Op-Ed: For the Elderly, Evictions Can Be a Death Sentence

Richard Kavanagh died a month ago, he was nearly 80 and his death was hastened by failures within city and county government as well as the greed of his landlord. He was my friend and I, along with his friends and family miss him a great deal.

Richard and his wife, Helen, were evicted from their home of 50 years by their landlord, Marjaneh Hosseani, because she claimed she wanted to move in her parents.

The Kavanaghs lived in a duplex, which are not covered under any current tenant protection laws, despite San Jose Councilman Don Rocha’s repeated efforts. He has asked his colleagues on the City Council to include duplexes under the Tenant Protection Ordinance. But they failed to do so on April 19, 2016, Jan. 21, 2017, April 18, 2017, and most recently on Nov. 14, 2017.

I do hope they’ll reconsider the issue soon.

During the fight to remain in their home, the Kavanaghs contacted Senior Adults Legal Assistance (SALA), thinking they would help them. I was advocating for the Kavanaghs in media, with elected officials and any other organization that might assist them as well.

I’ve been an advocate a long time and I’ve been up against some fierce adversaries, but never have I encountered more opposition than from SALA—from someone who should have been an ally since they were working FOR the Kavanaghs, just like I was. Even after the Kavanaghs instructed them to speak to me—to ease their stress—they refused. They harassed the Kavanaghs with multiple phone calls per day, even when they knew they were ill, harassed their daughter, and made an already stressful situation awful. The way they treated this family is reprehensible and I hope somebody looks into this.

Santa Clara County has failed to prepare for the Silver Tsunami that is here—the Baby Boomers who need low-income assisted living, who are filling the food pantry lines in record numbers and, among the unhoused, died at an increased rate of 320 percent between 2011 and 2015. In San Jose, there are yearlong wait lists for low-income assisted living while market-rate assisted living costs anywhere from $3,500 to $6,000—quite the high price tag for most seniors.

Sure, there’s some senior housing being built—that will take a few years to be of any use—but this crisis has been forecast for a long, long time.

I’ve asked the county to commission a blue ribbon panel to address the Silver Tsunami, the lack of affordable housing, assisted living, seniors who go hungry and the lack of options at existing agencies. When you speak to the public and nonprofit senior services agencies, they are just as dispirited as advocates like myself because there are literally no other avenues for them to pursue.

The one option some folks repeatedly tried to insist upon was for the Kavanaghs to move out of the county. This was the same option some tried to insist on with Paul Mayer, the 92-year-old WWll veteran who was evicted by the DeMaio family from his home of nearly 50 years. This was the same thing said about some of the senior resident who’d lived at The Reserve for over 20 years. The lack of empathy, logic or compassion that people have for our seniors is startling.

To think folks could leave areas where they build their community—shops, churches, family members, doctors, friends—over decades at their age and not have a negative impact on their health shows real ignorance. Moving them at all, let alone to areas where they are unfamiliar with everything, can bring about illness and hasten death.

That’s why it has a name: Relocation Stress Syndrome/Transfer Trauma.

When the DeMaio family evicted Mayer, they essentially placed him in hospice. When Hosseani evicted Richard Kavanagh, she hastened his death.

When groups like Bay Area Homeowners Network (BAHN) or the California Apartment Association (CAA) whine about things not being fair to landlords and that these “mom and pop” owners can make a profit, remember the moms and pops who were evicted and killed in the name of their profits.

Evictions kill seniors.

Shaunn Cartwright is an activist, housing rights advocate and co-founder of South Bay Tenants Union. The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of San Jose Inside. Interested in writing an op-ed? Email pitches to [email protected].


  1. > Evictions kill seniors.

    Make it illegal to build any housing other than personally occupied housing.

    Those who don’t build housing for themselves will never have housing and, therefore, never be evicted.

    Those who offer rental housing will be thrown in jail, but they will never again be shamed by virtue signaling bullys like Shaunn Cartwright.

  2. Their greed over compassion for disabled seniors like myself, will result in punishment if not in this life, certainly in the next.

  3. So very sorry for your loss Shaunn, and a huge hug to Cindy above. The silence as to the trauma of leaving one’s HOME in the community they contributed to for decades and the lack of affordable housing for boomers who rented because they couldn’t afford to buy is horrifying. The Senior Housing in the surrounding counties generally have 3 to five year wait lists which are mostly closed, and yes Shaunn this problem has been obvious for quite some time in the Bay Area and across the country. It should have been addressed years ago since there has been an utter refusal to reign in outrageous rents (just like the current Facebook issue, which is only now being addressed, 14 years later, because Obscenely Wealthy Democratic Legislator’s feel Zuck stepped on their toes. At least those legislators were highly paid by him; Zuck, Google, Amazon and Apple have left many violated, broke, homeless and or scattered in their amoral, cultureless, cruel Technocratic wake.

    As to SALA, while not near such a dire circumstance, I had the same impression of SALA. They were of no help whatsoever, wasted precious time and added yet another horrid realization of how cruel Silicon Valley is for people who lived and worked here for decades and increasingly find themselves facing homelessness in their older years, especially if they don’t already own property. Much of the little time allotted to my appointment with them -which was presented as being an appointment with an attorney who had a grasp of California law regarding my particular concern – was spent in my filling out a form for them to verify they “helped a senior” and therefore could ask for funding for what may be a worthless institution which gives utterly false hope to seniors who can no longer afford a lawyers services. I knew far more about the law than my helper attorney did and felt violated and abused by the whole experience, I may as well have shared my personal information with an absolute stranger on the street and asked them for assistance. I’d love to know what the Admin salaries are, which struck me as one of the few reasons for its existence, the other reason perhaps to give its funders a false appearance that they care about increasingly impoverished seniors.

  4. Anon, thank you for your very well spoken, thoughtful email.. I sit dumbfounded on why so many people that grew up here don’t fight for our right to stay here and keep our children here so that we can live out our lives like our parents… and how we thought it would be.. Just because some idea-stealing geek (Zuck) and the other rich-idiots .. want to be in our home.. they just expect us to move.. I’m over it and I think we should ALL stand-up for our futures and stop the growth in the Valley… enough is enough!!!!!!!!

  5. Land lord doesn’t face reality they love money more than people who are struggling hard time less housings. It damn shame demolished nice strong older building that where built 1900 torn down in mid 1980s evey long gone. Pandemic then to evictions.

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