Holland Stays Housed
ALRP client Holland G.’s world of comfort and security came crashing down when he received a notice from his landlord stating that his tenancy was being terminated. The notice did not provide any reason for the termination, but simply stated that he would be required to leave within a period of 60 days. Holland was devastated. “I went into panic mode,” he explains. He did not know whether he had the physical or mental stamina to search for housing under such a short deadline, let alone undertake the process of packing and moving.
Holland had considered himself fortunate. He spent the past seven years comfortably housed in a contemporary property with numerous amenities. The property’s central location gave him easy access to all of his service providers, who have helped him manage his HIV over the years.
Although Holland is not well enough to work and subsists on a very limited income through his Social Security benefits, he was able to afford housing thanks to a federal rental subsidy through the Section 8 program. Under Section 8, Holland’s portion of monthly rent is set at approximately 30% of his income and the balance is paid by the federal subsidy. While there were still challenges related to his HIV, his stable housing situation had given him the chance to focus on his health, leading to significant improvements over the seven years of his tenancy.
The anxiety brought about by the termination notice became even greater when Holland remembered how difficult it had been to find a landlord who was willing to accept his Section 8 voucher the last time he was looking for housing, more than seven years ago. “[The notice] brought up all of my levels of stress. When it rises to those levels, I can’t think straight.” The stress of receiving the notice was paralyzing, and for weeks he was unable to take any steps to respond. Holland knew he did not have the resources to afford an attorney and he was afraid that even with legal help, he would still lose his housing.
Fortunately, Holland found the AIDS Legal Referral Panel, where he met with Staff Attorney Jaime Rush. During their meeting, Jaime reviewed the notice and was instantly struck by its legal deficiency. “The notice was literally a two-sentence letter,” Jaime describes. “It did not include any explanation of why Holland’s tenancy was being terminated.” The operative contract between the landlord and the San Francisco Housing Authority, which administers the Section 8 program, does not allow tenants to be evicted for just any reason. In order to evict a tenant like Holland, the landlord would need a permissible reason, which it did not have.
“Jaime basically told me, ‘let me help you, because this is wrong,’” Holland recalls. “That was a really good feeling.” Jaime immediately contacted the landlord and demanded that the notice be withdrawn. After being redirected to several individuals within the property management office, Jaime was finally able to speak with someone who had the authority to respond to her demand. She confidently explained the legal deficiencies of the notice. The conversation ended with an agreement to withdraw the termination notice and to allow Holland to continue his tenancy without further interruption.
When Holland received the news that his housing was safe, he described feeling a sense of great relief. “My stress level went down. It created more stability and I am more comfortable now.” He still cannot believe that an organization such as ALRP exists to help people in his situation. “I didn’t know what to expect, but I said to myself, ‘wow—they want to help you.’ It was like bringing out the big guns. You know exactly how to hit the bull’s eye and that’s what you did!”
Published June 2011