Disability Perspective: The Housing Funding Charter Amendment

by Bob Planthold on December 10, 2007

Too often, our commentary has necessarily had to focus on the problems and roadblocks people with disabilities have with past or current behavior of city government. The proposed charter amendment on housing funding is a rare opportunity to focus on positive improvements for the future. It addresses a growing demographic trend that opponents ignore: there is a growing population of seniors and especially of people with disabilities.

There simply isn’t enough housing for the disabled– not here in SF, not in the Bay Area, not anywhere else in California. Worse, the supply of so-called accessible housing often simply isn’t. I know of one so-called “accessible” unit where one has to step up and over an 18-inch high side of a bathtub to take a shower or bath! That’s not even the worst, though; in District 3 there was built and approved an entire project for people with disabilities where many units required the resident to step up and over the side of a tub!

Sure, one can claim it was oblivious architects and building inspectors who allowed this to happen; more significantly, it’s also a reflection of the prevailing attitude by those in power. When monetary and land resources are scarce, then a very few get to decide who gets what–based on the personal and political priorities of those in power.

Hardly a reflection of the spirit of our city’s namesake–St. Francis. HE gave away his fortune and ministered to lepers [HINT: people with disabilities }.

Even in the Christian Bible, we read “the poor you will always have with you.” Which means that no matter what social, economic, or political system is in place, some people just won’t fit in.
Are they to be discarded? Ignored? Hidden away? Or recognized as our brothers and sisters also?

Yes, San Francisco has done well, relatively, in competing for the scarce and unreliable supply of federal and state housing funds; yet that still hasn’t been enough to meet the demands of housing for people with disabilities and for seniors. Worse, it means San Francisco still depends on the political priorities of people not in sync with “San Francisco values”.

And, even San Francisco’s current housing boom, both of private housing and of [ semi – ] subsidized housing, is not enough to meet the ABAG requirements for housing those who are very low or low income. Throughout the country, the income levels of people with disabilities are too often in these latter two categories–categories where the housing need is not met with available state and federal funds.

Only when there is a continuing and adequate supply of money from San Francisco sources can enough developers, contractors, and architects look to San Francisco as worth their long-time work focus. A steady supply of local funds can also generate competition, both as to design and price. Isn’t that prudent?

And isn’t housing people with disabilities consistent with the practice of St. Francis and “San Francisco values”?

If this charter amendment isn’t put forth for the voters to consider, then what alternative do opponents propose? I haven’t heard of any local alternative funding approach, let alone one that meets the need.

Instead all we here from opponents is “we can’t afford it”. Powerlessness is not part of San Francisco’s self-image.

For the “city that knows how”, the opponents of this charter amendment are channeling Nancy Reagan’s philosophy: “Just say no”.

Does San Francisco enshrine the thinking of Nancy Reagan, or embrace the practices of St. Francis?

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