Longtime Shelter For Those With AIDS Has New Life

This mural of Father Richard Purcell adorns the Balmy Alley garage door of Marty's Place. Photo by Marilyn Chase.

This mural of Father Richard Purcell adorns the Balmy Alley garage door of Marty's Place. Photo by Marilyn Chase.

Before its closure in 2010, a house called “Marty’s Place” served as a private homeless shelter for those living with HIV/AIDS. Soon the longtime institution, on Treat and 25th, will open again; when it does it will become the first “permanently affordable” housing cooperative for the city’s LGBTQ community living with HIV/AIDS.

A Victorian built in 1895 whose muraled garage door opens out to Balmy Alley, Marty’s Place offers a particularly charming new model for affordable housing. It will be owned and managed by the tenants who inhabit it.

“You have this vision of low-income housing as not being beautiful, but when you walk into Marty’s Place, the beauty strikes you,” said Tommi Avicolli Mecca, a queer housing activist at the Housing Rights Committee, who is among the team to reopen the house.

That beauty, according to Mecca, is the house’s long legacy as a safe haven for people living with HIV/AIDS. Its namesake, Marty Purcell, died from the disease in 1990. In his memory, his brother Richard Purcell founded Marty’s Place as a space “where people could find refuge.”

Richard Purcell, a Franciscan Friar, operated Marty’s Place completely independently for nearly 20 years, providing shelter for the sick and destitute. After Richard’s death in 2011, the property was handed off to Dolores Street Community Services. However, the nonprofit organization was unable to reopen the house and Marty’s Place has remained vacant for the last few years.

Now, Marty’s Place hopes to house six to nine low-income residents by turning the building into a cooperatively owned home facilitated by the San Francisco Community Land Trust, which will start sharing ownership of the property with Dolores Street Community Services. Once reopened, future residents will be able to keep rent to $800 for a single room and $450 for a shared room.

Through community ownership, co-op residents will make decisions together in a “democratic way” through self-management including collectively solving problems, keeping up-to-date on housing laws, managing a budget and more.

Tracy Parent, director of the Land Trust, stresses that rather than a “traditional house,” Marty’s Place is a collectively-owned model that can be replicated throughout the city. Moving forward, the Land Trust will help recruit and train the nine founding co-op members who will be ready to move in by the spring of next year, according to Parent.

“The reason why the Land Trust is excited about this project [is that] it’s not only building on a history of affordable housing, it’s one more example of shared ownership, shared management, and shared control.” she said. “It can be a model that can be expanded in San Francisco.”

It isn’t the first time the Land Trust has implemented the co-op model in the Mission District. In May, the residents of 2976 23rd Street were saved from eviction when the Land Trust bought their 14-unit building and converted it into a self-managed co-op house, an effort spearheaded by the tenants themselves.

The Land Trust creates permanently affordable, resident-controlled housing by helping its members form nonprofit cooperative organizations and operate the property in which they live. With the help of the Land Trust and LGBTQ activists, the future tenants of Marty’s Place will have community ownership of the land the house sits on, rather than having a conventional landlord.

Before the co-op residents can move in, they need to raise $250,000 by November in order to pay for much-needed renovations, including improvements to the plumbing and electrical systems, a new roof, windows and fresh coats of paint. On Sunday, there will be a fundraiser at the three-story home with live music. They’ve already raised $1,500 since the campaign launched yesterday.

“This story is very much the story of San Francisco, of what makes this city so amazing and welcoming. It’s also sadly about how we are losing,” Mecca said. “I think the current housing crisis is all the more tragic because we are losing places like this because the cost of buying something in the Mission is insanely high.”

For Mecca, the house’s status as a “permanently affordable” place is a major step forward, particularly for LGBTQ people who are at risk of being priced out of the city.

“As a gay man, I lost a lot of my friends through AIDS,” Mecca added. “It’s extremely important that people can come into the house and not feel that they’re going to get evicted in a week… It’s a drop in the bucket but at least it’s a drop in the bucket in the right direction.”

This article has been updated at 12:30 p.m. July 29, 2014.

8 Comments

  1. Sam

    If they still need a quarter of a million, then this is far from a done deal.

    I have a feeling that in the future we will read some bad things about the CLT. My concern is that they lack the business nous to really understand the obligations of running a loss-making entity like this, no matter how noble the intentions.

    And pushing those obligations back onto the tenants, as is being done here, could backfire massively, especially since I’d assume these tenants do not have much earnings power to fund their investment.

    • Stop casting aspersions and pick up the phone or email if you have questions about the Land Trusts acumen. I’d be happy to have you over to the office and have your questions answered. James Tracy SFCLT BOD member. jamestracysf@gmail.com.

    • JJ

      Sam- you don’t know squat about coops, clearly. Try talking to some of us who actually live in Limited Equity Housing Coops. It is the best thing that ever happened for me. Your comments smack of elitism. Stop equating income with know-how.
      SFCLT is a knowledgeable and experienced group of people.

  2. Nice to read about sharing that actually means sharing. This is a beautiful example of the real sharing economy. Concerns about a, “loss-making entity” could be set aside until after you’ve read the deed and title transfer; the co-op won’t necessarily be starting in the red or be unable to make taxes, insurance and maintenance.

    • Sam

      Dame, evidently then you missed the part where the article clearly states that:

      “But before the co-op residents can move in, they need to raise $250,000 by November in order to pay for much-needed renovations . . . ”

      So a handful of residents with little earning power are on the hook for a quarter of a million in liabilities before they even start?

      The fact that they are running a fundraiser tells me they are already in the red, nothwithstanding your bleary categorization of how this all one big share-fest.

      I’m not knocking the idea; only the financial realities that do not appear to have been fully addressed. The mery-go-round building on 23rd Street was planned better since there was 100K a year flowing in and everyone there had a job or some form of income. It wasn’t being constructed as some kind of charity case.

      • JJ

        Sam- Why are you assuming the residents have no income and/or no jobs? And even if they do not, do you have any idea how much cheaper is is to house people in this community manner than to warehouse people in crap locations? People stay healthier longer when they have a voice, nice surroundings. You sound like one more speculator disappointed that property is being removed from the ghastly & destructive speculative market.

        • Sam

          JJ, OK what is the gross income of the residents here? If they are old and sick, it’s reasonable to assume that they are not high income. But I’m happy for you to prove me wrong. but otherwise I question the viability of this enterprise fiscally.

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