311 for SROs Gets a Push

Amos Howard moved into the Mission Hotel, one of the 50 single room occupancy hotels in the Mission District, three months ago to find out he would be sharing a room with bedbugs.

He’s not alone — 73.4 percent of SRO residents in the Mission do too, according a 2009 survey by the Mission SRO Collaborative.  What’s surprising is that less than 12 percent of all SRO residents surveyed have complained to a city department about any SRO problem.

To make it easier,  the Mission SRO Collaborative partnered in January with 311, the  city’s free, non-emergency phone line.  Dial 311 from an SRO and a complaint on anything from bedbugs to fire hazards, is automatically taken.   Still,  few tenants made the calls.

That could change with legislation approved Wednesday by the Building Inspection Commission that requires owners to put up a poster in the entrances or common areas that alerts residents to the 311 service.  The legislation  goes to the Land Use Committee next, and then to the Board of Supervisors for a final vote.

If the ordinance passes, the fine for failing to put up the poster would be $170, said William Strawn, communications manager at the Department of Building Inspection.

SROs will be required to put up this poster.

The poster reads:  “SRO Tenants: This is your number! If your manager has not responded to your complaints about: bugs, rodents, fire hazards, second hand smoke in common areas, electrical or plumbing problems, no heat, unsanitary conditions, broken windows, or floors, or mold or mildew…Call 3-1-1.”

The poster, written in English, Spanish, and Chinese and designed by the SRO Collaborative, explains that 311 can be dialed for free from most payphones.  It also includes the contact information for the four San Francisco SRO Collaboratives, which are non-profits assisting SRO tenants.

Josh Vining, a community organizer with the Mission group, said that up until now, the service has been promoted only by word of mouth.

Building inspections are less random and more complaint driven nowadays, he said,  which makes the calls all the more important.

"Godfather" said outreach about the 311 service will help tenants.

A man who called himself that “Godfather” said outreach about the 311 service will help tenants.

But the word of mouth system,  he said, has not worked.

The 311 service got only 19 calls  from SROs in January and 26 in February, according to 311 records.

“I would say most people haven’t heard of it,” said Mission Hotel resident “Tree”.  Several other residents and a desk clerk did not know about the service.

Vining added that with the calls, “The city can’t say they don’t know about problems because the tenants didn’t tell the right department.”

A computer program was designed to automatically route complaints to the appropriate city agency and division, said Scott Oswald, content engineer at 311.  For example, bed bugs go the Department of Public Health’s environmental health section; mold and mildew goes to the Department of Building Inspection’s housing inspection division. When a caller dials 311, they get a tracking number and can call back with that number to get the status of their complaint.

The Mission Hotel.

The caller doesn’t have to identify as an SRO tenant since 311 has a list of all 530 SROs in the city and when an SRO caller states their address, it registers as an SRO complaint.  The service will publish a quarterly report of filed complaints.

Meanwhile, Amos Howard says he’s complained to managers up to ten times about the bedbugs. The health department has treated the pests twice since January but they haven’t gone away.  The call service, he hopes,  will help to make complaints.

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