Trying to have hope

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OPINION I get it, as Harvey Milk famously said: "You gotta give them hope." But how do you do that when the LGBT community you love so much is being priced and evicted out of the city?

When immigrants, people of color, artists, the poor and working-class, people with AIDS, seniors, persons with disabilities, and so many others are being pushed out — like you, Harvey, were forced out of your camera store and apartment on Castro Street when your rent was tripled. Just before an assassin's bullet took you from us, you were preparing an anti-speculation tax to deal with the rising rents and displacement caused by speculators and real estate investors.

We tried to curb their dirty work via a state bill limiting use of the Ellis Act, but Democrats buckled in to pressure from the real estate industry that owns them. Shame on Democratic House Speaker Toni Atkins from San Diego, an out lesbian, whose inaction on the bill helped kill it.

Our only hope is the anti-speculation tax on the November ballot. Brian Basinger of the AIDS Housing Alliance is calling it the Harvey Milk Anti-Speculation Tax.

The stakes are high right now. Our housing crisis is destroying our community. According to the Anti-Eviction Mapping Project, which tracks displacement throughout the city, District 8 (which includes the Castro) has the highest rate of Ellis Act and Owner Move-In evictions, almost 2,000 units emptied since 1997. That doesn't include buyouts and threats of evictions, de facto evictions that have pushed out many more, most of them tenants with AIDS. Far too many people with AIDS are homeless in a city that used to be called the "model of caring."

The motive for these evictions is obvious. A two-bedroom across the street from my Castro apartment rents for $4,200. An apartment above the new Whole Foods at Sanchez and Market can cost you as much as $8,000. A month! I don't want to upset you, Harvey, so I won't tell you how high commercial rents are, and how poorly neighborhood businesses are faring these days.

The economic disparity has never been greater. Two Williams Institute studies show that our community is as poor as, and in some instances poorer than, other communities. In our city's latest homeless count, 29 percent of respondents identified as LGBT and an additional 3 percent as transgender. Other reports say that 40 percent of the city's homeless youth are queer.

Forget Altoona, that homeless queer kid in the Haight or Castro needs a sense of hope. We have a sit/lie law similar to the one you opposed that prevents these kids from getting subsidized housing if they have an unpaid citation. They sleep in the park because they're not safe in the shelters. Sadly, Human Rights Campaign and Equality California have never made them — or the poor — a priority.

Cranes and rainbow flags may be all the rage in Upper Market these days, but what's being built will not be affordable to homeless, poor, or working class (even some middle-class) people. The Castro has only one affordable housing project in the pipeline: 110 units for LGBT seniors at 55 Laguna. Our D8 supervisor and City Hall have let us down big time.

Harvey, I want to think that 10 years from now, our community will still have the Castro as a refuge. I want to believe that poverty, homelessness, and hunger will be greatly reduced. That we can stop the evictions. That we can give young people a piece of the dream. That we can provide seniors a secure place to spend their final days. That we can have elected officials who truly represent us, as you did.

I really want to have hope.

Tommi Avicolli Mecca, a longtime queer and housing rights activist (and an organizer of the first Philadelphia Pride march in 1972), is a grand marshal of this year's Pride Parade.