As feds cut funds, S.F.’s public housing is threatened

San Francisco’s more than 6,000 public housing units are in jeopardy as the federal government has, for the fifth consecutive year, slashed their operating budget.

City supervisors, Mayor Gavin Newsom and public housing advocates are lobbying the federal government to fully fund San Francisco’s Housing Authority.

In June, the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development announced a 15 percent cut to the San Francisco Housing Authority’s operating budget. HUD also indicated that the Housing Authority would undergo a $4 million, or 22 percent, operating budget cut next year.

The cuts will result in reductions to security and maintenance at public housing sites, said Gregg Fortner, executive director of the SFHA. The reductions are expected to exacerbate existing public housing problems — a high-crime rate and long waits for apartment repairs.

The Housing Authority, which is funded only with federal dollars and rent money, manages housing units in 43 developments throughout The City. Half of the renters are seniors or disabled. The average income of a tenant is $11,000 a year.

Newsom sent a letter on Sept. 14 to Sen. Diane Feinstein, D-Calif., asking Feinstein to help restore “much-needed funds for public housing.”

In the letter, Newsom said, “This inadequate funding level would seriously harm our ability to provide basic services such as security, and would increase our backlog of repairs to elevators and other vital services.”

Sara Shortt, organizer with the Housing Rights Committee, said the federal government is putting thousands of families at risk. “Low-income housing programs are suffering a slow and steady death by a constant assault of budget cuts.” Shortt said. She added, “There are two options for families of public housing when the doors are shut or closed. They will leave San Francisco or they will wind up on the streets.”

In recent years, Congress has underfunded housing authorities across the nation, Fortner said. The SFHA was able to absorb this year’s loss of federal dollars by laying off 24 employees and spending reserve money, he said. Five years ago, the Housing Authority employed 535 workers, and today there are fewer than 400, according to Fortner. The Housing Authority would not be able to cover next year’s projected $4 million operating budget cut by spending reserves, he added.

“If it keeps going the way it’s going, somewhere the rubber’s going to hit the road. Somewhere it’s going to be where we have not enough money to operate our properties even at a minimal level,” Fortner said.

jsabatini@examiner.comBay Area NewsGovernment & PoliticsLocalPolitics

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