NO ONE would ever think that beyond the gloriously decorated gate on Grant Avenue marking the entrance to San Francisco’s historic Chinatown are thousands of low-income tenants living in slum like conditions.
But beyond the rich facade is a grossly neglected area teeming with housing, health- and fire-code violations, according to a recent report by the Chinese Progressive Association.
The yearlong survey of 197 tenants in 157 different apartment buildings and single-room-occupancy hotels reveals insect and rodent infestation, mold and mildew, poor ventilation, exposure to second-hand smoke and chemical fumes in common areas.
As a result, many tenants report cases of asthma, lead poisoning, infection and accidental injuries, due to unsafe and unsanitary living conditions.
Both the Building Inspection and the Public Health departments share the responsibility for code enforcement in rental housing. However, routine inspections are few and far between — and not all SRO hotels are inspected. In addition, there are only two public health inspectors assigned to cover SRO inspections citywide.
“Right now, we focus on SROs with families and those housing formerly homeless people, and that are funded by city agencies,” said Rajiv Bhatia, director of occupational and environmental health for the San Francisco Health Department.
Under this formula, only 56 of the 140 SROs in Chinatown are routinely inspected two to three times a year — and none of the apartments is inspected at all.
“In Chinatown, from our outreach, it’s clear that the conditions in the apartment buildings are just as bad as SROs,” said Gordon Mar, executive director for CPA. “There are a high proportion of elderly residents here.”
Bhatia met with tenants and the association about the report findings on Sept. 17, and has promised to meet with the group again to discuss solutions.
He should make good on that promise, and the city should work with the community and hold landlords accountable to ensure these problems are fixed.
In a place with tourist-guide pamphlets that boast of the largest and historically rich Chinatowns in the world, substandard living conditions shouldn’t be what people find behind a glorious gate.