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Queer Land Trust working to preserve affordable housing, stop displacement of the LGBT community

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Matti Bautista, left, and Jesse Oliver Sanford, co-founders of the Queer Land Trust, outside the building at 519 Castro St. on June 18, 2018. The QLT is attempting to purchase the building to keep open a collective house known as Grand Central, located above the Sausage Factory pizza restaurant, that serves as a place for LGBTQ artists and those who identify with the Radical Faerie movement. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

A land trust is seeking to raise $5 million to purchase property to conserve LGBT strongholds in and around San Francisco, starting with the building housing the Sausage Factory restaurant.

The Queer Land Trust was co-founded by Jesse Oliver Sanford, who lives above the Sausage Factory in a housing coop known as Grand Central, which is home to a group that calls itself The Radical Faeries. The trust aims to curb the displacement of the LGBT community in the Castro.

“We’ve seen a lot of change, rents double and we see generations vanish,” said Sanford, a 10-year Castro-resident. “All the rainbow sidewalks in the world won’t replace a flesh and blood community.”

Sanford and co-founder Matti Bautista initially created The Queer Land Trust when Grand Central residents were faced with the potential loss of their own home. The longtime owners of the Sausage Factory, the Azzolino family, briefly sought to sell the building about a year ago, but the former owner’s nephew, Mario Azzolino, has since taken over management and intends to keep it, he said in a Facebook message.

The Castro is known nationwide as a refuge for the LGBT community. According to Queer Land Trust advisory board member and housing activist Tommi Mecca, many migrate to San Francisco to escape the prejudice they’re sometimes subjected to in their hometowns. The Sausage Factory building and others, he said, can be a home for those who had to leave theirs behind.

“This building is a refuge for queer and trans people. We need it,” Mecca said. “San Francisco is accepting, but folks still need a refuge.”

The Castro, however, appears to be changing. Housing numbers reflect what Mecca calls a “de-gaying” of the neighborhood.

In 1990, 78 percent of its households in the Castro’s zip code were home to unmarried individuals of the same sex, according to “There Goes the Gayborhood”, a book highlighting the disappearance of enclaves such as the Castro. By 2010 that had fallen to 55 percent.

There is also a disproportionately high rate of homelessness in the LGBTQ community. According to a 2017 San Francisco homeless count and survey, 30 percent of homeless people in The City identify as LGBT. That number spikes dramatically for youth. Nearly half of all homeless people under the age of 26 in San Francisco identify as LGBT.

Sanford created the Queer Land Trust to address these problems and more.

“It’s a question of life and death for people,” Sanford said. “We’re looking for transitional housing for the formerly homeless.”

Sanford will also prioritize queer artists of color who have had the most difficult time finding a home the Castro due to its high housing prices, he said.

First, however, the trust will need to pivot to another building to house their aspirations, should Azzolino hold onto the building, as he has said he would.

Some of these include a sixteen-unit apartment building in South of Market, a cooperative house in Bernal Heights and a property housing a “Home for Aging Nuns” operated by the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence.

For Sanford, the first purchase the trust makes will likely be its most important.

“It will justify its existence,” he said. “After that, people can pick up the torch and continue.”

The trust has crowd-sourced $12,000 so far, in addition to other unspecified private donations. Sanford wouldn’t say exactly how much the trust has raised from unnamed sources, but his target funding for the first purchase is $1 million, a fraction of the $5 million total stated on the trust’s website.

In the Bay Area, however, buying multiple buildings is a challenge with that kind of capital.

“The land trust needs a competitive edge and that’s a big infusion of money,” Mecca said, emphasizing the need for more funding. “The housing crisis has devastated this neighborhood. We want people to organize. We want people to fight.”

According to Mecca and Sanford, LGBT neighborhoods save lives. They provide safety from hate crimes, discrimination and street violence, in addition to fostering platforms for social movements and voting blocs. But more than anything, its about what every household is founded on.

“These bonds are just as real and important as in any biological family,” Sanford said.

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