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SF artist slaps notices on vacant SROs to spotlight homeless

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Graphic designer Erik Schmitt’s “Housing Displacement Facts” piece singles out empty SROs

Erik Schmitt

As of today, San Francisco has 1,827 rooms sitting vacant in licensed SRO hotels, enough to house nearly a third of the city’s estimated homeless population.

That’s one out of every seven SRO rooms in the city, and 30 percent of the city’s SRO hotels reported that at least half of their rooms are empty, with some registering vacancy rates as high as 100 percent.

And all of that information is easy to come by thanks to local graphic designer and photographer Erik Schmitt, who tagged the vacant buildings with his Housing Displacement Facts notices detailing the whole sordid situation.

Modeled after the instantly recognizable Nutrition Facts the FDA prints on packages of food, Schmitt’s notices informed passersby about the number of derelict units in each marked building.

“I’m a graphic designer, so it was a matter of coming up with the best way to disseminate this information,” Schmitt tells Curbed SF. “It’s a visual language everyone is familiar with.”

Courtesy Erik Schmitt

They’re also, perhaps, a sidelong acknowledgement that the way we treat housing as a commodity is not necessarily on scale with how dire of a necessity it is. Schmitt says he’s not planning on expanding the work beyond these half dozen buildings, but you never know.

San Francisco Public Press writer Joe Eskenazi notes that it was a previous SFPP piece contrasting the number of vacant low-income rooms in the city with the number of homeless in nearby neighborhoods that furnished Schmitt with his statistics in the first place.

SFPP notes that some building owners are “ holding rooms empty, perhaps for years, driving up the value of a building” rather than let them out low-income renters of lobby the city to house the homeless there.

And of course, if a building owner wants to leave a property vacant neither the city nor anyone else can force him or her to do otherwise.

Schmitt acknowledges that “it probably didn’t take more than a day or even a few hours” for building owners or mangers to remove his stickers. But on that note, here are the locales singled out and their respective number of empty rooms:

  • 149 6th Street: 51 units
  • 56 Mason Street: 41 units
  • 1507 California Street: 36 units
  • 706 Polk Street: 29 units
  • 1412 Market Street: 15 units
  • 1485 Bush Street: 13 units