Organizing the Western Park Residents’ Association has been rewarding and time-consuming. It’s interfered with writing, but since I expect to live here the rest of my life, I might as well make the best of it.
My 200 elderly neighbors are a rich and diverse collection of talented characters. Many are rather quirky, but never having been normal myself, I fit in.
Recently rehabilitated, our affordable housing complex is like new. With one 12-story tower and three multi-unit “cottages,” we have a small library, activities room, laundry room, roof-top garden, well-equipped exercise room, meeting room, computer room, and a large multi-purpose room with a ping-pong table, flat screen TV, and public address system.
Situated on the edge of the historic Fillmore District, two blocks from Japantown, and six blocks from Robert Redford’s Kabuki Sundance Cinema (with reserved seating!), the location is convenient. The bus at the corner goes directly to BART, which travels to the East Bay.
I knew I wanted to live here when twenty years ago I visited a resident, Bob Forsberg, a fellow member of the Campaign to Abolish Poverty. As I approached sixty, I dropped by once a year to try to get on the waiting list, but it was always closed. Then one day the staff took my number and within a year, almost four years ago, I moved in.
Since the building is owned by a church-related non-profit, my partially subsidized rent is only $971 per month (which is low for San Francisco!). When I get to the top of the Section 8 waiting list in several years, my rent will be even less, one-third of my income.
At that point, I’ll probably stop driving taxi. Though I may then have to become even more frugal, it seems I’ll still be able to live comfortably and maybe even spend $2-3,000 a year to travel, including trips abroad. To have more time for my community work, until now I haven’t worked for money enough to save for my retirement. So I feel fortunate I will be able to sell my taxi medallion, have landed in a great home, and have a good retirement plan.
When I moved in, the Residents Council was small and relatively inactive. Then the Council became completely inactive. As the rehab was nearing completion, however, some residents called a meeting to kickstart the Council. About fifteen people, including me, participated.
When I proposed a deliberate, fully informed process for recruiting candidates and conducting an election of officers with a secret ballot, my proposal was accepted and I was recruited to serve as Chair of the Election Committee. Later, when no one else would agree to run as President, I told the committee I would be willing to do so. They responded with spontaneous applause.
Though old-timers predicted a small turnout for our first meeting, more than 40 residents came. Later, more than 60% of the residents voted for the slate of candidates. Those responses were encouraging. We were off and running.
But the owner was bringing on a new executive director, our building only had an interim manager, everyone was recovering from the year-long rehab ordeal, and the new Residents’ Council was finding its feet. These transitions led to ambiguity about how the Council and management would relate to each other. So the Council decided to hold off on meeting during the holidays.
The New Year brought a new, permanent manager with whom the Council has collaborated productively. She has engaged in dialog with residents at our monthly Council meetings and participated in a vibrant Saturday night potluck with 50 residents. We’re solidifying our committees, including a Conflict Resolution committee that will address resident complaints about other residents and management.
The Council recently circulated a 10-question survey to all residents. The 58 responses were interesting and informative. In response to “I would like to participate in a gathering at least once every two months to get to know people on my floor more fully,” the replies were 24 Yes, 12 No, and 22 Not sure. When asked which committee they would like to work with, five respondents said they were interested in the Floor Gatherings committee. (Five also expressed interest in the Welcoming committee).
As an experiment with enriched social interaction, I invited 10 residents (the four-person Executive Committee and seven other active Council members) to a Saturday morning brunch in my apartment. After eating, we went around the circle and everyone told their story, including their current interests, using a timer to limit the responses to five minutes. All of the participants seemed to really enjoy it.
Also interesting is that when asked if the Council may let other residents know “if and when I am hospitalized,” the responses were about equally divided between Yes, No, and Not Sure.
Where all this goes in the future remains to be seen. But the prospects are promising and I’m enjoying the challenge.