Thursday, July 07, 2011

BAR: Bad Communication Jeopardized
Housing for Gay Seniors and PWAs

The twists and turns over the years related to the former UC Berkeley Extension campus located on the edge of the Castro, necessary to making the property suitable to meet diverse commercial and community housing needs has been difficult to follow.

My friend Tommi Avicolli Mecca, longtime queer justice and housing advocate, has been involved in the years-long process and performed well keeping colleagues up to speed on the project. He's mentioned in today's Bay Area Reporter story written by Matthew Bajko, regarding the latest disputes.

What really caught my eye in the piece was the passage about lack of transparency on the part of Openhouse, an LGBT senior housing project whose executive director is Seth Kilbourn. He first came to my attention when he was an HIV advocate at the Human Rights Campaign in DC for nine years, before moving on in 2006 to become Equality California's policy director.

Let there be no mistake about this. Kilborn is a top member of the Gay Inc circle that runs gay community organizations and is trained not only to carry out the standard executive level of leadership, but to also do as little democratic engagement with the grassroots as possible. At every step, info is not forthcoming, town halls are not held, regular vital communication never occurs.

Let's zero in on the problems mentioned in the BAR story created by Kilborn, adhering to Gay Inc rules of keeping partners and the larger community ignorant of his machinations:

When the jettisoning of the on-site affordable rental units was first proposed, Openhouse, which has teamed with Mercy Housing California to build its project, did not object. Instead, the agency sided with the proposed fee change and sent out an action alert in May asking supporters to contact planning commissioners and urge them to back the fee proposal. 

"The $17 million fee takes the place of building multifamily units on the site that would be affordable to low-income renters. But the fee does make the Openhouse project possible," wrote Kilbourn.

He later added, in bold italic type for emphasis, that, "Without the fee, Openhouse can't build the housing that LGBT seniors and their friends so urgently need. As a result, the project could die or be delayed indefinitely."

The alert was the first time many community leaders learned that changes to the original deal were being proposed. ...

One partner in this complex business project, an AIDS housing bureaucrat, was so furious about Kilborn's double-dealing he denounced it in no uncertain terms as a "screwing" of the affected communities. Called to account, the BAR noted:

While Kilbourn stopped short of issuing a formal apology for not notifying the community sooner about the proposed changes to the development deal, he did tell the Bay Area Reporter that Openhouse now regrets that decision.

"Yes, we absolutely should have brought this idea to the community sooner than we did. Regretfully, we didn't bring the idea to the community and we should have once the Mayor's Office of Housing sent the letter to planning," said Kilbourn. "I do regret that it unfolded the way it did." ...

So typical of a Gay Inc leader to fear formally saying the word sorry, and to now claim communication would have helped. Kilbourn's pronounced lack of genuine transparency in the housing deal raises concerns of what else he may be doing behind his community partners' backs.

Exactly how much evidence does the at-large LGBT community need about lack of democratic engagement from Gay Inc executives and how it is harming our political and social health, before more folks demand accountability and transparency from gay advocacy organizations?

Perhaps gay sunshine advocates should apply to George Soros for grant money to bring democracy to Gay Inc. If he can make democratic ideals take hold, survive and thrive in former Communist nations in Europe, he should be able to do the same for the gay American movement.

Openhouse, like GLAAD, HRC, EQCA, NGLTF, Freedom to Marry and so many other groups, do serious harm to our collective political health and spiritual wellness with their secrecy and withholding of so much information. We simply will not achieve lasting and fulfilling liberation without total institutional openness and respectful engagement.

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