Tenants in San Francisco are forced to live in poor living conditions. The Tenderloin Housing Clinic helps defend these tenants rights.
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DECEMBER 22, 1986
BERKELEY LAW FOUNDATION
Putting the heat on slumlords
Cockroaches patrolled the rooms. Wallpaper peeled off mildew-stained ceilings. Garbage sent a stench through the windows, and the buildings were so cold the tenants wore clothes to bed.
But residents of the shabby, single-room-occupancy hotels in San Francisco’s Tenderloin district had few options to improve their housing in 1982. Most were too old, too poor or too mentally unstable to fight their landlords in court. Instead, they spent their nights in beds stuffed with newspapers and their days in heated bus stations and coffee shops.
“It was almost like living in a shelter, where you couldn’t go home during the day,” says attorney Randy Shaw, who received $12,000 in seed money from the Berkeley Law Foundation in 1982 to defend tenants’ rights. Shaw helped usher the scandal onto the front pages of local papers and pressured City Hall to pass a tough new minimum-heat law.
That’s just one way in which the Berkeley group, first and largest of 35 university-based public interest law foundations, has helped the poor get legal help. Since it was started in 1976 by graduates of the University of California Law School at Berkeley, the foundation has sponsored 29 projects to help AIDS suffers, Central American refugees, victims of family abuse and others. Participating graduates, some of whom earn starting salaries of $50,000 with major firms, contribute 1 percent of their annual earnings or a flat $600 a year.
“The philosophy is that every lawyer who’s out there making big bucks has an obligation to help people get legal services ,” says former foundation chairman Jim Dorskind “It’s income sharing.”
As for the Tenderloin Housing Clinic, it’s now self-sustaining, with a federal grant and legal awards supporting four full-time poverty lawyers. Hotel conditions have improved, too, says Don, 61, who spent 19 years in a Tenderloin hotel. “We were the poor cousins who showed the neighborhood you could fight City Hall.”