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Realtors Push Programs to Aid City's Homeless : Their Influence With Politicians and Bankers Called Important to Efforts

September 22, 1987|GREG JOHNSON | Times Staff Writer

Caryl Iseman, a San Diego Realtor, believes that it's only natural for the county's 4,000 Realtors to use their expertise to help the county's homeless men, women and children.

"We believe there's a (homeless) problem," Iseman said last week. "And if we've got a problem, we've all got to pull together and solve it before it gets worse and someone solves it for us."

That "someone" with the solutions probably will be legislative bodies that will order the construction of more government-funded housing, a solution Iseman finds distasteful. "I don't think that a handout is always the answer," Iseman said.

The construction of more public housing runs counter to the real estate industry's traditional stance that "the government shouldn't be in the business of funding housing, that there shouldn't be rent control, and that market forces should be permitted to operate," according to Maria Foscarinis, a Washington, D.C.-based attorney for the National Coalition for the Homeless.

While Iseman acknowledged that some new public housing is necessary, she argued that the "traditional (government) response of subsidized housing is not working."

Unsuccessful Candidate

Iseman, 44, is president of HSI Investments Inc., a downtown real estate brokerage firm. She was an unsuccessful candidate in the 78th Assembly District in 1984. She now sits on the affordable housing subcommittee of the San Diego Regional Task Force on the Homeless, and has testified on the homeless issue before a San Diego City Council subcommittee.

Iseman and Jim Ahern, another real estate broker, are co-chairing the San Diego Board of Realtors' newly formed committee that will handle some traditional tasks, including the lobbying of local and state politicians. Committee members also will distribute information on the homeless problem to the county's Realtors.

For example, Iseman said "single room occupancy" hotels, which often are touted as a cost-effective means of providing low-cost housing, aren't always the answer. She suggested that private developers can, without government funding, provide alternative, low-cost housing.

The Realtors' proposed agenda--from disseminating information to cataloguing which buildings are available for use as shelters--coincides with goals included in a recent report published by San Diego's Regional Task Force on the Homeless, according to task force Director Frank Landerville.

Landerville welcomed the "influence that Realtors have and can have with people who count," including politicians and bankers.

Lobbied Legislators

That influence recently came into play when Iseman successfully lobbied local legislators to include a San Diego homeless project in a bill now on the governor's desk. The legislation, if signed, would clear the way for a day-care center for homeless men to be built on state-owned land on 17th Street between J and K streets.

"Caryl was the person who made the (legislative) contact," Landerville said. "I hear a lot of people say they're going to do something but it doesn't always happen. Caryl did it."

Iseman expects the Realtors to do more than simply rely upon traditional responses such as lobbying. For example, the task force might:

Catalogue vacant buildings in the county that could be used as shelters for the homeless during colder months. The resulting data would be turned over to existing agencies, which could turn the vacant buildings into emergency shelters.

Find houses or easily convertible buildings that could be used to temporarily house the homeless.

The committee also will press individual Realtors to become more involved in the effort to find solutions to the problems of homeless people.

But one national observer wondered if Realtors are too biased to play an effective role in solving problems faced by the homeless.

"People are just being squeezed out of existing housing and low-cost housing is not replaced," complained Foscarinis.

Foscarinis suggested that Realtors support local and state ordinances that require real estate developers to create replacement housing whenever higher-cost projects eat into the supply of lower-cost housing.

Realtors should "help press for increased (public) funding of housing (instead of) opposing subsidized housing," she said.She also complained that real estate brokers and the development industry too often push to keep homeless centers and care facilities out of neighborhoods, a claim that Iseman disputed.

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