversee the Sunnyside project.
“The artist will provide the anchor necessary to connect Sixth Street to the burgeoning South of Market arts scene.” Shaw said.
Looking down Sixth Street now, it’s hard to imagine a thriving arts community developing in the very near future.
The Sixth Street corridor, lined with liquor stores, pawn shops, diners and run-down housing, is one of the crime areas in the city.
Street drunks, prostitutes and panhandlers are the norm, although more and more families, especially from the Southeast Asian and Central American communities are moving into the area.
Shaw envisions the artist spaces, with studios that will be visible from the street, to be the catalyst to turn the neighborhood around.