By Rev. Norman Fong

October 9, 2018

norman fong

When 6000 seniors lined up recently to just get on the International Hotel waiting list, it should remind everyone that we need more affordable senior housing. When Mayor Breed announced this past Tuesday that she was changing the senior portion of 13 senior units at 88 Broadway to become more affordable (i.e. from 60% AMI to 30% AMI) , the seniors of the Community Tenants Association (CTA) clapped but privately said: “We need a lot more”, but it’s a start. Affordable senior housing really needs to become a higher priority for this city.

international hotel
Seniors lined up to sign up for the International Hotel waiting list

88 broadway
Mayor London N. Breed

As a young child I remember visiting many Aunties and Uncles living in SROs in Chinatown. Sometimes they were my babysitters and other times as I got older, I visited them to deliver food baskets. Today, I bring groups into SROs so that our youth, supporters, and city officials can see our hidden poverty in Chinatown and we all have to do more! In the past two decades, more families have moved into these SRO Hotels as well which make up half of Chinatown. “We have to do more”.

We also held a recent press conference at 801 Pacific Ave. to welcome home the many seniors living there. I am so proud of the seniors there that advocated for the rebuilding and renovations there to keep those SROs for the residents. In many other neighborhoods, when a fire displaces the residents, they hardly ever get to come back because it can take years. I was proud of the seniors there because they advocated for more sprinklers on the ground level businesses which cause the fire they went through.

Don’t you think we need to treat and love our seniors more?

801 pacific
801 Pacific press conference

The City of San Francisco needs to do more and we need to grow our senior voices more so that the city will listen. I am so proud of the Community Tenants Association (1,700 strong) who continue to speak out for more affordable housing. They have learned about “Senior Power” and continue to inspire other seniors to speak out. I also love programs like Self-Help for the Elderly and On Lok that provide invaluable services for our seniors. But, we can do more. At Chinatown CDC, we allowed some social worker students to interview some of our SRO Seniors. They were surveying them by asking them what are some of the issues they face. Some seniors feel very alone and wished their families would visit them more. Some seniors live with some pain (like arthritis) which is treatable but someone has to show them how.

There are so many seniors that can use more help and seniors being displaced around the city. They have been through so much in life, they should Not have to worry about being evicted or being pushed out because some developer has found out that our Chinatown SROs can be used for a more money-making endeavor. I am proud that Chinatown CDC recently bought 1 SRO at 937 Clay where we could have lost 73 units of affordable housing. We just can’t afford to buy much more to save the housing.

As a church pastor, I believe how we treat the elderly, the sick and the poor is how God will judge our society. It’s not all about “Beliefs” and “ideologies”. Practically, are you helping those in need and asking our city leaders to do the same. I was also touched by our Chinatown CDC Youth who continue to advocate for “Slowing Down for Chinatown” as so many seniors have been hit by cars and other vehicles. Our seniors can’t cross the street as fast as they did when they were younger.

We have to love and respect our seniors a lot more. I also want to mention an experience my son had in visiting seniors as well. He was part of our Chinatown CDC Youth and was asked to visit our Chinatown seniors and come up with a game for the seniors to play. I remember staying up late the night before he had to lead the game grabbing items from our home: like new sponges, soap, dishwashing liquid, etc. He led the game called guess the Right Price (or the Price is right) and the seniors loved it. Teaching our youth to love Seniors is so important to do. My son was deeply touched when a senior grabbed his hand and wouldn’t let go for a long while. We need to love our seniors more. We need the city to build more affordable senior housing.

937 clay
937 Clay

Originally published in Sing Tao Daily on October 7, 2018

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