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LGBT Seniors Face Homophobia and Abuse in At-Risk Housing
by carol harvey (carolharveysf [at]
Sunday Apr 7th, 2013 4:23 PM
On Monday, April 1, 2013 from 9:00 a.m. to 12:15 p.m., at San Francisco City Hall Room 412, the Housing Subcommittee of the LGBT Aging Policy Task Force held a hearing on under-reported denial of housing services, including unrelenting eviction threats suffered by LGBT seniors along with homophobic abuse directed at them, mostly by landlords.

On Monday, April 1, 2013 from 9:00 a.m. to 12:15 p.m., at San Francisco City Hall Room 412, the Housing Subcommittee of the LGBT Aging Policy Task Force held a hearing on under-reported denial of housing services, including unrelenting eviction threats suffered by LGBT seniors along with homophobic abuse directed at them, mostly by landlords. This meeting, officiated by Tommi Avicolli Mecca of the Housing Rights Committee, Senior and Disability Action's Jazzie Collins, Jorge Rodriguez Mission Neighborhood Health Center HIV clinic case manager, and Stu Smith Board Chair of the Shanti Project, highlighted the difficulty of collecting statistics on this targeted at-risk group.

In his Jan. 17, 2013 Bay Area Reporter article, 'Researchers Turn Focus to LGBT Seniors,' Matthew Bajko noted that until now over-50 LGBT seniors largely remained in the closet. Lack of scientific [or any] data on this age group stemmed from the 1980s “onslaught of AIDS” that “diverted the LGBT community's attention and scarce research funding.” Now, people with HIV living well past retirement are beginning to emulate younger, more assertive out baby boomers' insistence on retirement services.

In fact, When Margot Antonetty, Acting Director of Housing and Urban Health, Public Health Department described DPH affordable housing available for seniors and people with disabilities, Mecca asked her whether her department might think about collecting statistics by sexual orientation and gender identity. “When our Task Force was formed, the first thing we realized is that there are no statistics on LGBT folks in housing. One reason we had this hearing [is that] it is a way of trying to gather some information. When you make recommendations you need...statistics to back [them] up.” Collins, who is Vice Chair of the Full LGBT Aging Policy Task Force, noted that due to lack of “solid data on LGBT seniors,” the City will be asked to create a database on this group.

Collins stated that the Board of Supervisors and the City Administrative code require subcommittees of this task force to hold hearings in areas of health care, housing, law, research, and outreach. The housing subcommittee must report back to Supervisors with recommendations on how to address critical problems that can drive some of San Francisco's estimated 25,000 sixty and older LGBT seniors into eviction and homelessness. This requirement led to the subcommittee's Mon/ Apr. 1, 2013 advocate and community outreach fact-finding mission.

Main presenters were Coalition on Homelessness representatives; James Chionsini from Senior and Disability Action; Margot Antonetty, Acting Director of Housing and Urban Health; Seth Kilbourn, Executive Director of Openhouse; Brian Basinger, co-founder of AIDs Housing Alliance; San Francisco Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi; Will Doherty, aka "Stardust,' of Occupy Bernal; The Human Rights Commission's Lupe Arreola; Robert Collins from the San Francisco Rent Board, and LGBTQ seniors who described horrific, stressful living conditions and terror of losing their homes.

Collins summarized the committee's post-hearing findings: “Non-compliance with the San Francisco Housing Authority, equipment failures such as faulty elevators or stairs-only for disabled elders in rentals and SROs, violation of San Francisco's rent ordinance with unlawful rent increases, and recently fast-tracked Ellis Act and OMI [Owner Move-In] evictions leaving people with nowhere to go.

“We want the general public to know that landlord abuse of LGBT elders is constantly going on behind the scenes and swept underneath the carpet. Incorrect gender pronouns and horrible degrading words are being used toward gay males and lesbian women,” said Collins.

Professional comedian, Jon Sugar, described 25 years of harassment in which his landlord's untreated building-wide bedbug infestation was attributed to Jon. He fears his upcoming Court case will end in eviction. “I tell people I live at the corner of Haight and Resentment.” Called the D-word and the C-word, Jon disavowed the latter.

Senior and Disability Action advocate, James Chionsini echoed Collins. If you are an LGBT senior, “You are a huge bullseye.” Landlords engage in relentless, low level, 'Mickey Mouse' harassment to force elders from affordable housing and rent-controlled units.  "I left my heart in San Francisco. I think my heart is broken,” Chionsini told the Subcommittee members.

Coalition on Homelessness Executive director, Jennifer Friedenbach, spoke about how difficult it is currently to occupy shelters. “Elderly [LGBT] people have an especial hardship...faced with a lot of discrimination once inside. We need to push to get the LGBT shelter open.

“We should not let one more impoverished person in San Francisco lose their rent-controlled apartment.”

After James Windsor's building was sold to a Silicon Valley Corporation from New York City worth $400 million dollars, Windsor immediately received a letter saying, 'You're going to leave. We're going to Ellis Act you.' He's been in San Francisco 42 years. “These huge companies coming in [are] going to change the character of the City. It's not going to be the place where everything started. It's going to be the place where everything didn't happen.

“I don't want to go to Oroville and live across from the National Organization For Marriage,” he said.

Co-founder of AIDS Housing Alliance, Brian Basinger described ten years of assisting people in the HIV community --- many of whom are LGBT-identified --- with an impressive panoply of services including eviction and homelessness prevention; rapid re-housing services; affordable housing application assistance; landlord mediation; back-rent, moving deposit and first month's rent funds; job training and help with unemployment. AHA figures show over 90% of those who stay connected remain housed.

Nineteen percent of the people served are LGBT senior and older adults. “Of those, 26 percent are literally homeless,” he said. “that compares to 21 percent of our total client population. So, the senior and older adult LGBT folks we serve are more disproportionately homeless than the general population of the people we serve.”

Basinger has also seen a tremendous uptick in the increased displacement activity among older adults fueled by a “certain candidate for public office” promoting “this condo-conversion giveaway.” In the last round of Ellis and displacement activity, stated Basinger, he saw mostly 40-year-olds, “but now I'm seeing 60 and 70-year-olds...evicted from their apartments. I'm a little heart-broken because these people are old and fragile.”

Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi described the San Francisco Sheriff Department's special foreclosure eviction procedure coordinated by an Eviction Assistance Unit. The Department is unique nationwide for conducting pre-eviction outreach, intervening to delay evictions as long as it can and helping the tenant find some place to go --- a relative or other alternative.

“Before Sheriff's deputies are deployed to execute the eviction,” said Mirkarimi, “we scout. That is, we send somebody to try to assist the potential evictee in seeking permanent housing or … route them to alternative resources or referral so that … they don't find themselves homeless. We're pretty successful on the short term. We just don't have the system available to make sure they have that long-term housing. I would be guarded about saying we have it under control and less to worry about because I don't think that's true.”

Will Doherty, aka 'Stardust,' organizer with ACCE, the Alliance of Californians For Community Empowerment and co-founder of Occupy Bernal, is associated with two groups showing remarkable success in keeping bank foreclosure victims in their homes.

He cited a report from the American Association of Retired Persons Public Policy Institute, 'Nightmare On Mainstreet: Older Americans in the Mortgage Market Crisis,' hoping this first coverage of the impact on people 50 or older might be helpful in gathering statistics on LGBT senior San Franciscans. The report, in part, reveals disproportionate impacts on age group 75 and older, African Americans and Hispanics.

Stardust described foreclosure situations of disabled seniors.

On May 13, 2012, without notice, Wells Fargo sold Larry Faulks' home at auction to an investment group which evicted him on Dec. 15, 2012, leaving his disabled brother and their dog behind.

Mesha Irizarry, a mixed race LGBT Bayview senior, “mostly bedridden and terminally ill with a severe combination of emphysema and asthma, is in litigation with the Bank of America who sold her home on August 15, 2011.” She “is very scared of being homeless“ and just wants to die in her home.

“We often have to institute suicide watch on these cases due to the feelings people have when they are being evicted.”

Seth Kilbourn, Executive Director of Openhouse which provides housing, services and community programs for San Francisco’s large and growing lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) senior population reported on the progress of the 55 Laguna LGBT affordable housing facility.

The SF Rent Board's Robert Collins provided statistics illustrating “traffic and business picking up at the Rent Board” showing a similar trend that “corroborates what everyone else has been saying.” There were 64 evictions in the 2011 to 2012 years with a rise to 116 by Feb. 2013 with significant increases for Illegal Use of Renter Unit, Owner Move-In, and Nuisance.

The Human Rights Commission's Lupe Arreola verified that housing discrimination goes on every day. “About 40% of our complaints are about alleged discrimination against people with disabilities or sexual orientation.”

Tommi Mecca again asked Robert Collins, “If the The Housing Subcommittee of the LGBT Aging Policy Task Force recommended that all City departments began keeping records by sexual orientation, age, and gender identity, would it be 'even possible” for the Rent Board to do that?” Collins replied that landlord eviction forms do not supply information on these categories.

“But, you do publish a map of the areas of the City and evictions in your annual report,” Mecca said.

“We publish data by zip code,” replied Collins.

Said Mecca. “For instance, 94414 being the Castro area, we could make some assumptions that maybe the majority of the people being evicted there would be LGBT folks. That is something we may be forced to do as a committee because, as we've said over and over, there is no data out there, and it's been very frustrating for us to try to come up with recommendations when we have no data to base a lot of those recommendations on.”

Mecca summarized, “We need to keep our elders in their housing because not to do so is totally wrong. It's detrimental to their health. It's detrimental to society. We're not doing enough as a City, as a People, and as an LGBT community to protect seniors within the community from being displaced from their homes.”