The Hartland Hotel is one of many SROs around The City that provide permanent supportive housing. (Lola Chase/ S.F. Examiner)

Tenants in supportive housing urgently need rent relief

By the #30 Right Now Coalition

We are living in a tumultuous, historic, and devastating time with COVID-19 and the racial tensions we all are experiencing. However, we must not lose sight of the housing equity issues that plague the city. One specific example is the massive rent burdens imposed — not by private landlords — but the City and County of San Francisco on its most vulnerable tenants.

Last year, the Board of Supervisors allocated $1 million in the budget to help bring the rents of tenants in SROs under the jurisdiction of the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing down to 30% of tenant incomes, which is the HUD standard, and the rate that supportive housing tenants in newer buildings pay. Almost 3,000 tenants in SROs are paying 50% or more of their income towards rent!

A year later, the mayor has refused to spend this money, despite pressure from the community and the funds already being approved. We need action now, we need truly affordable housing, and we need promises to be fulfilled.

SRO tenants are starving. While we support all tenants who are living in SROs, thousands of people of color (especially black), immigrants, families, seniors, veterans, and disabled people have been struggling for years to pay exorbitant rents for such small & sometimes toxic spaces. Many are getting by on a meager SSI, Social Security, or G.A. check; and, now with COVID-19, we are trying to shelter in place and stay safe while sharing bathrooms and common spaces.

Because of COVID’s impact on the state and city budget, we are bracing for cuts to our already insufficient checks and other vital social services. We know that $1 million is not enough to address the incredible rent burden on SRO tenants; according to HSH and the Budget and Legislative Analyst, we would need $7.5-8 million per year to get rents in these SROs down to 30% of income. Nonetheless, this is a necessary start and these already approved funds will serve as a pilot program for a permanent source of funding in the future! We were promised safe, decent, truly affordable, and supportive housing but have not received it.

On March 5, after the mayor and HSH failed to spend this money, a group of seniors, disabled people, and other members of the Senior and Disability SRO Workgroup, including Tenderloin People’s Congress, Tenderloin Chinese Rights Association, and many more, showed up at the Mayor’s Office. Sean Elsbernd, the mayor’s chief of staff, agreed then to get back to us by March 19 with a clear timeline for spending the funds. We heard nothing. While the pandemic may have postponed this slightly, it is unacceptable for the office of the elected mayor to fail completely to respond to constituents and to follow through on commitments. We demand an immediate response.

We demand that the $1 million be spent to lower rents for some SRO residents to 30% of their income. The mayor’s administration has a responsibility to follow through on their commitments and to execute the signed budget. We also need legislation that requires all current and future buildings under the Department of Homelessness to have rents at no more than 30% of income. Although it will cost an extra $8 million in these troubled times, certainly, we can divest from policing and jails, as well as seek new revenue sources, to further budget justice.

Jessica Lehman and Freddy Martin, Senior and Disability Action

Lorenzo Listana and Dori Taporco, SoMa Neighborhood Resident Council

Jordan Davis, Reggie Meadows, Liza Murawski, Rebecca Browning, Tenderloin People’s Congress, AHEAd Committee

SF Democratic Socialists Of America, Homelessness Working Group

Tenderloin Chinese Rights Association

Community United Against Violence

Rad Mission Neighbors

SF Green Party

Elizabeth Kita, PhD, LCSW, Private Practice

Carolina Morales, Anti-Violence Educator, MSW Candidate

Gilbert Gammad, Abby Larson, Sokunthea Chhun, Michelle Chen, and Ashley Reyes, MSW candidates

Anakh Sul Rama, Community Organizer

Emelita Torio, LEAd Program

Ann Guevarra, TFCA

Natividad Galinato and Cheryl Shanks, SF POWER

Stephanie Menchavez, Mint Mall Resident Assembly

Anne Bluenthal – Director Skywatchers/ABD Productions

Gregory Ledbetter Chair Black and Brown Just Policy

Curtis Bradford

David Elliot Lewis, Ph.D.

Laksh Basin

Eric Marcoux

Mary Leatherman

Phil Rubin

Judith Beck

Mary Rush

Kim Diamond

Dale Hoyt

David Joseph Carpenter

Heather McDonnell Haney

Jaime Manuel Viloria

Matthew Florence

Colette Hughes

Michael Lyon

Reuben Alvear

Simone Manganelli

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