Monday, July 27, 2015

BAR Op-Ed: Mission Needs Housing & Democracy

This column of mine appeared in the July 16 issue of the Bay Area Reporter:

My husband, Mike, and I recently celebrated the 20th anniversary of when we first met, and the 19th anniversary of living together in the same apartment.
I jest about how we're more concerned with having our names on a lease than a marriage license, illustrating the importance we place on our housing security. We're not married in the eyes of the law, but are very much husbands, quite happily reclaiming that word for our purpose.
We experience aging in San Francisco as long-term AIDS survivors, with health challenges always evolving, and the stress that impacts our mental and physical wellness from housing worries is managed as best as possible.
Watching our neighbors in recent years displaced because of flipping properties, outrageous rental increases or fires, and construction dearth of new housing that would be affordable to us, has been the basis for many conversations over the breakfast table.
In the past year, I've attended various events in the Mission, where we live on the border of that neighborhood and outer Castro, and gotten to know and observe leaders of housing and Latino nonprofits, and other local renters.

The Plaza 16 group fancies itself a grassroots coalition and it's certainly tapped into widespread anger and nervousness over evictions and luxury condo developments, generating much legacy and social media attention, but it's too much under the thumb of nonprofits.
One of them is the 42-year-old Mission Economic Development Agency, or MEDA, which has had a light touch with Plaza 16 but is the engine behind the condo development moratorium that has gone through several iterations, none successful, and may be on the November ballot.
The eviction epidemic, one aspect of the complex housing crises we face, was no overnight development. Warning signs were evident for years, yet no organizing took place pressuring the Mission's supervisor, David Campos, to hold hearings and propose legislative relief.
It took more than four years for city agencies, Campos, and the Dolores Street Community Services nonprofit to bring an existing building up to code, ready to provide 24 shelter beds and services to homeless LGBT adults.
If the politicians and nonprofits need that extended period for that small project, it doesn't instill confidence in us that they have their act together to address much larger housing concerns.
There are numerous excellent ideas, including an eviction moratorium, which has a groundswell of support across political differences, but they're the idea du jour that too often fail to turn into reality.
A huge deficit for Mission nonprofits and Plaza 16 is the absence of radical inclusiveness and democratic principles, starting with the former not holding any public board of directors' meetings and the latter maintaining an erratic monthly and steering committee meeting schedule.
Consistent meeting dates, times, and locations would allow more Mission residents to participate in the decision-making process and goal-setting of Plaza 16, which might produce tangible affordable housing solutions.
Fear of Mission renters, and others who don't pass political litmus tests, keeps out fresh ideas and voices, tamps down vibrant political engagement, and diminishes democracy. New leaders and organizers are always needed to achieve social justice.
I had hoped the grassroots energy of the Mission would be nurtured and sustained for genuine community organizing that is not a path to either Democratic Party campaigns or driven by potential candidates to replace Campos and Supervisor John Avalos when they are termed out of office.
What we have instead is not enough transparency and too much hopscotching. One day the development moratorium is not going the ballot route, only to see a last-minute effort mounted. If it qualifies, valuable community enthusiasm and resources will be diverted to campaigning for a measure that is very likely to be defeated just as the anti-speculator Proposition G initiative was in 2014.
Labor leaders essentially hijack the opposition to the Maximus proposal for 16th and Mission streets for a demonstration at an office with questionable links to the developer. The week after, the union collaboration vanishes as quickly as it appeared.
About 13 lots in the Mission allegedly suitable for purchase by the city for building hundreds of low- and moderate-income housing units were recently identified. I never saw a list of the properties, same for a plan to underwrite actual construction of even half the lots.
Plans A and B from the current crop of Mission leaders seem to be the same. Maximize nonprofits and political operatives' dominance of the professional and grassroots networks working on housing problems and keeping people in their homes, and minimize engagement with diverse individuals who think plans C through Z are needed.
Win or lose, the luxury condo moratorium will require many plans the day after the election to give Mission renters hope, plans that must be devised with greater democracy and accountability than we've had up to now.
As two mature gay and HIV-poz men, our stressors over personal housing security are equal to that of thousands of other tenants. We all deserve a better organizing structure and process and quickly too, before more of the Mission is further disfigured by greed and gentrification.

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