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Sunday, November 23 2014 @ 02:26 AM CST

The Battle for Hotel Petaluma and the Formation of the Tenants Committee

Housing

For decades the Hotel Petaluma has served as one of the few, if not only, single-room occupancy buildings for low-income residents in this always-growing northern Californian suburb. Built in 1923, the Hotel contains over 100 units, some of which cost as little as $200 a month to rent. The Hotel has faced several ownership changes over the last decade, and was foreclosed on in 2011. Last year, Marin County property mogul Terence Andrews acquired the building and immediately raised rents by 10%. As the Bohemian recently reported, in December he told the Press Democrat “we’re not throwing people out.”

The Battle Over Hotel Petaluma and the formation of the Hotel Petaluma Tenants Committee

For decades the Hotel Petaluma has served as one of the few, if not only, single-room occupancy buildings for low-income residents in this always-growing northern Californian suburb. Built in 1923, the Hotel contains over 100 units, some of which cost as little as $200 a month to rent. The Hotel has faced several ownership changes over the last decade, and was foreclosed on in 2011. Last year, Marin County property mogul Terence Andrews acquired the building and immediately raised rents by 10%. As the Bohemian recently reported, in December he told the Press Democrat “we’re not throwing people out.”

That promise seems to have been hollow.

Last month residents received 30-day eviction notices, while some of the longer-term residents (some have been there for upwards of 25 years) have been given until April 15th to vacate. Andrews intends on converting the old building and re-opening it as a nightly hotel charging $90 a night. He is also evicting several of the small-businesses (by refusing to renew their leases at the end of the year) on the ground level. As an apparent response to these announcements, the Hotel’s office windows were recently smashed by a disgruntled citizen.

Not long after the eviction notices went out, several tenants contacted the Sonoma County Solidarity Network for support. We set up a few meetings with the tenants, and helped them canvass the building to find other tenants willing to stand up against the slumlord Terence Andrews. We decided to form an ad-hoc Tenants Committee and draft a demand letter to Andrews, which reads:

Dear Mr. Andrews,

As the organized tenants of Hotel Petaluma, we respectfully respond to your eviction notices by issuing the following demands:

1.) Before complying with any eviction, we demand adequate re-location assistance. This can take the form of monetary compensation for finding a new residence, or through the securing of other housing prior to the date of eviction.

2.) Every tenant who is vacating shall receive their rental deposit. Due to the proposed renovations to the rooms and to the hotel in general, we do not accept claims that tenants who have minor wear and tear on their rooms do not have a right to their deposit.

3.) Those tenants who wish to remain will be allowed to stay and continue to pay their monthly rent at current levels.

Please respond to these demands as soon as possible, or further action will be taken.

The overwhelming majority of Hotel Petaluma tenants are seniors and many are disabled or faced with mental health issues. Public housing is sparse in Petaluma, and rents have only gotten higher in the last few years as major property companies seek to “re-vitalize” downtown with expensive lofts and restaurants. One of the only other affordable housing complexes, the Greenbriar Apartments, is also currently being evicted to make way for more luxurious units. Yet so far the only assistance that Terence Andrews has offered to tenants is to post Craigslist ads for apartments in the office window.

The process of organizing tenants at Hotel Petaluma has been difficult, as many feel isolated, alone, and hopeless. Legally, there is very little recourse in these situations, except to delay the eviction as long as possible and make it costlier for the landlord to evict than to give in to our demands. This campaign would not be possible without the leadership and ferocity of some of the longer-term tenants, who at the campaigns outset (last week) would say things like “I’m not an organizer. I don’t have time.” Yet now they are taking the lead in canvassing their building, recruiting supporters, doing research, and developing contact lists of all the tenants, and helping us to formulate strategy.

While the Tenants Committee (comprised of a few dedicated individuals) is organizing inside the hotel and receiving near unanimous support from the tenants, the Solidarity Network is beginning to develop the community support that will be necessary to sustain the fight against the landlord from the outside. We are developing a legal team, talking with the press, and making contacts with city officials. Our first action will be a large Public Meeting on Tuesday, March 26th at St. Vincent Church (corner of Howard and Western). Here we will form the Solidarity Committee, form Working Groups, and hopefully come out with a concrete plan to delay or stop the eviction, and win the crucial demands that will help tenants land on their feet if indeed the eviction goes through.

Together we are slowly building the base for collective action, among a group of tenants who had before felt completely alone and isolated. Through this collective action, we can see the low-income tenants of Hotel Petaluma beginning to realize their own power and their own capacity to win and seek concessions from millionaire property owners. Whatever the outcome of this struggle, we are demonstrating that Petaluma will not be gentrified without a fight, and that the combined forces of poor tenants, with radical working-class organizers and broader community support can prove a serious threat to the bourgeois conquerors of this town, which many of us have called home for our entire lives. We are raising the stakes and we will make it costly for any slumlord to extract his profits from our small town.

We will keep our community updated on the developments of this campaign, which seems to change its character from day to day. Please consider supporting this campaign in one way or another, either by coming to our public meeting, or by spreading the word and forwarding this article.

If you are having a problem with your landlord or employer, please contact the Solidarity Network, 595-0136. socosolidarity@gmail.com

http://www.socosolidarity.net

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