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Randy Shaw

Randy Shaw, 2008
Born August 19, 1956(1956-08-19)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Occupation Attorney, Author, Activist.
Spouse(s) Lainey Feingold
Children Two Daughters

Randy Shaw is an attorney, author and activist who lives in Berkeley, California. He is the Executive Director of the Tenderloin Housing Clinic, a non-profit organization in San Francisco that he co-founded in 1980. He is also the editor of Beyond Chron, and has written three books on activism.




Early years

Randall Merritt Shaw was born and raised in Los Angeles California and attended University High School (Los Angeles, California). He enrolled in the University of California at Berkeley, and while at Berkeley became involved in local politics, particularly around tenant rights.

Upon graduation, in 1977, he worked on two Berkeley political campaigns and applied to the University of California, Hastings College of the Law and began his legal education in the fall of 1979. In February of 1980 he joined with other Hastings students including David Borgen, Guy Campisano, Chris Tiedemann,Jim Clark, Gail Mautner, Terri Mockler, Robert Rich, Hilda Wehe and Franklin Yep in founding the Tenderloin Housing Clinic (THC). Staffed entirely by student volunteers, THC provided tenant counseling and legal assistance to Tenderloin residents out of a one-room space at Glide Memorial Church. Prior to completing law school he applied for and received a grant from the Berkeley Law Foundation to operate an Anti-Displacement Project out of THC. He was admitted to the California Bar in December 1982 and became THC’s first full time staff, its first attorney and its first Executive Director in September 1982.


In the fall of 1982, Shaw worked with reporter Warren Hinckle to expose the fact that most of the city’s low-cost SROs provided no heat to residents. San Francisco’s “heatless hotel” scandal dominated local media for weeks, and became a national story. Shaw authored tough new heat and hot water laws that facilitated strict enforcement and that imposed strong civil and criminal penalties against violators. These measures were signed into law by Mayor Diane Feinstein, and took effect within three days as emergency laws.

Protecting low cost housing

From 1982-1987, Shaw focused on protecting single room occupancy hotels (SROs) from conversion to non-residential uses, on filing tenant suits against landlords for uninhabitable living conditions, and on stopping the practice of illegal lockouts. In 1983, Shaw launched a campaign against German landlord Guenter Kaussen, whose Tenderloin properties were part of an international real estate empire that led Der Spiegel to label him “the world’s biggest slumlord.” By organizing tenants to challenge Kaussen’s illegal rent increases, and working with the Center for Investigative Reporting to generate media coverage including an episode 60 Minutes--- Shaw helped plunge the Kaussen empire into bankruptcy, and the once notorious slumlord committed suicide.

New San Francisco homeless strategy

In 1988, Shaw proposed to the city that it adopt a modified payments program (MPP) to enable homeless single adults receiving welfare to obtain permanent housing. Shaw had talked to hotel owners and found that many would be willing to charge rents affordable to welfare recipients if they could ensure rent payments. Under the MPP, welfare recipients agreed to have their checks “modified” so that THC was also named on the check. These two-party checks would be delivered to THC’s offices, and THC would then deduct the rent from the check and give the tenant the balance.

The incoming Mayor Art Agnos Administration said that Shaw and THC should implement the MPP on a trial basis, and that if it worked the City would fund it. Shaw obtained a small grant for THC to start the program in 1988, and it proved successful. By 1989 over 1,000 formerly homeless single adults were living in permanent housing through enrolling in the MPP. The program is still used by housing providers throughout San Francisco’s extensive supporting housing system

In May 1999, Shaw and the THC again created an innovative approach to housing homeless single adults in launching the Department of Housing Services’ hotel leasing program. THC became the City’s leading provider of permanent housing for homeless single adults, and the leasing program was the foundation of the city’s Care Not Cash program which began in 2004.

Legislation drafted

In addition to authoring San Fancisco’s heat and hot water laws, Shaw has drafted key city ballot measures and state laws strengthening rent control and housing code enforcement.

Prop H: rent control

After the major defeat of a pro-tenant ballot measure in San Francisco’s November 1991 election, Shaw committed to rebuilding and restructuring the city’s tenant movement. He worked with other tenant counseling groups to hold a series of neighborhood tenant conventions designed to solicit input for a tenant initiative for the November 1992 ballot. This process led to Shaw drafting Proposition H, which would cut annual rent increases in half. The Prop H initiative became the first tenant ballot measure to prevail in San Francisco, despite tenants being outspent 10-1. Prop H (San Francisco Administrative Code Section 37.3)[1] has since saved San Francisco tenants billions of dollars, and represents the greatest transfer of wealth from landlord to tenant in the city’s history.

Prop G: code enforcement

After spending years trying to get city officials to enforce the housing code, Shaw authored a ballot measure in 1994 that fixed those in charge of code enforcement and created a new department under a city commission. The measure (San Francisco City Charter Section 4.121) [2] creating the Department of Building Inspection passed in November 1994, and San Francisco’s housing code enforcement has dramatically improved since that time.

State laws

In 1999, Shaw worked with California State Senator John Burton in drafting legislation (SB 948) to strengthen tenant protection under the state Ellis Act (Cal. Gov't Code 7060)[3], and to prevent the Act from preempting local land use laws. The measure passed the Legislature and became law. In 2003, Shaw worked with Assembly member Mark Leno to pass AB 1217, which exempted SROs from the Ellis Act; this bill also became law.

National housing advocacy

In 1999, Shaw founded Housing America to build national pressure for increased federal affordable housing funds. To this end he co-authored the study, There’s No Place Like Home: How America’s Housing Crisis, Threatens Our Children, which generated several widespread media coverage. Later in 1999, HA teamed with Religious Witness with Homeless People in getting what the NY Times described on September 10, 1999 as “an unusually broad coalition of religious leaders” to send a letter to President Bill Clinton urging the issuance of 200,000 new Section 8 housing vouchers. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Andrew Cuomo later credited the letter with securing 50,000 more vouchers.

In June 2000, he co-authored the first national study urging Congress to allocate Federal Housing Administration (FHA) surplus to create a National Housing Trust Fund. “A New Direction: How FHA Surpluses Can Solve America’s Housing Crisis” provided a city-by-city analysis of the impact of FHA suppliers on ending the national’s affordable housing shortage.

As author

Shaw has authored three books on activism and social change, all published by the University of California press.

The Activist’s Handbook

A guide to making social change happen, The Activist’s Handbook (UC Press: 1996, 2001) is described by Howard Zinn as “enormously valuable for anyone interested in social change.

Reclaiming America

Reclaiming America: Nike, Clean Air, and the New National Activism (UC Press 1999) argued that local activists needed to also focus on the national issues that increasingly shape local communities.

Beyond the Fields

Described as “the first effort to systematically trace the United Farm Worker's (UFW) influence on recent labor organizing, the immigrant rights movement, and other current social activism.” Beyond the Fields: Cesar Chavez, the UFW and the Struggle for Justice in the 21st Century also traces the roots of Barack Obama’s 2008 election outreach model to the UFW campaigns of the 1960s and 1970s, and the electoral strategies that UFW alumni brought with them to 21st Century campaigns.

Other writings

Shaw's article on the U.S. housing crisis, “There’s No Place Like Home,” was voted the 9th most censored study for 2003 by Project Censored [4]. His article, “Tenant Power in San Francisco,” appears in the anthology, Reclaiming San Francisco by James Brook, Chris Carlsson and Nancy J. Peters. He will have an essay in an upcoming UC Press book on the Immigrant Rights Protests of 2006.

Founder/editor of an alternative news source

Shaw is the editor of the online daily news service Beyond Chron which he founded in April, 2004.



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