Supportive housing rents capped at 30 percent of income

Supportive housing tenants will have their rents capped at 30 percent of their income under long-awaited legislation approved Tuesday.

Supportive housing tenants will have their rents capped at 30 percent of their income under long-awaited legislation approved Tuesday.

The Board of Supervisors on Tuesday unanimously voted to establish the 30 percent cap for rent-burdened San Franciscans living one step away from homelessness in roughly 2,800 city subsidized units. It’s expected to cost about $6 million annually to reduce their rents, according to the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing.

“This will have an immediate impact on thousands of people’s lives…they are some of the poorest people in our city,” said Supervisor Matt Haney, who introduced the legislation in October. “I think it’s a good use of our money. We’ll have to commit to funding this.”

Since its creation in 2016, HSH has enforced a 30 percent rent cap for new permanent supportive housing, but older buildings were not covered by the policy. Under the legislation, all supportive housing providers through The City now have until October 2023 to comply with the standard.

The City has about 8,000 permanent supportive housing units total.

Supervisors previously approved one-time funding in 2019 to pilot the cap, though implementation was delayed and didn’t take effect until June after pressure from supportive housing residents and disability rights advocates. Since supportive housing tenants are low-income — often receiving less than $1,000 a month in government aid — the burden of rent falls harder on them in an expensive city, advocates said.

“This is actually much more historic [than] most people think. It’s not often you hear about supportive housing tenants organizing for the issues within,” said Jordan Davis, who staged two hunger strikes while fighting to establish the rent cap. “Perhaps this will create a movement of not just focusing on housing the formerly homeless, but what conditions, rules and rental rates we are housing them under.”

Davis said better oversight of supportive housing is needed under a commission. Supportive housing providers like Delivering Innovations in Supportive Housing and Episcopal Community Services, as well as organizations including Senior and Disability Action and Asian Law Caucus, have supported the 30 percent rent limit as a part of the 30 Right Now Coalition.

Pilot funding went into effect in August to lower rent for people experiencing homelessness with medical, mental or substance abuse in the Direct Access to Housing program. It covers 678 units for up to 11 months.

“I am paying less rent now, which is really good especially with the COVID, it really helps” said Adriana Kin Romero, a resident of Casa Quezada, in a statement. “Me and all my neighbors worried about the rent.”

Though the financial impact is relatively small, the added expense comes as The City faces a $653 million deficit over the next two fiscal years after closing past projected deficits. Supervisors noted they will have to make tough choices even as they threw their support behind the legislation.

“I want to remind all of us this is a choice,” said Supervisor Aaron Peskin, who cosponsored the legislation. “This choice costs $6 million at a really rough time. It’s a $6 million choice and we’re going to fund it.”

The legislation passed unanimously.

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