Marty's Place, home for people living with HIV, set to reopen 

click to enlarge Marty's Place
  • courtesy Jon Rendell
  • Paul Evan Gross, left, presents a donation check to housing activists Wendy Phillips, Tommi Avicolli Mecca, and Tracy Parent at Marty's Place.

A historic shelter for San Franciscans with HIV/AIDS that shut down in 2010 may soon reopen as an affordable housing cooperative managed by residents living with HIV, the first of its kind in The City.

The shelter, founded in 1989 by Richard Purcell, a Franciscan friar, served as housing for low-income and homeless community members with HIV/AIDS. It shuttered when Purcell became ill with Lou Gehrig's disease (Purcell passed away in 2011). Now, several local housing rights organizations have come together in an effort to reopen Marty's Place.

Spearheaded by The San Francisco Community Land Trust, the Housing Rights Committee of San Francisco and Dolores Street Community Services, the project aims to give ownership and control of the building to its future residents and to ensure permanent affordability for people living with HIV/AIDS. The reestablishment of Marty's Place is inspired by Purcell's vision for the building.

Prior to his death in 2011, Purcell gave the house to Dolores Street Community Services, a housing non-profit in the Mission district. DSCS has partnered with the San Francisco Community Land Trust to reopen the now-shuttered shelter as a co-op.

click to enlarge Marty's Place
  • courtesy Candy Michelle Smallwood
  • A Victorian house on Treat Ave. will once again serve as Marty's Place, a home for community members living with HIV/AIDS.

Marty's Place was initially based in a one-bedroom apartment and expanded to its current location, a house on Treat Avenue, in 1993. The shelter was named for Purcell's brother, Marty, who died from health problems related to AIDS in 1989.

"He built this institution that is the heart of San Francisco," said Tommi Avicolli Mecca of the Housing Rights Committee. "It is what the city has always stood for. Preserving it, to me, is of paramount importance."

Purcell gave the building to Dolores Street Community Services with the stipulations that the building not be sold for 10 years and that it continue to be used as housing for people with HIV/AIDS. However, DSCS struggled to find funding to keep Marty's Place open.

Under the current plan, DSCS will lease the property to the Community Land Trust, which will manage the property taxes and insurance and re-lease the building to a collective of six to nine residents. The residents, according to Tracy Parent of the Community Land Trust, "will move in spring of next year and they will operate the building directly."

For HIV/AIDS patients, Parent continued, "It's very important to have an affordable home with a shared living arrangement so that if you do have a health issue, it will not affect your ability to afford housing in San Francisco."

click to enlarge Marty's Place
  • courtesy Jon Rendell
  • The interior of Marty's Place, which may be reoccupied next spring.

Residents would pay low rents to live at Marty's Place and operate the house collectively. According to Mecca, potential tenants are being vetted by the AIDS Housing Alliance. Once selected, they will receive training in running a collective from the Community Land Trust.

"We want to reopen it and fulfill Richard Purcell's dream. By doing it as a land trust, we ensure that it's going to be around for a long, long time and that it will be affordable," Mecca said.

In order to reopen, Marty's Place hopes to raise $250,000 for renovations. A fundraiser is scheduled for Sunday, Aug. 3, at 2 p.m. at Marty's Place. Details can be found on the Marty's Place Facebook page.

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