SENIOR POWER: Looking back ahead

Helen Rippier Wheeler,
Sunday August 28, 2016 - 02:34:00 PM

Women finally got a piece of the action in 1920. Passage of the 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution provided American women with full voting rights fifty years after all American men were enabled to vote. Sixteen other nations had already guaranteed women this right.

August 26th is designated as Women's Equality Day to commemorate this event. Women’s Equality Day is officially proclaimed in some locales. It was instituted by Congressional Representative Bella Abzug (1920-1998) when she was 60 years old. Women and girls have come a long way but there is still much work to be done to achieve true equity. Women’s Equality Day is not on the calendars of the Berkeley public library, the City of Berkeley, nor Berkeley senior centers.  

What does this have to do with senior power, with old Americans? One might also ask whether old women vote. Voter turnout is the percentage of eligible voters who cast a ballot in an election. Just who is or is not eligible to vote varies by country. Some nations discriminate based on sex, race, and/or religion; age and citizenship are usually among the criteria. Low senior voter turnout has been attributed to a variety of factors, and it may be due to disenchantment, indifference, or contentment.  

In 1995, then-First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton (1947- ) made international news in her speech at the Fourth World Conference on Women. She declared, "It’s time for us to say here in Beijing, for the world to hear, that it is no longer acceptable to discuss women's rights as separate from human rights."  

Quingrong Ma (1943- ), Chinese women’s rights advocate and Nobel Peace Prize recipient believes that “The only way to solve the problem of women’s subordination is to change people’s mindset and to plant the new idea of gender equality into every mind.” 

Mahnaz Afkhami (1941- ), Executive Director of the Foundation for Iranian Studies, and former Minister of State for Women's Affairs in Iran, sees “The connection between women’s human rights, gender equality, socioeconomic development and peace … increasingly apparent.”  

The Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), an international treaty adopted in 1979 by the United Nations General Assembly, has not been ratified by the U.S. A coalition of 100+ organizations signed a letter urging the U.S. Senate to ratify this treaty. President Obama endorses ratification, and has identified the Convention as a multilateral treaty priority. Opponents claim that the Civil rights Act of 1964 protects women from discrimination. It has been downgraded in a sense to a Committee.  


“Housing is a human right,” declared labor and senior-rights advocate Helen Corbin Lima (1917-2005). She was a resident of Strawberry Creek Lodge (SCL) senior housing. Strawberry Creek Lodge -- referred to locally as The Lodge or Strawberry -- was built in 1962 in Berkeley, California. Its purpose was affordable rental housing for lower to middle income senior citizens. Three adjoining buildings in a park-like setting provided 150 units—most were studios, some one-bedroom apartments, each with a bathroom and kitchenette. An elective, not-free evening meal was introduced when there no longer was a supermarket within walking distance.  

Housing problems especially for low-income and disabled seniors in Berkeley were and are in the news. At SCL (1320 Addison) and Redwood Gardens (2951 Derby), for example. (December 19, 2014 PlanetTroubles in Berkeley's Redwood Gardens.”)  

In 1991, when Lima moved into a tiny SCL studio, her only income was Social Security. She applied for Section 8 housing, and a whole new realm of political activity opened up for her. From then until her death, she was active in the fight for so-called affordable housing (which differs from low-income housing) and to save Section 8, which was threatened. Until her deteriorating health made it no longer possible, she was also actively involved in a SCL Tenants Association.  

Section 8 refers to Section 8 of the Housing Act as repeatedly amended. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) manages Section 8 programs. It authorizes the payment of rental housing assistance to private landlords on behalf of millions of low-income households in the United States. The largest part of the Section is the Housing Choice Voucher program which pays a large portion of the rents and utilities of households. 

Section 8 also authorizes a variety of "project-based" rental assistance programs, under which the owner reserves some or all of the units in a building for low-income tenants, in return for a federal government guarantee to make up the difference between the tenant's contribution and the rent in the owner's contract with the government.  

In 1997 Lima founded Save Section 8, a nonprofit self-help, grass-roots effort in behalf of American seniors who need rent-subsidized apartments. No admission or membership fees were charged to attend meetings. Activities included picketing, petitions, meetings, newspaper publicity, publications, presence at California’s annual senior rally, counseling individuals and providing speakers. Income came from voluntary contributions.  

Rent was and is charged for non-senior related events held in Berkeley senior centers rooms. Save Section 8 meetings in the large meeting room of the North Berkeley Senior Center were not always viewed by the City fathers as senior events. I corresponded with the City Manager’s office about this perception and Save Section 8 was finally able to hold monthly meetings without paying rent. Collecting contributions within the senior center towards Save Section 8 expenses was prohibited. Center Rules prohibit soliciting. Some gutsy seniors resorted to standing outside on the corner with tin cans, but this was discouraged.  

Lima was responsible for the production of a video, Housing is a Human Right: Seniors and Section 8 (22 minutes, closed captioned). The Santa Clara City Library had it in its collection; the Berkeley Public Library did not. (It appears no longer to be in libraries, possibly attributable to public libraries discarding VHS’s in favor of DVD’s. I have a copy, and film director Anahita Forati may have copies.)  

It was generally agreed that SCL buildings were in poor shape when, in August 2009, it received a 66.69 inspection score, which was 23.2% worse than the average HUD inspection score (100=best) for all Section 8.  

By 2012, the Lodge was a not-for-profit complex governed by a Board of Trustees whose meetings were attended by a Tenants Association representative. SCL was managed by Church Homes of Northern California (CCH). Income was derived from residents’ rents and HUD subsidies under Section 8.  

Most recently, Satellite Affordable Housing Associates – SAHA – “acquired SCL and is partnering with Strawberry Creek Lodge Foundation to refinance and remodel the Lodge including seismic and building upgrades. SAHA … also provides property management services, as well as … on-site service coordination.” [Internet]  


BOOK REVIEW: "Living past 100 will force us to rethink retirement," a review of The 100-Year Life: Living and Working in an Age of Longevity, by Lynda Gratton and Andrew Scott, reviewed by Justin Fox (Bloomberg News via Chicago [Illinois] Tribune, August 23, 2016).  

TV REVIEW: “Better Late Than Never sends (William) Shatner, (Henry) Winkler, (Terry) Bradshaw and (George) Foreman on adventure through Asia and tired old tropes," by Robert Lloyd (Los Angeles Times, August 23, 2016). NBC 10 PM Tuesday. 

The Chicago Tribune and Los Angeles Times may require free registration before providing articles. I recommend reading this book review! I do not recommend Better Late Than Never.