No Housing for Immigrants in the Sanctuary City

In the Bay Area, accessing housing is a challenge many Americans face. While rents are rapidly rising, wages have stagnated; someone who works one, two, or even three minimum wage jobs in the Bay Area just can’t afford to live here anymore. Now imagine being an undocumented immigrant attempting to access limited, expensive housing and provide for your family. Often times, it can be a debilitating and stressful experience. The current implications of immigration policies in America displace and traumatize immigrants and refugees as well as foster hysteria and xenophobia amongst non-immigrants. Research suggests that the inadequate supply of housing, particularly affordable housing, adversely impact adults and children mentally, psychologically, and physically. Immigration advocates, human services professionals, and community members seek to rectify the adverse impacts of the housing crisis for immigrants and citizens here in the San Francisco Bay Area.

According to Brian Basinger, director of the Q Foundation, “Everyone is experiencing the housing affordability crisis. This hits especially hard to those of us with fewer options and a greater need to remain in SF: immigrants, seniors, disabled adults and families with disabled children, HIV-positive, LGBTQ. Refugees, asylum seekers, and undocumented immigrants have an especially difficult time. People with this status do not qualify for most affordable housing options.” In addition, “the federal government just removed the long-standing compassionate access program that allowed undocumented disabled HIV-positive people access to the Housing Opportunities for People with AIDS (HOPWA) program, and undocumented immigrants are no longer allowed to access the Shelter Plus Care program for disabled adults. LGBTQ or HIV-positive refugees, asylum seekers, and undocumented immigrants have it even harder than their non-LGBTQ or HIV-negative counterparts. Due to bias and discrimination, many of the traditional under-the-table housing and employment options are not available to them because of safety concerns.”

“The Q Foundation believes in a world where all people have a safe, decent and affordable home,” Basinger added.

“Toward that vision, we prevent or end homelessness especially targeting members of the LGBTQ or HIV-positive communities. We do not gather information about any prospective members’ immigration status.” The Q Foundation provides an array of housing services including emergency financial assistance, tenants rights counseling, affordable housing workshops, landlord mediation, job training and advocacy.

Even with agencies such as the Q Foundation doing some of the critical work in securing housing for undocumented immigrants, there are many challenges this population still faces. These include issues of discrimination based on their immigration status, inadequate housing, displacement and the emotional burden that the undocumented status holds. The Fair Housing Acts is supposed to protect people from these discriminatory acts when they are renting, buying or securing financing for any housing. The prohibitions specifically cover discrimination because of race, color, national origin, religion, sex, disability and the presence of children. But why isn’t it sufficiently protecting undocumented immigrants in the Bay Area?

Basinger addressed prevalent themes of tax giveaways, local legislation issues, and policies discussed in terms of lack of protection of undocumented immigrants rights.

“With the passing of the Twitter tax giveaway there wasn’t a plan in place for the tidal wave of displacement they were about to unleash,” he said. “If I had to pick the worse part of this, it is how the Twitter tax giveaway has disproportionately impacted poor and homeless San Franciscans who rely on SRO housing to get off of the street. Before the Twitter tax giveaway, we could get a hotel for $800 per month. Now those same rooms are going for $1600 per month.” Consequently, poor people, seniors, disabled, families, undocumented immigrants, and homeless people are the ones feeling the brunt of these actions by the government.

Immigration advocates and agencies such as the Q Foundation and Mission Neighborhood Resource Center (MNRC) attempt to do some damage control by implementing programs and projects, such as Casa Quezada and the Asylum Housing Project. Casa Quezada provides case management and housing support services ito a clientele that is 55 percent immigrants. Their approach is based on culturally sensitive practices that harness the housing and supportive needs of its targeted population. In addition, the Asylum Housing Project seeks to address LGBTQ-focused housing program for refugees, asylum seekers and undocumented people. The project is still in the development phase, but is a much needed program in the community.

Mission Neighborhood Resource Center is at the forefront of providing important services to the undocumented and immigrant populations. Laura Guzman, one of the founding directors, discussed the barriers that many undocumented immigrants face. “The lack of access to public benefits, subsidized housing funds, and income are the significant barriers that this population faces,” she says. Guzman also explains the implications of lack of income, access to benefits, and the increased experience homelessness within this population. Current trends find that “older, undocumented immigrants that have worked in this country for years, as they get older are not able to obtain benefits.”

It is evident that with the lack of access to public housing programs, subsidies, or other social services programs coupled with limited employment opportunities, it becomes virtually impossible for undocumented immigrants to maintain—or access—stable housing. Developing public policies that adhere to tenant rights, address the cost of living in the SF Bay Area, and ensure cultural sensitivity are the key steps in building an affordable housing model that serves the people who need it the most. Furthermore, access to adequate housing and shelter are human rights, so let’s continue to advocate the rights of many people seeking access to stable housing. ≠