City freezes low-income evictions

The San Francisco Housing Authority has put a freeze on evictions for another month, giving public housing tenants a little more time to pay down a backlog of rent owed, housing officials said.

The authority failed to collect more than $2 million in rent from public housing tenants during 2009, in part because of faulty record keeping and computer glitches, housing officials said.

As a result, some tenants were being overcharged while others were skipping out on rent payments, creating a backlog of uncollected rent.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development requires Housing Authority to collect the rent from all tenants. Yet, housing officials acknowledge that in many cases tenants are not financially capable of paying off the backlog at this time.

Instead, the Housing Authority has started a payment plan to cover rent owed from July 1, with payments not exceeding exceed 7.5 percent of the tenants’ household income. But if the tenant fails to make a repayment more than one time over two years, the tenant will be evicted, according to the authority.

If the resident believes their rent bill is inaccurate, the resident will have to pay $25 per month until the dispute is resolved, said Matt Schwartz, who sits on the Housing Authority commission.

“This policy strikes a very good balance between our obligation to collect rent and giving flexibility to tenants to enter into payment plans without any immediate risk of evictions,” Schwartz said.

To date, 700 eviction notices have been issued out of about 6,500 public housing units, housing officials said. However, because the Housing Authority doesn’t want to evict residents, especially in the wake of the rent collection fiasco, it is not moving ahead on those evictions until October, said Rose Dennis, spokeswoman for the agency.

In addition, the 16 eviction cases that have been pending in court are being “put on hold” until the rent issues are resolved, she said.

“The last thing we want is to have anyone evicted without any certainty about the amount of rent owed,” Schwartz said. “There is a computer program glitch we think we have solved, but until we are certain we have stayed all evictions.”

The onus is on residents to contact the Housing Authority and set up the payment plan, Dennis said.

esherbert@sfexaminer.com

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