SRO resident Jordan Davis (right) and other members of the 30 Right Now Coalition protested the lack of financial assistance for supportive housing tenants at City Hall on March 5. Ida Mojadad/ S.F. Examiner

Rent relief finally coming for supportive housing tenants

A year after the funds were approved, San Francisco homelessness department plans to use $1 million to reduce rents for low-income tenants in supportive housing, the Examiner has learned.

The City has proposed to reduce rent to 30 percent of tenants’ incomes at 678 units beginning in August for up to 11 months, according to a Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing memo obtained by the Examiner. It’s funded by a one-time budget increase that was approved last year and comes after pressure — and even hunger strikes — from supportive housing residents and disability rights advocates.

“It’s really frustrating that the Department of Homelessness and the mayor have been sitting on $1 million that was allocated a year ago for the most vulnerable in The City,” said Supervisor Matt Haney, who represents many of San Francisco’s permanent supportive housing residents. “If we want them to be successful, we can’t squeeze them enough that they don’t have enough for food. It’s a down payment on what we need to be a universal standard for housing.”

Since 2016, HSH has made 30 percent of income the norm to charge tenants in permanent supportive housing moving forward. But of The City’s nearly 10,000 permanent supportive housing units, 2,814 units cost more than that for tenants.

The $1 million allocated last year was meant to pilot the change, starting with tenants with the most critical needs. Ultimately, $7.6 million is needed to apply the standard to the remaining units charging more than 30 percent of rent.

Tenants at the 678 units are part of the Direct Access to Housing program for people experiencing homelessness and have medical, mental health or substance abuse diagnoses. They’re currently charged half of their income, which is often less than $1,000 from a combination of government subsidies that leaves little for basic necessities, said Doug Gary, director of Delivering Innovation in Supportive Housing.

“In The City system, waiting a chunk of months is just another day as a city worker,” Gary said. “For the tenants I serve who will be impacted, a year of waiting for a few hundred bucks back is huge. All we’re doing is reducing a small percent of the unfairly impacted tenants’ rent, but it’s a step forward.”

Jordan Davis, who lives in an SRO unit in the Tenderloin, has staged two hunger strikes — one in 2019 to get the funding, the other to have it disbursed — and ended the latest one on Saturday after nearly two weeks. The activist is part of the 30 Right Now Coalition, which is backed by groups like Senior and Disability Action, Tenderloin Chinese Rights Association, and the San Francisco Democratic Socialists of America.

“A lot of tenants went hungry, a lot of tenants had no emergency cash on hand,” Davis said. “I have to go out of pocket for a lot of things. We also don’t have easy access to kitchens so we have to eat out more, which is more expensive.”

Davis won’t benefit from funds she helped disburse but hopes to have supervisors make room for the roughly $8 million needed to keep rents affordable. Haney was working on legislation before the coronavirus hit but will advocate for a phased approach in the budget process.

San Francisco is facing a $1.7 billion deficit over the next two years due to the coronavirus, which could make it harder to make a lasting change.

“The fiscal cliff can’t be an excuse for deepening the inequities of San Francisco and the attack on poor people, especially poor people of color,” Gary said. “The budget cliff makes it even harder, and yet $8 million is a tiny amount of money in our wealthy city’s budget given its game-changing impact on a few thousand people we’ve all agreed, by nature of them being in supportive housing, that we San Franciscans have let slip through just about every crack there is.”

HSH and the Mayor’s Office did not respond to a request for comment by press time.

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