Residential hotel residents join together with hotel managers to advocate for private and secure mail delivery.
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They’re Going Postal
Tenants cry foul over lack of U.S. mail delivery
By J.K. Dineen
In a battle pitting some of The City’s poorest citizens against the United States Postal Service, residential hotel tenants are demanding a service most Americans take for granted: private and secure mail service.
Despite the fact that The City’s 457 single-room-occupancy hotels are permanent homes for more than 30,000 tenants, the federal government continues to classify the buildings as “transitional” and refuses to sort mail into the private, secure boxes some of the hotels have installed.
The result is that overworked front desk clerks are left to swim in a sea of mail, some of which gets thrown out, lost, or misdirected, according to tenants. In addition, the post office does not forward mail addressed to residents who have moved on from residential hotels, which means that former tenants are often left to hunt down everything from personal letters to veterans benefit checks.
“It’s a clear red-lining issue, where the post office is trying to cut corners and save bucks by not serving the poorest residents in San Francisco,” said Earl Brown, a tenant organizer with the Central City SRO Collaborative.
On Wednesday a group of tenant activists and hotel managers met with aides to Housing Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who agreed to launch a congressional inquiry into the matter, according to spokesman Dan Bernal.
“It’s important that these residents are able to receive their social security, veterans, and other benefits through the mail in a secure way,” said Bernal.
Robert Reed, manager of customer service operations for the Postal Services San Francisco offices, said he is looking into the complaints.
“We are working with SROs, but we have postal regulations that need to be complied with,” he said. “These buildings are not considered apartments for long-term, they are classified as a hotel type of thing.”
He said the Postal Service would address the hotels on a “case-by-case basis.”
“They have made the request and we want to make sure we are in compliance with the law,” he said. “We have not said thumbs up or thumbs down.”
The conflict comes at a time when Mayor Gavin Newsom is pushing city-leased SROs as a central solution to The City’s homelessness problem. On Wednesday, he announced that The City had leased the Elm Hotel, promising 81 units of “permanent supportive housing.”
Herman Taft, who manages five buildings for the Tenderloin Housing Clinic, said mail is an important part of restoring the self-respect of hotel residents, many of whom are bouncing back after years on the streets.
“Sliding mail under your door is not empowering anybody. That is a flop house, that is not housing,” said Taft. “What is the post office saying? That because people can’t afford apartments they are not supposed to have privacy and a little security? I understand that it’s going to cost them a little more, but on their route of somebody [who] built a brand new apartment building, they would make adjustments.”
Diane Burke, who has lived at the Seneca Hotel for seven years, said the haphazard bulk mail system almost cost her general- assistance benefits.
“There was a time when I didn’t get a notice that I needed to see my social worker,” she said. “You get cut off if you don’t show up because they think you are dodging them.”
The Seneca has 204 rooms, and Burke, who is the tenant representative in the building, said she has no plans to leave.
“It’s comfortable and it’s home and I can afford it,” she said. “All I want is mail delivered to a box I have a key to. And if I do move, I want mail forwarded. It’s like we’re second-class citizens here.”