Don't be a part of the problem

  • by Tommi Avicolli Mecca
  • Wednesday January 4, 2017
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Editor's note: The Bay Area Reporter asked community leaders to weigh in on what they think the new District 8 supervisor should focus on in 2017.


The building of affordable housing, stopping evictions, and addressing poverty and homelessness within the LGBT community as well as maintaining San Francisco as a sanctuary city and pushing for reforms within the police department should be key priorities for the mayor's appointment to replace gay former District 8 Supervisor Scott Wiener.

The LGBT community, like all communities in this city, has been hard hit by the current affordable housing crisis. Countless members of our community in the Castro and elsewhere in the city have been displaced by no fault evictions motivated by the desire to make huge profits. Our new District 8 supervisor must work hard to stop these evictions by fighting to strengthen tenant protections (on the local and state levels) as well as making it less lucrative to speculate on and flip buildings, which usually ends in tenants being evicted. Will the new District 8 supervisor go down in history as someone who aided the demise of the gayborhood or worked hard to protect it?

The new supervisor should be concerned that the Castro has seen no 100 percent affordable housing except for the Openhouse units for LGBT (and other) seniors which are currently being built at the very edge of the gayborhood and which were fought for by community activists. In the six years that Wiener was supervisor, a ton of market-rate condos were built along Upper Market, with a handful of BMRs (below market rate units) that are not affordable for the homeless or those who are low-income, such as many people with AIDS, seniors, minimum wage workers and youth. The new District 8 supervisor should prioritize the building of 100 percent affordable housing in the district, especially in the Castro; oppose any more luxury condos, which most of us in the neighborhood cannot afford; and support the work of the Community Land Trust in acquiring buildings and keeping them affordable forever.

LGBT poverty and homelessness also need to be addressed by the new supervisor. Two Williams Institute studies show that poverty is as high within our community as it is within other communities, refuting the misperception that we have lots of disposable income. Homelessness disproportionately affects our community. Up to 40 percent of homeless youth in this city identify as LGBT. Twenty-nine percent of the homeless also self identify as queer or transgender. 

Shelters are not an option for homeless queer and trans folks. According to a report from the Coalition on Homelessness, trans people experience harassment in the city's shelters at a higher rate than any other segment of the population. It's why I and other housing activists helped set up the LGBT friendly Jazzie's Place in 2015 with the support of gay outgoing Supervisor David Campos and his staff. It has only 24 beds. We also helped re-open Marty's Place as a co-op for homeless and low-income people with AIDS. It currently houses six people. Clearly, not enough. The new District 8 supervisor must work to identify more housing opportunities for homeless LGBT folks.

The new District 8 supervisor should oppose the criminalization of homelessness. It's not a crime to be homeless. It's a crime that San Francisco continues to criminalize the poorest among us. So-called quality of life citations, whether for sit/lie, panhandling or pitching a tent on a sidewalk, tie up the courts, create a "criminal" record that can thwart efforts to obtain housing, and cost the city more money than simply giving the homeless a place to live, as Salt Lake City and New York City have discovered. I hope that the new supervisor understands that housing is the only solution to homelessness, not taking away tents or pushing people from one area to another.

The new supervisor must also defend our sanctuary city policy to protect our immigrant brothers and sisters, and join with Black Lives Matter and others in working for reforms in a police department that continues to murder black and brown people. Our new District 8 supervisor must understand that LGBT issues encompass more than gay marriage and electing out queer and trans people. They include issues that affect all segments of our diverse community.

Finally, the new supervisor must be accountable, first and foremost, to the needs of the people of the district and the city and not to the mayor and his desire to have six votes on the board. District 8 has a proud legacy established over 40 years ago by Harvey Milk and his successor Harry Britt, a legacy of looking out for the most vulnerable among us; a legacy of challenging the powers that be, even, at times, the Democratic machine itself; a legacy of putting what's right over what's politically expedient. 

The next two years will show whether this new supervisor will be part of that legacy or merely one more moderate vote on the board.


Tommi Avicolli Mecca has been a queer activist for 45 years and a tenants rights/affordable housing advocate for almost two decades. He has lived in the Castro for 25 years.