A recurring story in San Francisco is that the lowest-income renters have been the hardest hit by evictions. And the outlook for finding a new home in The City may be grimmest for those who rely on subsidy vouchers from the government, tenant advocates say.
One case is a nine-unit complex at 741 Ellis St., where tenants say most families have stayed for a dozen years and fall under Section 8 because they are low-income, elderly or disabled. Those tenants receive vouchers for rent subsidies from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Jerry Khuc, 54, who lives in a three-bedroom apartment there, paid nearly half of his $2,200 February rent with his Section 8 voucher. Last month he was served an eviction notice and says he now may be forced out of The City, as he called 10 places for a new home with no luck.
“They are not accepting Section 8 renter applicants,” Khuc claimed. “Sometimes, they even said the waiting list was closed.”
The Ellis Street building is the fourth complex faced with such a case in two weeks, according to Sarah Sherburn-Zimmer, a housing organizer for the Housing Rights Committee of San Francisco.
Under fair housing laws, landlords cannot refuse to rent to an applicant based solely on Section 8 status, but oftentimes they will use other grounds for refusal and accept tenants who do not fall under that category, said Sara Shortt, the committee’s executive director.
“It’s a landlord’s market right now and they’re picking and choosing who they want to rent to,” she said. “Section 8 tenants are unfortunately the last people that they prefer to rent their apartments to.”
Janan New, executive director of the San Francisco Apartment Association, said the Section 8 complaints she’s heard from landlords have not focused on tenants, but in dealing with the San Francisco Housing Authority administration, the local branch of HUD.
“I think sometimes there’s challenges with receiving payment,” she explained, “and the bureaucracy system there.”
While the Section 8 tenants at 741 Ellis St. receive housing vouchers, they are not afforded just-cause eviction protections because the complex was built after 1979, the cutoff for such protections.
“Section 8 renters are especially vulnerable in the housing crisis and when they receive an eviction notice, they are severely impacted because there are very few housing choices for them,” Shortt said. She added that many are forced to leave San Francisco and sometimes lose their vouchers.
But Rose Dennis, spokeswoman for the Housing Authority, doesn’t see the situation that way. She noted the number of Section 8 vouchers administered to renters in The City is about 7,500, and, “There hasn’t been a significant dip or increase.”
Tenants at 741 Ellis St. say the ownership changed in the past few months and four tenants received 90-day eviction notices Feb. 11 from the property owner citing a “business or economic reason for termination of tenancy” — specifically, an intent to renovate the units.
The complex’s landlord and his attorney could not be reached for comment.
A potential solution, Shortt said, is for The City to extend just-cause eviction protections to Section 8 renters.
“That,” she said, “The City does have within its power to do. But it may take more of a package.”