a woman with a cane hands two City Hall workers a flier protesting neglected elevators in SROs
A protester in an elevator hands two City Hall workers a flier as she denies them entrance into the elevator. Photo by Carolyn Stein

“Sorry, can’t ride the elevator.”

These words echoed through City Hall Wednesday afternoon as 14 disability activists blocked politicians and staffers from entering three of the building’s elevators for an hour. 

“If we let you in, will you listen to what we have to say?” asked one protester in a wheelchair of a staffer trying to get into one elevator, to which the staffer replied: “I just want to get to work!”

Members of the activist group Senior & Disability Action filled three elevators on the east side of City Hall on Wednesday to demonstrate the neglected elevator conditions in Single Room Occupancy Hotels, or SROs, and prevented about 20 politicians and other City Hall workers from using them. 

“Disabled [people] and others cannot get on their elevators properly,” SDA board member Cora McCoy told Mission Local. “It takes them six weeks to one year to get fixed. If the elevator is filled and they can’t get on, they’ll understand what the disabled go through.” 

The protesters complained of broken or nonexistent elevators at SROs around San Francisco, and long wait times to get them fixed, preventing the elderly and disabled from accessing medication or even leaving their rooms. 

The majority of the protesters were in wheelchairs, had canes or were senior citizens. Those who work at City Hall expressed frustration at what seemed like a game of whack-a-mole, where as soon as one elevator full of protesters disappeared, another one popped up.

“We’d like to let this gentleman on,” said community mental health advocate Liza Murawski cheerfully as she escorted District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman to the elevators.

But as soon as the doors opened, protesters held up their signs and said, “Nope!” 

Mandelman hastily walked away.  

District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman is met with a group of protesters as he tries to enter the elevator. Photo by Carolyn Stein.

SDA members demanded an add-back of $10 million specifically for SRO elevator repairs to the mayor’s budget plan, which would allow 10 elevators in different city SROs to be fixed.

Currently, the mayor’s proposed budget plan for the 2022-2023 fiscal year includes $10 million for general maintenance repairs in the Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development (MOHCD)’s existing nonprofit housing stock, which includes SROs. 

Fixing elevators in SROs is expensive, with each repair costing up to $1 million. Many of the elevators in SROs are also old and require parts that are not easy to obtain, making for long wait times. The accessibility of these repair parts was only further exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Malfunctioning or defunct elevators in SROs are not a new problem. In a 2017 health impact assessment report from the Department of Public Health, elevator repairs were cited as a significant health challenge for those who lived in SROs. The report also stated that in 2009, half the residents living in SROs in San Francisco noted that their elevators were not consistently working. 

SDA also conducted its own report in 2012 and found similar results. Only half of the respondents said their building had an elevator that worked consistently. SDA took another survey in August, 2021: An overwhelming majority said that elevator repairs were a top priority for them, according to SDA housing organizer Yesi Koopman.

“This is a serious issue,” said Murawski who participated in today’s sit-in. “If something happens [to a resident], no one knows. It’ll be days before someone notices.”

Liza Murawski rides the elevator as part of the protest for fixing neglected elevators in SROs. Photo by Carolyn Stein.

Murawski also noted that broken elevators make it difficult if not impossible for elderly people to get their food, medication and other essentials. “It’s not just a day. It’s months that people will go without leaving their apartment.” 

SDA member Jordan Davis, who lives in an SRO run by the Tenderloin Housing Clinic, said that she experienced the elevators in her building going out, which caused disruptions in both her own life and in the lives of other residents. In some cases, residents would have to sleep in the lobby due to elevator outages.

Davis also recalled a blind neighbor, Stevie Newson, who fell to his death after an out-of-order elevator opened into an empty shaft.

Eric Marcoux, SDA member of three years and part of its SRO Working Group division, said that the elevator issue is brought up every month with the working group. Marcoux, who has a wheelchair and lives in an apartment, said that when he had to wait three weeks for his elevator to be repaired it “opened his eyes” to just how essential consistent elevator access is.  

“We have so much money floating around this city,” Marcoux said. “I don’t see why this is so big of a problem.”

The city has tried to address the problem before. Prior to the pandemic, the Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development had a rebate program funded by a Board of Supervisors addback in the 2018-19 fiscal year, but the program was cut during the pandemic. 

During its time, the program faced various obstacles, said MOHCD communications manager Anne Stanley, but “most significant were owners having to front the very costly elevator repairs to get the minimal rebate.” 

Cora McCoy, board member at Senior and Disability Action, protests the neglected elevator conditions in SROs. Photo by Carolyn Stein.

MOHCD plans to add an Existing Nonprofit Owned Notice of Funding Availability later this year, which would fix elevators in various non-profits and SROs, Stanley wrote in an email to Mission Local. The last time the city issued an ENP NOFA was in 2016; at least two elevator repairs were funded.

“Personally, I can’t solve the issue, but that’s why I’m at City Hall,” McCoy said. “We need to be heard.”

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Intern reporter. Carolyn grew up in Los Angeles. She previously served as a desk editor for her college newspaper The Stanford Daily. When she's not reporting, you can find her going on an unnecessarily long walk.

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  1. Thus article and another mission local article about East Palo alto housing; show what is really a clear path taken by politicians and housing developers/managers to engineer the poor out of existence. I can give you a hundred more stories to add to that view of that clear path.

  2. Some of these comments point to another problem we have heard about in the SROs. Why are elderly disabled vulnerable people being housed with unruly mischief makers and drug dealers? Is there a reason to mix these populations?

  3. Righteous!! It’s about time the city spent money on meaningful things. That means taking care of the base needs first!
    SF is one of the wealthiest city, but basic things like the road is anything byt smooth, housings aren’t affordable, SRO occupants certainly should be taken care of, so that they may live with dignity.

    Come on San Francisco, we could do a lot better!
    Enough of political lip service, it’s time to get on with real work.

  4. The mayor should approve the elevator budget and approve an additional amount to keep the outside of SROs clean. The condition of the side walk is completely unsanitary. If the residents of my apartment building are willing to pay for a custodian to clean the sidewalk for the betterment of the community…so should the mayor.

  5. Let’s address the root cause of this problem: The city government should not be owning, or subsidizing housing in the first place.

    Given the awful job they do providing maintenance and upkeep on the housing they control, to allow them this control is basically inviting them to be slumlords.

  6. that the mayor shows no priority to housing does not suprise those opposed to her election after the passing of Mayor Lee. her ‘zonor was backed by developer’s money. she impied her support for the developers would help provide more housing. we have only overseen small incremental housing added as prices continue to rise. SF politics always favor incumbents and she not only filled Lee’s term but got re-elected to another. instead of more housing, she has been able to concentrate more power. given the opportunity to place members on the school board, Lowell reverted to merit-based admissions. coincidence? she has appointed a supervisor and now has the opportunity to appoint the DA. and now the powers that be suggest adding another year to her term just for the convenience of the voting public. this concentration of power should be a warning to constituents at the local level. the alarm is sounding at the national level; the j6 committee hearings have shown the dangers of unchecked power in the hands of a corrupt indivdual and the threat this poses to a free society.

  7. Completely unacceptable to have elevators out for such long stretches of time. How much would it cost to replace old elevators with new ones? Infuriating that this well documented problem is not a funding priority for the Mayor et al. Health and safety issues such as these are the very basics.

    1. $1million each, but this isn’t a big deal for SF, so long as the wealthy companies are taxed properly. We have millionaires are billions here.

  8. Brilliant move! Direct action at its best. And to that staffer who just wanted to get to work, if they could (and were not dis/differentlyabled themselves) use the damn stairs, its healthier!

  9. Good action, creative, engaging, relevant, hopefully effective.

    Harvey Milk was known for taking the stairs in City Hall, and only took the elevator on his last way out. Mandelman is no Milk.

  10. Brilliant!
    Do it every day! – if you can get out of your SRO.
    Mandelman walking away is par for the course.
    Move up the food chain without controversy and position for a run at state assembly or senate.
    Hopefully he’ll just end up on the BART Board of Directors where many a nincompoop find their final resting place.

  11. I am sympathetic to their plight. But after living in an SRO with perpetually out of order elevators my experience is a portion of the tenants were the cause.

    In most instances the elevator had been abused for fun or who knows why by drug/alcohol abusers, often in the middle of the night.

    They would press all the buttons then block the doors from closing with a garage can until something malfunctioned.

    Or they would vandalize the control panel with physical violence or open the circuit panel and tamper with things.

    The front desk security would either be asleep or too lazy or frightened to do anything and the security cameras often did not have record functionality in working order.

    And when perpetrators were identified the property managers were unable to do much of anything, and certainly not in a timely manner, due to the “protections” of “progressive” anti evection measures and/or unwilling police/prosecutorial intervention.

    I support these folks convoy-esque protest that demonstrates to the powers that be in no uncertain terms the problem this causes.

    But I also think it is critical to understand the root causes to arrive at viable solutions.

    This was my first hand experience for 7+ years in one SRO. It was commonly thought this SRO was one of the “nicer” ones.

  12. A MILLION DOLLARS to repair an elevator??? They could build a whole new ground floor residence for the disabled for less than that. Come on now!

  13. Good on the protestors. They should carry this out multiple times a week so City Hall will understand.