Urban Land Conservancy celebrates the achievements of our partnerships that create and preserve nonprofit facilities and affordable housing for communities.

ULC’s Monthly Partner Spotlight shines a light on partners who demonstrate the value of collaboration, furthering our mission to improve the lives of Metro Denver residents and beyond through our real estate investments and community assets.

Congratulations to our April 2020 Partner Spotlight of the Month: Randy Shaw!

Randy Shaw is an attorney, author, and activist who is a true pioneer in creating innovative housing opportunities. He graduated from the Hastings College of Law in 1979, which borders the Tenderloin neighborhood in San Francisco, California, one of the city’s poorest neighborhoods. While at Hastings, Shaw was among the volunteers who created the Tenderloin Housing Clinic (THC) to serve people in the Tenderloin neighborhood. THC opened in February 1980 and after graduation Hastings Shaw became THC’s first full-time employee and Executive Director in September 1982. Now, 40 years later, the organization has over 360 employees and is one of the largest nonprofits in San Francisco offering legal, housing, and support services.

The mission of THC is to prevent tenant displacement, to preserve and expand the City’s low-cost housing stock, and to provide comprehensive legal assistance to low-income tenants. THC is successful in fulfilling this mission by providing free legal services, securing Single Resident Occupancy (SRO) units through the Master Lease program, and offering comprehensive support services to their clients. Getting and keeping people housed is the core of THC’s work and the proven solution to decreasing homelessness in San Francisco.

THC operates under the Housing First policy, which states that people who are experiencing homelessness, first and foremost, need a roof over their heads. So in the late 1980s, Shaw began to ask the question, “how do you house the homeless population”? He began exploring the possibility of using hotels to create SRO’s for people experiencing homelessness and in 1988 introduced a modified payment program (MPP), which enabled homeless single adults receiving welfare to obtain permanent housing. In 1999, after successfully passing MPP through the City of San Francisco, THC began master-leasing hotels after first undergoing significant upgrades to each room and now has 23 long-term leases with hotel owners in San Francisco. The residents’ rents are paid through THC, which gives them stability and consistency. THC is now the city’s largest provider of housing for homeless single adults.

Randy Shaw's latest book, now available in paperback.

Shaw has written five books on activism and regularly writes about housing issues as the editor of Beyond Chron. He became connected to Urban Land Conservancy in the course of writing his latest book, Generation Priced Out: Who Gets to Live in the New Urban America. Just released in paperback with a new preface, the book is a call to action for progressive cities to seriously rethink their housing policies.

“All these progressive cities say they care about social justice but have priced out the middle and working-class from actually living in the city,” said Shaw. “Their local land laws and other housing policies prevent new growth, let alone affordable growth. With cities growing economically, the need for housing has grown exponentially.”

Shaw clarifies, in his book, that building new housing does not make existing housing more expensive, a common myth often associated with displacement. He explains that housing markets are not free markets and that single-family home zoning and owners are a large part of the affordable housing problem. Shaw offers several solutions for the housing crisis, including a section dedicated to Urban Land Conservancy (ULC).

“I featured ULC and your unique land trust model of acquiring land before the price is driving up allowing development at a later more appropriate time” said Shaw. “Some people can’t see the benefit of land banking because they are so focused on the immediate need for affordable housing. I realize that the extreme affordability crisis demands building affordable projects now. But ULC understands the big picture. Had ULC’s concept of land banking been commonly used in high-housing cost cities starting in 2008, or even 2012, urban America would be in a much stronger position to maintain economic and racial diversity today. I encourage all cities and all nonprofit housing groups to consider ULC’s strategy in the current economic climate.”

Randy Shaw and the Mayor of San Francisco

Shaw also writes in his recent article on Beyond Chron, “Vacant land is also available for housing projects still in the approval process. Owners face the same financing problems as those with entitled projects and confront an uncertain approval timeline. Nonprofit buyers can get bargains by rescuing these projects. The key is making sure that the project under review is one the nonprofit wants to build; otherwise, no time or money is saved.”

In agreement with ULC, Shaw knows that now more than ever, housing authorities need to be proactively planning for the economic future post-Coronavirus. In Denver and other cities, policies and procedures have finally been put in place to help house the homeless population, but only temporarily. “This country has tolerated an obscene level of homelessness,” said Shaw. “Now, because the threat of the virus affects other people, it’s a state-wide and society issue to ensure they have a roof over their heads.” He goes on to say, “our new normal should be a lot different than before.”

Randy Shaw and ULC will continue to partner in the future to share innovative ideas across the country. Shaw’s book Generation Priced Out is also now available in paperback. To learn more about the Tenderloin Housing Clinic, or more about Shaw’s expert ideas, check out his website.