Thursday, July 25, 2013

Sonoma County Solidarity Network defends low-income residents from inhumane evictions at Hotel Petaluma

[] [socosolidarity (] [707-595-0136]

2013-07-25 update from Carl P.:
I just wanted to briefly share a great piece of news I received yesterday from a former tenant at the Hotel Petaluma. As you may remember, Orrin Hart, who was a disabled military veteran living at the hotel, was one of the few remaining tenants after the eviction date passed in April. Orrin is in a wheelchair, has no source of income and could not find housing in Sonoma County. Instead of sympathizing with Orrin or helping him find a place, Terence Andrews filed an "unlawful detainer" lawsuit against him, the beginnings of forcible eviction proceedings (that can also harm your credit and ability to rent in the future). One of the last things that the Solidarity Network did before ending this campaign was to help Orrin file an appeal in court, which would delay the eviction by at least a month and would also cost Andrews several thousand dollars. However, this was mostly just a stalling tactic; in all likelihood Orrin would lose his appeal, be forced out and would have a lawsuit on his record. But it did buy him some time. We also organized phone blasts to Andrews' cell phone, where dozens of our supporters called him and demanded he drop the case. So, I just got a call from Orrin yesterday saying that the judge threw out the unlawful detainer and is forcing Andrews to pay him compensation for the case, as well as return his rental deposit (which he wouldn't have gotten back if the lawsuit was successful)! I just wanted to thank everyone again who participated in one way or another in the Hotel Petaluma fight. Although we weren't totally successful, without our efforts these tenants would have had to face this whole situation alone and several of them would be in much more dire conditions than they are currently. Solidarity gets the goods!

2013-04-17 update from the "Sonoma County Solidarity Network" (more info at []:
Terence Andrews threatens disabled military veteran! Please take action now!
 Yesterday, we received a call from Orrin Hart, a long-time resident of the Hotel Petaluma. Orrin served in the National Guard for 14 years and must use a wheelchair because of work-related injuries. Orrin has been desperately searching for a place to live and has had no luck. Instead of negotiating an extension with Orrin, yesterday hotel owner Terence Andrews told Orrin that if he was not out by Tuesday he would file a lawsuit to forcibly evict him from his room. Andrews also threatened to place a restraining order on Orrin's caretaker if he tried to enter the building.
 Orrin recently had an operation on his knees and is currently suffering a bad reaction from it, and is in extreme pain. We are asking Terence Andrews to show some shred of compassion for this man and refrain from taking legal action against Orrin.
 PLEASE call or text Terence Andrews right now and demand that he negotiate an extension with Orrin until he can find re-location. 415-505-1924.
 Furthermore, we are in need of a more serious response from the community if these legal proceedings go forward. Let's form a team of people who are willing to commit nonviolent civil disobedience in the event that Andrews refuses to negotiate. What do you say?
 You can email if you are interested, or call me at 707-338-5318.
Let's keep the struggle for justice going!
The Solidarity Network meets Thursday, 2013-04-18 at 7pm at KBBF studios, 1300 N. Dutton Ave., Santa Rosa. Please join us as we continue to take direct action to fight back against slumlords, and to reclaim stolen wages for workers, among many other things. All are welcome!

Message from member of "Sonoma County Solidarity Network" at their facebook page:
Hotel Petaluma residents, mostly low-income and older folks, first got an illegal rent increase last December, then just received eviction notices in February, so that the rich asshole who bought the place can turn it into an upscale hotel. He wasn't betting on the residents, and their friends in the Solidarity Network, fighting back. If you want to join in the fight to protect Hotel Petaluma and its nearly 100 residents from being put out on the street, come check out the Solidarity Network, Thursday night at 7pm at 467 Sebastopol Ave. And stay tuned!
Update from Carl P.:
A little history: Terence Andrews bought the building, tried to raise rents an illegally high amount and was called out on it and forced to only raise them the legally-highest amount, 10%. He then said he would NOT be kicking people out (all the while knowing that that's exactly what he intended to do). Two months later, the tenants get an eviction notice. So, he raised rents on people for no justifiable reason other than to extract that extra bit of wealth from a bunch of mostly poor, elderly residents. There is no religion or moral creed on earth that could justify this sort of behavior. It is mean, and it is wrong. Putting poor people out on the streets, cheating them, coming up with phony excuses for not returning peoples' rental deposits (this is happening, despite its non-inclusion in the article), this is not the kind of thing we ought to encourage in our town. Everyone wants to complain about homelessness and crime, but then they don't even have the moral fortitude to stand up when a group of people are about to be made homeless and severely poor just because the whims of some wealthy Marin-ite.

Update 2013-03-26 from Carl P.:
great news! Ruth Bird, who we have been working with in this campaign, just found out that the "unlawful detainer" issued against her has been thrown out, after pressure from our picket last week and the counter-motion we filed in the courts. Ruth is now able to move on from the horrible ordeal of being evicted from her home of 13 years, without having to worry about having an eviction on her record.
Solidarity gets the goods!

2013-03-26 "Public Meeting to Defend Hotel Petaluma"
Tuesday, 6:00pm
The 100+ residents of the Hotel Petaluma are being evicted so that its new owner, Terence Andrews, can turn it into a hotel for tourists. He is offering no assistance to the tenants, many of whom are elderly and disabled. The Hotel Petaluma Tenants Committee has formed to resist this injustice and we need your help!
 We demand:
1.) Re-location assistance for all tenants
2.) The return of our rental deposits
3.) Residents who wish to remain will be allowed
The Hotel Petaluma Tenants Committee is part of the Sonoma County Solidarity Network. If you are having problems with your employer or landlord, please call us: 707-595-0136.
 No One Gets Put Out. Period.
 *We will meet in the social hall at St. Vincent Church, which is located on the corner of Howard and Western. 35 Liberty St, Petaluma
2013-03-18 Update: The struggle continues: most tenants of Hotel Petaluma have moved out, but we are collecting as many names as possible to follow-up and make sure everyone receives their rental deposits back, as well as $1,000 in re-location assistance. Even for people who have found a new place to live, most have had to pay hundreds, possibly thousands, of dollars to move, put down rent, pay a new deposit, etc.
 We are already hearing of some tenants not receiving their deposits for bogus reasons (example: Ruth re-modeled her room....she's lived their for 13 years. Even though the Hotel is being re-modeled entirely, the owner refuses to give back the deposit, saying the room has been "destroyed").
 Today we are filing motions to stop Ruth's forceful eviction. Terence Andrews has refused to negotiate with Ruth in good faith. There will most likely be pickets in front of the hotel this week. Can you join us?
 Stay tuned...
2013-03-13 Update: Well, one demand got met. We received confirmation from Terence Andrews that rental deposits will be returned (of course, if we hear otherwise, we'll pursue it).
 Please tell your friends about this public meeting and invite them. Also, everyone is welcome to attend the Sonoma County Solidarity Network weekly meetings, Thursday at 7pm, 467 Sebastopol Ave., in Santa Rosa.

Note from "So.Co. Solidarity Network": Here is a much worse article from the Argus Courier. a.) this reporter wasn't at the picket. b.) he didn't interview any tenants, and c.) the majority of the article focuses on the director of Petaluma Peoples Services justifying the gentrification of Petaluma and making it seem like a step up for tenants (again, if they had interviewed any tenants, they would've gotten a different picture).
2013-03-21 "Tenants picket for concessions at Hotel Petaluma" by Liam Nelson from "Argus-Courier []
Residents of Hotel Petaluma are pondering a variety of outcomes as the hotel's owners pursue a change from single occupancy room leasing to a more traditional hotel rental policy.
While many residents have found new housing, and others have opted to stay on under the new, costlier nightly rates, some occupants haven't yet arrived at a plan of action. One group, Sonoma County Solidarity Network, is organizing protests, such as a picket held Wednesday, while another, the community based human services provider Petaluma People Services Center (PPSC), has been helping residents to understand their rights and options under the law.
According to Elece Hempel, Executive Director of PPSC, “every situation has to be approached on a case by case basis.”
PPSC runs the renter's rights program for Sonoma County and has been involved in housing issues at the hotel on a number of occasions. In fact, Hempel said, the hotel's current owner, Terry Andrews, received landlord education and information from PPSC Housing Specialists after he purchased the historic but rundown hotel in October. PPSC offers classes to landlords that cover “what's fair, and just, and how to follow the rules,” explained Hempel.
“Most landlords don't like to be told what to do,” Hempel added, “but we explain to them the ramifications of not complying with the law and they usually see the benefits of working within that framework.” According to Hempel, Andrews was no exception.
PPSC staff has made several trips to meet with residents of the hotel to help them understand their options. Some residents qualify for low-income housing, but many do not. PPSC also offers a rental assistance program, providing first and last months rents for those who qualify. So far, said Hempel, “only a handful of the hotel residents have come in to apply.”
PPSC has also referred several residents to PEP Housing, a nonprofit dedicated to providing quality affordable housing. So far, PEP has only had a few inquiries.
Some of the residents are already dealing with health or financial issues, Hempel explains, and the 30- and 60-day notices to vacate they received from hotel management only compounded those existing challenges.
In one case, PPSC is helping a resident by recruiting volunteers to help him move his belongings into new housing and coordinating with Joseph Rye of Petaluma Transit to help facilitate transportation to medical appointments in Napa using existing paratransit programs.
Meanwhile, Carl Patrick of the Sonoma County Solidarity Network (SCSN), a workers and tenants rights group connected with Occupy Santa Rosa, says the group got involved when tenants reached out in late February.
Patrick's group has organized a public meeting on March 26th at St. Vincent Church at 6 p.m. According to Patrick, the group hopes to “form a 'Solidarity Committee' to organize actions and public pressure” against the hotel owners to meet the group's demands. Those demands include re-location assistance for all tenants being evicted (which they estimate at $1,000 per tenant) as well as the return of rental deposits, and for residents who wish to remain in the hotel to be allowed to do so at their old rental rates.
They also held a picket demonstration in front of the hotel on Wednesday.
According to Hempel, the hotel has thus far met or exceeded the legal requirements, returning tenants' deposits as they vacate, yet Patrick expressed skepticism on this point stating, “we heard from many tenants that they did not expect to receive their deposits back.”
Jessica Andrews, hotel marketing manager and daughter of Terry Andrews, refuted this, saying that the hotel is returning deposits as it goes through rooms after tenants have moved out, often earlier than the 21 days required by law.
Additionally, Jessica Andrews pointed out that “tenants are staying on who have agreed to the new [more expensive] rates,” adding that these rates reflect new and improved amenities. Andrews added that they were glad to have long-term residents stay on, since she feels they contribute to the hotel community.
Regarding the planned protest, Andrews was unmoved, but accepting. “That's fine, they have their right to free speech, but we're not changing our stance,” she said. “... we're not upending peoples lives, but trying to improve their living conditions.”
Meanwhile, PPSC is continuing to help displaced residents pursue other housing arrangements.
“My goal is for the residents to be able to live happily,” Hempel explained, “in a new place where they actively want to be.”
“Some of those who have moved have been delighted by the change, because they hadn't realized how many compromises they were making by living in the hotel,” she added.
Hempel encouraged tenants or anyone wishing to help a tenant to contact PPSC at 765-8488.

2013-03-20 "Picket seeks concessions for Hotel Petaluma tenants"
by Lori Carter from "The Santa Rosa Press Democrat" []:
Picketers including Petaluma Hotel resident Tom Brackett, right, stand in front of the Petaluma Hotel to protest the new owners' eviction of tenants to turn the hotel back into an overnight hotel. (Photo by SCOTT MANCHESTER / The Press Democrat)

A handful of protesters picketed in front of Hotel Petaluma on Wednesday, calling for financial assistance for tenants of the building, which is being converted from low-cost apartments back to overnight hotel rooms.
One resident and about a dozen activists from Occupy Petaluma and the Sonoma County Solidarity Network, an offshoot of Occupy Santa Rosa, stood in the rain at lunchtime with brightly colored signs urging support.
Resident Tom Brackett has lived at Hotel Petaluma for more than 8 years, paying $613 a month for a room with a shared bathroom down the hall. He has until April 15 to move.
"I want him to delay the evictions," he said Wednesday. "Give 'em some space."
Brackett is on a waiting list at another site, but said it's been mentally difficult to move from a place he's loved. Hotel Petaluma is convenient to downtown and the Petaluma Market, where he said he enjoys the fresh food choices.
Terry Andrews of Marin County bought the former single-room occupancy residence in October after the previous owner lost the 1923 building to his lender. Last month, Andrews issued notices to the 104 tenants that he would be returning the building to its roots as a traditional hotel.
Most renters have moved out, Andrews said. A few have leases until April 15.
A few tenants sought help from Occupy activists, who hope to raise awareness of the low-income residents' situation. Last week, the group issued "demands" of Andrews for financial assistance, guaranteed deposit returns and an agreement that tenants could remain if they wished at their current rent.
Andrews said some tenants have agreed to remain as "extended-stay renters," who pay slightly more than their current rent but cannot bring in their own furniture and can't stay more than a few weeks at a time in the same room.
Holding a sign reading "Let them be," Occupy Petaluma activist Jude Mion said Andrews "doesn't need to be making more money, doesn't need to be greedy" at the expense of low-income tenants.
"He should lend a helping hand to Petaluma," she said, "not come up from Marin with his Marin bucks and gentrify us."
A community meeting has been scheduled for 6 p.m. March 26 at St.Vincent de Paul Catholic Church for residents who want to support the tenants, Patrick said.

2013-03-18 "Activists pressing demands to help Hotel Petaluma tenants"
by Lori Carter from "The Santa Rosa Press Democrat" []:
Low-income tenants facing eviction from Hotel Petaluma have turned to Occupy activists to press their demands for assistance.
The former single-room occupancy residence changed hands in October after the previous owner lost the 1923 building to his lender. The new owner, Terry Andrews of Marin County, initially said he planned only to renovate the building.
But last month, he decided to return the Petaluma to its roots as a traditional hotel, issuing eviction notices to the 104 tenants.
Although not officially low-income housing, the hotel has traditionally housed tenants of lesser means. The small rooms, which have no kitchens, have rented from $200 to $795 a month. Many share bathrooms.
Some tenants lived there short term, while others stayed for years. With little management oversight, the hotel gained a reputation for having a dodgy clientele.
An Occupy Santa Rosa offshoot called Sonoma County Solidarity Network delivered to Andrews last week a "list of demands" that seeks relocation funds, the guaranteed return of rental deposits and the option for tenants to stay at the hotel at their current rent.
The activists are planning to picket in front of the hotel Wednesday at noon.
Andrews said he is complying with all laws in asking the tenants to leave. He said his staff is issuing the return of most deposits the same day the tenants move out, earlier than the law requires.
About 15 or 20 tenants are represented by the Solidarity Network, group spokesman Carl Patrick said.
He didn't dispute Andrews' assertion that he is acting lawfully. But he said Andrews should do more.
"He's upending people's lives and he doesn't have to," Patrick said. "He's doing it to gentrify downtown Petaluma and to try to make a killing off this building that has been people's homes forever. It's the responsible thing to do."
Patrick said if Andrews doesn't pony up with financial assistance, "he's going to be single-handedly responsible for worsening poverty. . . . It's the least he could do as a wealthy man, to provide some kind of assistance. It would be irresponsible not do that."
Andrews said he met with Solidarity Network representatives and those from the city last week to determine what assistance may be available to the tenants. Petaluma People Services Center has already helped some tenants move into newer, subsidized housing.
Andrews said he doesn't feel obligated to find -- or foot the bill for -- the tenants' new residences or to allow them to continue living there beyond their eviction dates, the last of which are set for April 15.
The demands may buy the tenants legal leverage, Patrick acknowledged. He said Andrews may be more amenable to spending money up front than to bother with the time, hassle and expense of going through legal proceedings to forcibly evict tenants who refuse to leave.
"Some people don't feel like they should have to move," he said. "They didn't do anything wrong. They've been paying more money (in higher rents) for no reason, other than to make Terrance more money for himself."
Some rooms at the hotel have already been converted to daily rentals that book for $65 to $90 a night. Andrews said he plans to renovate all the rooms by this summer. He also plans to open a bakery in a space currently occupied by a nail salon on the ground floor.
A community meeting has been scheduled for 6 p.m. March 26 at St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church for residents who want to support the tenants, Patrick said.

2013-03-12 "The Battle Over Hotel Petaluma and the formation of the Hotel Petaluma Tenants Committee" by "Sonoma County Solidarity Network" []:
The low-income tenants of the Hotel Petaluma are facing eviction. The Sonoma County Solidarity Network is helping them fight back.
 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:
[begin letter]
 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.
[end letter]
 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 [at]

2013-02-27 "Hotel Hubbub"
by Gabe Meline from "Northbay Bohemian" []:
Depending on whom you ask, the Hotel Petaluma has either been an important safety net for residents on fixed incomes or a flophouse for drug users and ne'er-do-wells. But last week, the building's new owner, Terry Andrews, decided it would be neither. Residents received 30-day eviction notices, with some of the longer-term residents allowed to stay until April 15.
Andrews' plan is to refurbish the building, built in 1923, to its former glory, and reopen it as a nightly hotel charging $65–$90 a night. (For many rooms, the bathroom is down the hall.) The city will stand to gain hotel tax, while some note, correctly, that downtown Petaluma could use more hotel rooms.
Others are not so swayed. "There are people here who are handicapped and have been here for 10 years, 15 years, and they have to leave," says resident Mark Perdue. "There're gonna be a lot of homeless people in a couple months outside in the streets of Petaluma."
Street-level retail owners are worried, too. Vinh Pham, 46, has operated T&T Nail Salon on the ground level of the hotel on East Washington Street for 12 years. Pham reports that last week, Andrews came to the salon and announced his intention to let the salon's lease expire next year. "He decided we would not continue in this place," Vinh says. "He said he wanted a coffee shop or a sandwich shop instead."
In December, after he increased tenants' rents, Andrews told the Press Democrat, "We're not throwing people out." Last week, the hotel's smashed office windows were boarded up, causing speculation that perhaps someone had retaliated against Andrews for going back on those words.

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