James Nykolay & Brian Basinger founded AIDS Housing Alliance / SF in 2003 to address housing issues affecting people living with HIV/AIDS.
The History of Q Foundation
My partner, James Nykolay, and I opened the doors to the AIDS Housing Alliance/SF on January 29th, 2004. Coverage by the Bay Area Reporter and the San Francisco Chronicle created a line out of the front door on our first day. The line of people in need of housing assistance has not abated one day since.
On December 15th, 2003, I awoke from one of those lovely Sustiva dreams to a booming voice telling me “You must organize housing for people with AIDS”. The first thought that came to my head was “Okay, but it has to stay connected to the people. Not just 5 people sitting in a room making policy”. I walked toward the kitchen to start my coffee, scratching my head at how odd this was, but not really giving it that much thought. I was used to strange dreams by now. Less than five minutes later, the building manager where my partner had finally been able to land a place to live after an excruciating 5 1/2 month search for a landlord willing to rent to someone with AIDS and a rental subsidy, called to let me know that they had 2 additional units opening up that they wanted to rent them to people with AIDS. He said “I figured if anyone in this town knows how to do that, it’s you Brian”. That was my AHA moment. This dream and that phone call had to have meaning. At least I decided to take it that way. The new direction in my life was set. How many people get to live their dreams, literally?
I called Matthew Bajko at the Bay Area Reporter to let him know of my plans and to ask if this sounded like a story. He told me to get an office and he would write the story, so I called Tommi Avicolli Mecca at the Housing Rights Committee/SF and told him what I wanted to do. He immediately said they had an extra desk and I could start the AIDS Housing Alliance/SF there. I then contacted Rona Marech at the Chronicle, who also agreed to write a story. In just 3 short hours, the AIDS Housing Alliance/SF was born. In January, I took some money from my disability check and bought two used phones from Craigslist. My health still wasn’t stable yet, causing some delays, but we finally opened at the end of the month. Our very first client was an African American senior straight man who had just gotten off the bus from the deep South. He had recently tested positive and dropped everything to come to San Francisco in search of the medical care he could not get back home. The first member we got into housing was a bi-racial transgender woman from Vietnam who was confined to a wheelchair and was trying to exit hospice care at Maitri.
At the time, a real estate agent had purchased the home I had lived in for nearly half of my life and was using the Ellis Act to evict me, just like what had happened to over a dozen other people with AIDS on my tiny one block street, Pearl. We quickly noticed that several gay men with AIDS were coming in with the same story. Real estate speculators targeting their buildings for Ellis Act eviction in order to flip this rent controlled affordable housing into luxury condominiums. Some friends and I went down to the Rent Board to get the Ellis Act eviction data to follow my hunch that this state law was being unfairly used in a discriminatory way against seniors and disabled folks. We put this data into an eviction map that we used to lobby City Hall on an idea we had for legislative relief called No Fast Pass to Eviction. Our idea was to reward buidling owners who had not evicted senior, disabled, or catastrophically-ill tenants, by giving them first dibs on the condo conversion lottery. Speculators who had evicted these protected tenants would go to the bottom of the list for condo conversion.
Our idea worked! Under the leadership of Supervisor Chris Daly, we passed unanimously at the Board of Supervisors just before Thanksgiving in 2004, just 11 months after starting the organization. Mayor Gavin Newsom’s office approached us after the victory to congratulate us and let us know that funding has been allocated for us at the Mayor’s Office of Housing. We were an all volunteer organization of disabled people with HIV/AIDS who had free rent. Our only expense was the phone bills really. We debated whether we needed the funds but decided to take them to create supplemental employment for disabled people with HIV/AIDS so that they could afford their housing from the dignity of work.
And we haven’t stopped since.