Dignity and respect were the main themes that emerged Sunday afternoon during a standing-room-only congregation, as community leaders demanded that the San Francisco Board of Supervisors deliver on the promise of truly affordable housing for low-income seniors in the Mission.
The turnout at St. Anthony of Padua Church’s parish hall on 3215 César Chávez St. amazed organizers, and the uncomfortably warm room did not discourage the nearly 200 people — seniors, youth and clergy — who wanted to hear the stories of those affected.
Last June, Casa Adelante, a 100 percent affordable, 94-unit housing project for seniors at 1296 Shotwell St., broke ground, after the community advocated for its construction for five years.
The nine-story building is expected to be finished by mid-2020. Community leaders are asking for rent to be set at 30 percent of seniors’ income, which the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development determines as fair market rent.
Presently, the rent at Casa Adelante is based on 50 percent of the area median income of $7,200 a month, meaning residents will be earning $3,600 a month maximum. But, since rents cannot be more than 50 percent of income, there is a minimum income as well, in the vicinity of around $2,000 a month — causing the housing project to be out of reach for nearly “70 percent of senior renters in San Francisco,” according to Faith in Action, a community-based organization.
Olinda Orellana did not mince words when she stepped up to the podium to share her thoughts.
“If we do not get what we are asking for, we will be living on the streets very soon, because we do not have the money to pay for this,” she said in Spanish.
“Claro como el agua,” said Esperanza Navas, one of the hosts of the event. “[It’s] clear as water. This is the reality. Here, we don’t filter ourselves. Here, we speak the truth. We know the pain. We know the suffering. We know that we can either eat or pay rent.”
Overcome with emotion, Patrona Orellana, who has worked and lived in the city for more than 30 years, said she had hoped to apply to the Casa Adelante project, but later realized she would not be able to qualify with what she receives from her pension.
“Who here has an income of $7,200 a month?” asked Deisy Camey, a parishioner of the church.
The crowd responded with a loud chorus. “Nadie!” they said. “No one!”
“Well,” continued Camey. “That’s why we are here. The city does not know exactly how we are living.”
An additional testimonial was read on behalf of Raul Vazquez, who is currently hospitalized. A former baker at La Victoria, Vazquez has lived in San Francisco for more than 40 years.
“I believed I lived in a sanctuary city,” he wrote, “but a sanctuary city does not exclude. A sanctuary is inclusive of everyone, including the elderly — who deserve to live with dignity.”
The final speech came from Rosario Garcia, who said she wishes that they are able to live their remaining years in tranquility. “Please, help us,” she said. “We need it to move forward.”
A set of questions was then posed to the public officials in attendance: Supervisor Gordon Mar, as well as Jen Low and Amy Beinart, legislative aides who represent Board President Norman Yee and Supervisor Hillary Ronen, respectively.
“I understand that the housing affordability crisis and the displacement crisis is the biggest issue facing everyone in our city, in every district, in every community,” said Mar. “Our rapidly growing senior population is among the most impacted and we urgently need solutions.”
And while he’s proud of the $600 million affordable housing bond slated for the November ballot, the largest affordable housing bond in the city’s history, “it’s not nearly enough for what we need.”
He added that it is critical elected officials work with the community to ensure that the wealthy, as well as the booming tech and corporate sectors, pay their fair share in taxes.
Referencing his proposal for the November ballot to increase the corporate tax on stock-based compensation for San Francisco-based companies, like Uber, Lyft and Airbnb, Mar said “it would create $100 million revenue every year that we could use to expand truly affordable housing for low-income seniors.”
Having taken care of his parents and aunts, and as the only senior on the Board of Supervisors, Yee relayed the message that he “knows full well what it means to have a home” and understands the concern of being displaced or exploited in the last years of life.
“Only 12 percent of the housing pipeline is meant for seniors. We were completely floored,” said Low, speaking on behalf of the supervisor. “President Yee, as part of the housing bond that Supervisor Mar talked about, ensured that there was going to be a dedicated source within the housing bond for senior housing: $150 million of the $600 million will be for senior housing.”
This is just a start, she said, for a problem that is systemic.
Beinart, who is Ronen’s legislative aide, said her office is working alongside Yee’s on the Senior Operative Subsidy program that would lower rent for senior housing.
“It came as a surprise to us to understand that the affordability level was higher than we had expected,” she said. “More importantly, higher than what was actually affordable higher to seniors in this district.”
She added that it’s urgent that the subsidy program is applied to Casa Adelente, as well as the next 45-unit housing project for seniors in the Mission.
Nodding their heads, it was clear that the crowd gathered at the Catholic church’s parish hall — nearly two hours later and still standing-room-only — were in agreement.
“We hope that [the public officials] don’t forget about the declarations made today,” said Navas, one of the co-hosts, at the conclusion of the event. “Because we won’t let them.”