A unique meeting between the usually drab world of legislation and the colorful world of art will occur Friday night, February 10th, in the office of Supervisor Chris Daly, with the opening of an exhibit called ‘The Hotel Project.’ Featuring photography of the Tenderloin by activist Mark Ellinger and an introduction to a proposal to bring mailboxes to residential hotels throughout the city, the event will show attendees images of hotels alongside a concrete way to improve them. The event, which will run from 4 to 7 pm in room 273 of City Hall, provides an excellent primer for those unfamiliar with the Tenderloin’s hotels to see first hand both their beauty and the fight to grant their residents equality with the rest of the city.
The photography on display represents over three years of work by Ellinger, a long-time community activist advocating for low-income and SRO-related causes. The photos primarily depict architecture throughout the Tenderloin, from the massive facades of some of the neighborhoods largest hotels to tiny alleyways hidden between its smallest buildings.
Ellinger says his photography began as simply an outlet for his creative impulse, starting when he rescued a cheap digital camera being thrown out by a neighbor. Since then, he says its blossomed into something far more
“It’s really turned into more of what I hope will be something that will change the way people look at not just the architecture, but the people that live in these neighborhoods,” said Ellinger. “I want to put a more human face on the area…that may sound weird, because it’s all pictures of architecture. But it’s architecture that people live in.”
The people living in the hotels photographed by Ellinger would benefit a great deal from the other half of tonight’s show – legislation to bring mailboxes to single resident occupancy (SRO) hotels. Currently, many SROs do not provide mailboxes to residents, meaning postal workers either drop piles of mail at the hotel’s doorstep, or hand it all over the building’s manager or owner.
Many hotel residents don’t have access to phones or Internet, and remain dependent on mail as their sole means of communicating with the outside world. This fact becomes increasingly important when it comes to crucial, often time-sensitive mail regarding their housing, government-allocated benefits, and bills.
Hotel tenants’ lack of a mailbox means hotel resident’s mail often gets lost or mishandled. Even worse, management sometimes uses mail as a punishment or reward system for tenants – mail gets withheld or opened as retribution for a tenant’s behavior, for example, or only given to the tenant once a week instead of daily.
Efforts to get mailboxes to SRO tenants have been underway for years, but roadblocks both from landlords and the postal service slowed the process. Daly’s legislation would likely provide a final resolution to the issue by forcing all residential hotel owners to provide mailboxes for all tenants. Mailboxes would have to be in compliance with the U.S. Postal Service’s requirements, and the Department of Building Inspection could cite landlords for not building them.
Sam Dodge, Director of the Central City SRO Collaborative, helped draft the legislation. Dodge has been working on the issue for a long time, and says it often comes up as one of the top issues for tenants in residential hotels, especially in Chinatown. He hopes that, should the legislation pass, it will encourage equity between hotel tenants and the rest of the city.
“We’re in the year 2006, and people are having to get their private mail from landlords and desk clerks,” said Dodge. “Just because you live in a residential hotel doesn’t mean you don’t have the right to the kind of mail service we all expect.”
Daly introduced the resolution last Tuesday, and the proposal will be heard in committee in approximately 30 days. Both Daly and Ellinger will be on hand at tonight’s event to discuss both the photography and the legislation.