Even before the pandemic, more than 80 percent of renters in San Francisco were paying more than 30 percent of their income on housing.<ins> (Joel Angel Juárez/Special to S.F. Examiner)</ins>

Even before the pandemic, more than 80 percent of renters in San Francisco were paying more than 30 percent of their income on housing. (Joel Angel Juárez/Special to S.F. Examiner)

Drop in rents not enough to help tenants struggling in pandemic

The City’s renters are weathering a pandemic-induced housing crisis on top of the existing affordability crisis.

Even before the pandemic, low-income residents made up about 82 percent of cost-burdened renters, meaning they spent more than 30 percent of their income on housing costs. The problem was even more pronounced for residents of color, who also faced a higher likelihood of overcrowding and housing instability, according to a report set to be presented to the Planning Commission Thursday.

Now, the housing landscape is even more precarious. The unemployment rate — higher among low-income workers — has risen to 8.4 percent in San Francisco. Up to 33,000 renters may soon be unable to pay rent due to lost income and are at risk of eviction if protections cease and rent relief isn’t offered, according to the housing recovery framework prepared by the Planning Department, Office of Economic and Workforce Development and Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development.

Rents have dropped about 24 percent over the past year, according to the rental website Zumper. But around 15 percent of San Francisco’s tenants are estimated to have been unable to pay some or all of their rent during the pandemic, with estimated total unpaid rents ranging from $13 million to $32 million per month.

“Despite this drop, San Francisco is still the most expensive rental market and remains more accessible to above moderate-income renters, while rents likely remain too high for most lower-income renters,” the report states.

To hit the road to recovery, the Planning Department has been preparing strategies with multiple city agencies that the Planning Commission will discuss at its meeting on Thursday. Key goals are to enact immediate changes to ease housing production, prioritize stabilizing households and subsidized housing, streamline housing entitlements, and look to philanthropy.

Staff will work to implement Mayor London Breed’s homelessness recovery plan and add another 1,500 permanent supportive housing units. However, that plan doesn’t yet have a pathway to housing for more than 2,500 shelter-in-place hotel guests, planning staff noted.

Another major effort will be to move the housing pipeline along by reviewing staffing assignments and identifying further ways to streamline. The affordable housing pipeline is also expected to slow down, as state bonds have become more competitive and the economy has sputtered.

The Planning Department also plans to map the resources of each neighborhood to highlight differing needs and create goals around equity as it assists cultural districts in recovery. The map, made with the Office of Economic and Workforce Development, is expected to be available in March.

The recovery team is also advocating the development of a land equity fund to support homeownership for Black, Latino and American Indian households.

Another focus is on preventing evictions and implementing a rental registry. San Francisco has a right-to-counsel program for tenants facing eviction, which received expanded funding under the budget approved by the Board of Supervisors. However, staff estimates the program still needs another $5 million annually to meet pre-pandemic needs.

Efforts to recover from the pandemic are complicated by the uncertainty of city and state funding. City departments, some of which are already under-resourced, have been asked to prepare 7.5 percent budget cuts.

The City does expect to gain roughly another $100 million a year after the November passage of Proposition I, which increased the transfer taxes on homes, and is looking to the incoming Biden administration to significantly increase federal funding.

The Planning Commission will hear a presentation on housing recovery strategies at its Thursday meeting starting at 1 p.m.

imojadad@sfexaminer.com

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