New legislation would make sure supportive housing tenants don’t pay more than 30 percent of their income for rent.. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner))

New legislation would make sure supportive housing tenants don’t pay more than 30 percent of their income for rent.. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner))

Supportive housing tenants could get more help paying the rent

Supportive housing tenants struggling to pay rent could soon see their payments lowered under proposed legislation to standardize subsidies, the Examiner has learned.

Supervisor Matt Haney will introduce legislation Tuesday to set the rent at no more than 30 percent of income for roughly 2,800 supportive housing units.

After a delay in implementing a one-time budget allocation to subsidize those paying more than 30 percent, 678 such units had their rents lowered in August for a limited time, the Examiner previously reported.

“We have to set this standard for everyone,” said Haney, who represents the Tenderloin. “It’s a very small [funding] amount for The City and it could make the difference between eating or not eating or accessing critical healthcare or staying in their home for these tenants. We should be investing in the success of people who come into supportive housing.”

The Department of Homelessnessness and Supportive Housing adopted a standard in 2016 to charge tenants in new permanent supportive housing 30 percent of their income, but didn’t retroactively apply it to older buildings. Haney’s legislation would codify the practice, giving The City three years to subsidize the remaining approximate third of San Francisco’s permanent supportive housing units currently without the cap.

About $7.6 million is needed annually to subsidize the remaining units where tenants are paying more than the 30 percent income limit, according to Haney’s office.

Supportive housing advocates through the 30 Right Now Coalition and Haney pushed for $1 million to pilot closing that gap, which was approved in 2019 and eventually implemented in August for up to 11 months. The coalition includes supportive housing providers like Episcopal Communities Services San Francisco and Delivering Innovations in Supporting Housing as well as groups like the Tenderloin Chinese Rights Association and Hospitality House.

The initial funding targeted tenants in the Direct Access to Housing program for people experiencing homelessness with medical, mental, or substance abuse diagnoses. Previously, they were charged half of their income, which is often less than $1,000 from government subsidies.

Jordan Davis, a 30 Right Now member who went on two hunger strikes to lobby for the pilot funding to get through, was not one of those DAH tenants. She hopes that the funding allocation mandated by the legislation, should it pass, would be implemented by the next fiscal year, rather than later.

“I wouldn’t have to struggle so much at the end of the month,” said Davis, who said she has also faced increased internet costs during the pandemic. “An extra $200 would make a huge difference. I’m barely getting by.”

The City would have until October 2023 to implement the standard uniformly, allowing for a phased-in approach. HSH was not immediately available for comment by press time.

While San Francisco faces a tough economic recovery during and after the pandemic, Haney believes it’s a small price to keep people off the streets and homelessness costs down.

In fiscal year 2018-2019, about 1,800 eviction notices were issued to permanent supportive housing tenants for nonpayment of rent, according to Haney’s office.

“Permanent supportive housing is really becoming the central strategy to ending homelessness in San Francisco,” Haney said. “These are people who are no longer homeless but if we squeeze them and we take every dollar out of their pocket, it makes it a lot more likely that they’ll be homeless again. It feels like the poorest people in our city are at the bottom of our list.“

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