SAN FRANCISCO—When Longqi Liu, a senior Chinatown resident, fell in his shower, he spent almost three weeks in hospital. While he is back home now, he says he is not the same person, being less mobile and unable to think as sharp as before.
Liu’s story is not uncommon among seniors living in Single Room Occupancy hotels (SRO). For many low-income residents, SROs are the only affordable option to rent in San Francisco. Most SROs have a shared restroom, bathroom, and kitchen and are known for their violations of health and building codes.
There are currently 8,000 seniors and persons with disabilities living in SROs, the city estimates. Since SROs are often ill-equipped to meet their needs, living there poses risks for these groups.
New legislation introduced on Monday at a supervisor committee meeting seeks to change this.
“Seniors should have the right to age in a place in their community,” said Hene Kelly, at a rally in front of City Hall on Feb. 11, organized by advocacy group San Francisco Senior and Disability Action.
A 2012 survey conducted by SRO tenant advocacy group The Central City SRO Collaborative and others found that almost half of the residents have no grab bars in their baths and restrooms.
“Grab bars save lives,” since the main cause of accidents for the elderly are falls, and some can be lethal, said Kelly, who is board member of Senior and Disability Action.
Adding to the risk of falling is that residents often cannot call their family or city services, since their units are usually not equipped with working phone jacks.
Apart from emergency situations, for elderly and disabled people “it is extremely important to call for medical appointments and for medical advice,” Kelly said. Mobile phones often do not work in these units and are too expensive.
The ordinance (pdf), introduced by San Francisco Supervisor Eric Mar, and debated on Feb. 4 at the San Francisco Land Use and Economic Development Committee, would require landlords to install grab bars in all rest rooms and bathrooms as well as provide phone jacks and wiring in the units.
Mar believes the legislation will contribute to “increasing the safety for our most vulnerable residents,” while also saving money for the city.
If those senior residents head to the emergency room, the public has to foot the bill. Also, the requirements would reduce any liability for building owners, said Mar.
The ordinance, which has five co-sponsors will become effective in 30 days, if passed at the full Board of Supervisors, probably next month.
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