Census Workers Go Door to Door in Mission District SROs

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On May 15, the Census Bureau wrapped up their count of people living in Single Room Occupancy (SRO) hotels in San Francisco, and although local census officials say every hotel resident has now been successfully counted, the enumeration effort was not without its challenges for the census workers who did the door knocking.

There are 530 Single Room Occupancy (SRO) hotels in San Francisco that are home to more than 18,500 residents. And while the Mission District accounts for only a fraction of these hotels - 50 buildings, with 1500 residents - the handful of SROs that line Mission Street near 16th Street are some of the most notorious within tenant advocacy circles. Several of the hotels here are known for price gouging, illegally evicting tenants and generally ignoring health and safety regulations.

Despite the pervasively poor living conditions found in most of these hotels, the median price of SROs in the Mission District is among the highest in the city, according to the Human Services Agency. SRO residents in the Mission pay an average rent of $600 per month to live in buildings with small single- room dwellings, often shared with others, where there is on average one bathroom per every seven rooms.

Citywide, SRO demographics indicate a population that is diverse and heavily immigrant. Forty-six percent of SRO residents are Asian Pacific Islander, while 24 percent are white, 18 percent are African American and 7 percent are Latino.

City officials had anticipated that some of the privately run SRO hotels - because of past litigation - might be hesitant to open their doors to census workers. So city supervisors last March passed an ordinance requiring the hotels to grant access to all census personnel. The ordinance was just one piece of a larger citywide effort to avoid a repeat of the last decennial census, which some claim under-counted San Francisco's population by 100,000, reducing the city's take in federal funding by hundreds of millions of dollars.

According to local bureau officials, all of the hotels on Mission Street eventually complied with the ordinance. After all, the decennial census is federally mandated, and as one local census official put it, “If your typical census worker has problems with accessing a hotel, it goes up the food chain, and we throw the book at them.” But for the first wave of locally-hired census outreach workers who hit the streets in April, resistance to their work - from hotel staff as well as from tenants - was a common occurrence.

This video captures the efforts of a group of census canvassers, one of them a former SRO tenant himself, who were hired in April by the city of San Francisco to perform preliminary census surveying of SRO tenants in the Mission District.