jung chang tan family chinatown san francisco
Jun Chang Tan, together with his wife, Qian Yan Li, son Guang Yuan and daughter Winnie live in one of the many single-room occupancy units in the densely populated Chinatown neighborhood. PHOTO BY GEORGE E. BAKER JR.

Making Room:
Chinatown CDC helps SRO residents improve housing conditions

Imagine living in a single 8- by 10-foot room — sharing toiletries, showers and a kitchen with your neighbors. Now imagine living there as a family of four.

According to Malcolm Yeung, Chinatown CDC’s Deputy Director of Programs, there are between 400 and 500 families living in single-room occupancy (SRO) units in Chinatown. The median rent for a one-bedroom apartment in San Francisco: $3,700. The average SRO rent in Chinatown in 2015: over $1000 and rising.

“For many of these families, it’s really the only affordable housing they can find when they come into San Francisco,” Yeung said. “We want to keep these SROs affordable to make sure there’s opportunities for families who are looking to land in San Francisco, but we’re working with them and supporting them in trying to find a better alternative.”

The Tans are one of these families. In 2012, Jun Chang Tan, his wife Qian Yan Li and son Guang Yuan emigrated to San Francisco from Guangzhou, China. The family has lived in an SRO ever since, also with their daughter, Winnie, who was born in the city.

Both Jun Chang Tan and Qian Yan Li work as care providers. However, even with their combined incomes, they can’t afford to move into a bigger home.

“Rent keeps going up so much that our income is way below what we need to support our families,” Tan said. “The dream of moving out of SROs is drifting further and further away from us. Finding housing is increasingly difficult.”

Tan said his family found support from Chinatown CDC, and were connected with resources like public assistance and health care. In 2014, when the Tan family and some of their neighbors felt like they were being pushed out of their homes, Chinatown CDC community organizers helped them speak up about their situation. They ended up staying in their homes.

“Without Chinatown CDC’s help, we would have poor sanitation in our building,” he said. “We might have been evicted from our building and unable to find a place that we could afford.”

Through the nonprofit’s Grassroots Leadership training program, Tan also became an active advocate for affordable housing — joining the SRO Families United Collaborative, of which Chinatown CDC is a member organization.

“I would get involved with rallies and activities to let City Hall know that we need more affordable housing,” he said. “Being part of the action is important to me. Together with our families, we would be successful.

Article by Anne Stokes. Published in What Does It Take to Save a Neighborhood?


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