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LGBT Aging Panel Zeroes in on Housing

by Matthew S. Bajko
Friday Mar 7, 2014
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A rainbow painted fence encloses a temporary parking lot at the site of the senior housing component of the 55 Laguna housing project. Preserved structures from the old San Francisco State Teachers College and construction for new housing can be seen in the background
A rainbow painted fence encloses a temporary parking lot at the site of the senior housing component of the 55 Laguna housing project. Preserved structures from the old San Francisco State Teachers College and construction for new housing can be seen in the background  (Source:Rick Gerharter)

A San Francisco panel reviewing LGBT aging issues has zeroed in on housing as the number one concern in its report it is preparing to send to city leaders at the end of March.

According to a draft version of the LGBT Aging Policy Task Force’s 78-page report it shared with the Bay Area Reporter , the volunteer body has concluded that the number one problem LGBT older adults are dealing with in the city is ensuring they have stable housing.

The task force has concluded that LGBT seniors "are especially vulnerable to eviction" and is calling on the city to increase eviction protections for them. It is recommending the city provide rental and homeowner assistance, legal services, and increased restrictions on evictions as a way to deal with the issue.

"The number one goal is for people to stay and age in San Francisco," said task force member Ashley McCumber, a gay man who is executive director of Meals on Wheels of San Francisco Inc. "Also, any recommendations we make right now will be helpful to all seniors."

The draft report calls on the city to explore the legality of restricting seniors from evictions and to require landlords to accept rental assistance that a senior receives. One idea calls for the Department of Public Health to create a fund that would help LGBT seniors with first month’s rent, security deposit, and to meet minimum income requirements to qualify for affordable housing.

Another proposal asks the Mayor’s Office of Housing to provide grants to LGBT senior homeowners who are in danger of losing their homes. The task force would also like to see the office offer tenants rights education and advocacy for LGBT seniors.

The task force is also set to lend its support to state efforts to repeal the Ellis Act, which allows building owners to leave the rental business and turn their units into condos for sale.

"Rent control is the number one housing program in San Francisco for seniors. Once you lose it, it is likely you will have to move out of the city," said attorney Bill Ambrunn, who chaired the task force. "We focus on trying to prevent evictions. Whatever is necessary to prevent a senior being evicted is what the city should be doing."

A main driver for the report’s focus on housing assistance, said task force members, is the lack of services for LGBT seniors who are forced to move out of San Francisco to other cities or states.

"The question is where do you go? San Francisco is our home," said Tom Nolan, an employee with the city’s Department of Aging and Adult Services assigned to assist the task force. "It cuts across the board for all income ranges."

Rather than call for new agencies to be created, the panel tailored many of its suggestions to be implemented by already existing service providers and city departments.

"We need to be savvy about what services are out there. The LGBT community seems to be really off the radar," said task force member Moli Steinert, executive director of Stepping Stone, an adult day health care agency based in San Francisco.

The draft report does call for more affordable housing for LGBT seniors to be built. It includes a number of proposals for how to accomplish that, such as having the city work with the SF Land Trust to set up "at least one" LGBT senior housing co-op and building 200 very low-income units in the Castro area for LGBT seniors with incomes less than 30 percent of the area median income.

Another suggestion is to have the city fund housing search counseling and rental assistance for LGBT seniors. And the draft report calls on the mayor’s Housing Opportunity, Partnerships and Engagement office to "commit to a plan" that would reduce LGBT senior homelessness and need for affordable housing by 50 percent by 2019.

The 110 LGBT-friendly rental apartments for low-income seniors that the nonprofit Openhouse is building in the upper Market Street area "is a drop in the bucket," said Ambrunn.

The oversight body, however, does not expect that building new units will solely solve the housing problem, Ambrunn told the B.A.R.

The city estimates there are already 25,000 LGBT residents over the age of 60, and that number is predicted to double by 2030.

Thus, the task force has prioritized improving the housing conditions in apartment buildings and single-room-occupancy hotels where many LGBT seniors who are low-income and/or living with HIV and AIDS currently reside. The draft recommendations include having the city’s Department of Building Inspection prioritize addressing complaints from seniors in SROs.

The draft report also calls for making it city policy that any organization receiving public funds to place people in SRO hotel rooms and apartments be required to have city inspectors sign off on the units before a person moves in.

"Building more affordable housing is really, realistically, not going to produce enough units for the needs of LGBT seniors," said Ambrunn.

The LGBT Aging Policy Task Force will meet Tuesday, March 11 to review the draft report and is expected to vote on the final version at its March 25 meeting. Legislation to enact its recommendations is expected to be introduced to the Board of Supervisors in April.

The panel’s meetings begin at 4 p.m. and are held at 25 Van Ness Avenue, Suite 800.

Copyright Bay Area Reporter. For more articles from San Francisco's largest GLBT newspaper, visit www.ebar.com

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