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Monday, May 24, 2002

The Quality of Mercy

Wally Shore evades eviction

By Betsey Culp

“My friend Wally,” Rob Morse calls him. Wally Shore lives in Marlton Manor, a Section 8 apartment house in the heart of the Tenderloin. Wally Shore is a troublemaker.

Marlton Manor is one of four apartment houses in the Tenderloin once managed by the Denver-based management giant AIMCO. Some time ago, the elevators began acting up. Repairs came slowly, and the residents – many of them old or disabled – found coming and going difficult. Shore vowed to withhold his rent until the elevators were working and properly certified.

At about this time, through the convoluted processes that shape low-income housing in San Francisco, the land under the Marlton was purchased by the city, and the building itself came under the management of Mercy Housing. The new managers and Shore worked out an agreement, which he – ever wary – reluctantly signed: funding for his back rent became available, and he promised to let bygones be bygones. Shortly afterward, last November, I contacted Mercy Housing, inquiring about the status of the elevators on their watch. Despite an expired date in the notice on the wall, they insisted that the elevators were fine.

Wally Shore is a packrat. Not the ordinary garden variety, but a genuine collector of the curious and the unusual. His two-room apartment bulges with books, forming a library that many scholars would be proud to own. His walls are hung with pictures and knickknacks, gathered patiently through years of junk-store wandering. He collects friends as well. Because he’s fairly able-bodied and clear-headed, it’s often his lot to look after their affairs while they’re in the hospital or to run errands for them.

And he collects stray animals. When I first met him, he was host to a fluffy white-haired cat, which subsequently succumbed to old age. He brought home a white dove. Noting its clipped wings and repertoire of tricks, he concluded that it had escaped from a parkside magic show and, for the sake of survival, temporarily hooked up with a party of pigeons until he brought it home to the sixth floor of Marlton Manor. It was later joined by a genuine street pigeon.

Shore’s suspicious bump is well developed. No sooner had Mercy Housing taken over the building than he began to question the new managers about their procedures: Were the elevators being properly inspected? What about the fire alarm system? In turn, the new managers noticed his congested living arrangements. When he was late paying his rent one month, they instituted eviction proceedings, adding grounds that his living space was a fire hazard.

Shore cleared up the problem of the late rent. He found a window of time and began to discard some of his more expendable acquisitions. He searched out takers for his birds. Mercy Housing kindly offered In-Home Supportive Services. Shore says that one of the IHSS “helpers” spoke no English and another was so feeble that all she could do was – very, very slowly – wash the dishes, one by one. He called on a friend for help. The friend suddenly found he was forbidden access to the building.

Wally Shore’s trial date arrived. Visibly agitated, he entered the court of Judge A. James Robertson II, taking a seat among the suited spectators, who seemed to draw away from the slight figure in the blue watch cap. As other cases were called, he hunched over a stack of papers, putting the finishing touches on his address to the court, which was intended to indict Mercy Housing on a number of mismanagement charges.

When it was Shore’s turn, Robertson made short work of the matter. Had Shore’s apartment passed a fire inspection? Yes. Had the “pigeons” left the premises? Yes.

Yes, but… But Shore had been recalcitrant, only completing the requirements at the last minute. But the same problems were likely to arise again.

The good judge nodded. And, he added, he had heard reports of refusing to allow Shore’s assistant to enter the building. All irrelevant. The eviction order was denied.

The attorney for Mercy Housing fell silent. Shore’s lawyer, who – Shore says – had earlier advised him to start packing his suitcase because he hadn’t a chance of winning, was jubilant.

Shore himself wasn’t all that pleased. “They didn’t let me speak,” he said.