Advocates rally for SRO rent relief in San Francisco’s Civic Center on Wednesday, May 18, 2021 (Kevin Hume/S.F. Examiner).

Advocates rally for SRO rent relief in San Francisco’s Civic Center on Wednesday, May 18, 2021 (Kevin Hume/S.F. Examiner).

Rent relief coming for SRO residents—three hunger strikes later

The years-long fight to lower rents for burdened supportive housing tenants is coming to an end.

Mayor London Breed is expected to allocate $6 million annually to further subsidize rents for those living in single-room occupancy hotels to 30 percent of their income. It’s estimated to apply to about 2,800 households in permanent supportive housing, according to the Mayor’s Office.

Though it was included in an April letter by Breed regarding budget priorities, it was reaffirmed on Monday leading up to the proposal unveiling on June 1. The news was cheered by the 30 Right Now Coalition, which has involved groups like Senior and Disability Action and Tenderloin Chinese Rights Association pushing for reduced rents for years and had planned a protest on Tuesday.

“It actually caught me by surprise,” said Jordan Davis, who went on three different hunger strikes for the cause. “I feel like a lot more of a sense of relief that I don’t have to devote a lot of my emotional bandwidth to this. We’re going to be able to afford basic necessities.”

Advocates have urged the baseline rent subsidy to lift the burden for those in supportive housing, the first step out of homelessness. Many are on disability, social security, or general assistance that is often less than $1,000, leaving little to spend each month after spending more than half of that on rent.

The Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing has made 30 percent of income the baseline to charge tenants in supportive housing since 2016. But about 2,800 of The City’s nearly 10,000 units were not updated with the policy — until now.

“The mayor stated in her budget letter that she would be funding this effort, and her budget proposal will include $6 million per year to that end,” said Andy Lynch, spokesperson for Breed, in an email. “The Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing estimates that this will reduce the rental cost burden for approximately 2,800 households in Permanent Supportive Housing that are spending more than 30% of their income in rent.”

Supervisor Matt Haney, who lives in the Tenderloin and has pushed for the fuller subsidies, said he often sees his housed neighbors panhandling for more cash to be able to eat.

“It’ll make an immediate impact on the lives of thousands of people, many of whom are paying rent that creates challenges for them to afford food or healthcare,” said Haney, who chairs the supervisors’ budget and appropriations committee. “All supportive housing providers have told us if they squeeze their tenants, take every dollar from them, it makes them more likely they’ll end up on the street. They can’t reach stability.”

Davis, a supportive housing tenant, went on her first hunger strike in 2019 to urge $1 million for a pilot and a second in 2020 for it to roll out after delays. The third ended this April.

Supporters of 30 Right Now, including Haney and Supervisors Hillary Ronen and Dean Preston, on Tuesday thanked her for championing the issue and Breed for the commitment.

“People shouldn’t have to make sacrifices to decide if they want to pay rent or do they want to eat today or do they want to take this medication they need to keep them alive and keep them healthy,” said Tracey Mixon, an organizer with the Coalition on Homelessness. “That’s a fucked up decision to have to make.”

Curtis Bradford, an organizer with the Tenderloin Neighborhood Development Corporation, said moving from an SRO that charged about half of his income to one that capped rent at 30 percent years ago was a “game-changer” to improving his life. Supporters hope the change will help people move on from supportive housing.

“It’ll set us up for success,” Davis said. “We don’t want people staying in SROs forever. This is only the beginning for supportive housing tenants asserting our power. There’s still a lot of issues that have gone unaddressed in supportive housing.”

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