$33M in needs: SF’s poorest come into focus during budget hearing

For three hours Friday, San Francisco’s neediest residents and those who work to help them called upon city officials to make a greater investment in services related to homelessness, childcare, below-market rate housing and food for the hungry.

The comments came during the Board of Supervisors Budget and Finance Committee review of Mayor Ed Lee’s $8.9 billion budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1.

The committee plans to make decisions on cuts and different spending priorities next week – with final decisions expected as early as Wednesday.
The budget process occurs annually. Many are criticizing a plan to fund five police academy classes next year for about $11 million and instead would like to see the money invested in housing the lowest-income residents and social services.

An estimated $33 million in spending was requested for citywide issues by a coalition of nonprofits who provide a range of services from food for the hunger to homeless shelters. Other requests ranged from funding for tree plantings by the Friends of the Urban Forest to those supporting a Department of Public Health program battling the spread of Hepatitis C.

Not surprising, many who testified highlighted the income inequality in San Francisco, the rising rents and evictions and the overall growth of wealth. The mayor himself has talked about sharing the prosperity of a local economy that has soared largely on the backs of the flourishing technology sector.

Tax revenues have grown rapidly. In the fiscal year 2010-11 budget totaling $6.5 billion, there was $984.8 million in property taxes, which grows to $1.3 billion in the proposed budget. During the same time period, sales tax increased from $98 million to $173 million, business taxes from $342.4 million to $634 million and hotel room tax from $157.2 million to $384 million.
Coalitions presented strategic spending plans, such as the $6 million request by the Homeless Emergency Services Provider Association. Some of the funding would go toward rental subsidies.

Tess Davis, a housing case manager at Hospitality House, a Tenderloin nonprofit, said she is flooded with housing requests.

“Every day I am overwhelmed with eager faces at my office door ready to fill out more housing applications, and I have to tell them there just aren’t any more,” Davis said. “I also have to tell the hundreds people who are trying to find housing … that they will be waiting well over four years for something they can afford. I have to tell them this and somehow remind them to keep hope, to remember that life is worth living even if it’s on a sidewalk or alleyway for the next five years.”

Ken Reggio, executive director of Episcopal Community Services of San Francisco, which runs the Next Door Shelter at Polk and Geary, said, “We see people stuck in the rotation of shelter placements literally for years. The barrier isn’t the lack of will on their part. It’s a lack of affordable housing options in our community.”

Teri Olle, San Francisco-Marin Food Bank’s associate director and chair the Food Security Task Force, noted the mayor’s budget includes $1.4 million to reduce the list of those who have been waiting up to two months for home delivered meals. But she said to keep The City on pace to meet its goal to end hunger by 2020 it would take an additional $3.7 million.

For example, a lunch program serves 3,000 daily but 1,200 are turned away daily. The proposal would allow serving 510 more lunch each day.

Childcare was also a focus during the hearing. For example, there was a request for $2.5 million for child care subsidies for infants and toddlers to help reduce a wait list of some 2,000 children which would enable parents of these children to work.

The budget committee is expected to vote Wednesday on budget changes, deciding what to fund of the many requests during a process that’s commonly referred to as “add-backs.”


Joshua Sabatini
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Joshua Sabatini

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