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Commentary | VOICES / A FORUM FOR COMMUNITY ISSUES

A Failure of the Heart Worsens Housing Crisis

August 23, 2003|Parker McPhinney | Parker McPhinney is a writer and artist in Echo Park.

When Bette Davis made the famous remark, "Old age is no place for sissies," she wasn't kidding. Especially if you're a senior in Los Angeles caught in the housing crisis.

Make that a double crisis if the 1913 Craftsman house-turned-fourplex in which you've rented a unit for the last 20 years sells to the highest bidder at foreclosure, and the new owner is focused on profit, not people. Unless you live in a part of the Los Angeles area that's protected by rent-control laws, you are in trouble. And even if you do, trouble could still come knocking to test your ability to stand up for your legal rights.

Call me "lost in ideals," but I was raised to treat my elders with respect, not to view them as easy prey to increase my bank account.

The words "senior abuse" popped into my head as I drove my 80-year-old neighbor first to the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles, followed by the Social Security office, Section 8 Housing Division, the housing authorities of Los Angeles, back to Legal Aid and then to the courthouse to file a six-page response to the eviction summons just 10 minutes under the deadline.

For those unfamiliar with the eviction process, I will explain. The legal papers come, three to four pages long, in language only a lawyer understands. They basically set the stage to get you out of your home. It starts the process, to see if you know how to dance. If you don't or are so old that you don't mind being a wallflower, you lose. Because if you do not respond to the legal paperwork, which you probably don't understand in the first place, you are asked to leave the dance floor that used to be your apartment.

A sheriff's deputy will then appear at your door usually within 10 days to remove you. If you are 80, speak fluent Spanish, limited English and have nowhere to go, perhaps he will buy you a cup of java and bid you good luck.

So time is a factor. When you are elderly, it is even more so. You move slower, get confused more easily and might not grasp the importance of those pieces of paper. My body temperature is at a record level because of my own experience with the new owners. They wanted me out too.

Lucky for me, I am half my neighbor's age, learned my rights as a tenant and am learning to love dancing.

Dialogue is a great thing. It starts with the heart, not court papers.

The crisis we have in Los Angeles has more to do with the heart than housing. We are in dire need of a new pacemaker.

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