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Wednesday, September 22, 2021

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HousingHomelessnessSF could cut homelessness in half, quickly, new report shows

SF could cut homelessness in half, quickly, new report shows

Coalition on Homelessness identifies money to move 3,800 people off the streets -- now -- if the mayor would go along.


San Francisco could bring nearly half of all of the unhoused people in the city into safe affordable housing in a very short period of time using existing local, state, and federal funding, the Coalition on Homelessness concludes in a report released last week.

San Francisco could cut homelessness in half if the mayor would take the initiative.

“We believe we have a magical moment — the real estate, the money and the know how to make the dream of a home a reality for five times as many people as the mayor’s predecessors were able to do,” Jennifer Friedenbach, director of the coalition, said.

The report, which you can read here, goes through the numbers in detail. It demonstrates that the cost of keeping people housed is far lower than the cost of serving them when they are on the streets. And it notes that the city has “a golden opportunity” to make massive strides on what many say is the most critical issue in San Francisco:

There are currently at least 8,000 unhoused San Franciscans; and thousands more low-income families and individuals are at risk of losing their homes. In addition, studies demonstrate that we spend far more on emergency room, hospital and other social service costs by forcing someone to remain tethered to a state of homelessness than it would cost to house that same individual.  We cannot afford to go back to the failed policies that led to this crisis.  Our people need real solutions––and the good news is that the pandemic has opened up a golden opportunity to make major changes that will permanently address homelessness and the lack of truly affordable housing in our City.

With unprecedented amounts of Federal, State and local (Prop C) funding available, and rare amounts of real estate for sale at lower prices than usual, we need to seize the moment and acquire at least 1,000 units of housing now.

The study notes that a survey sent to the owners of smaller hotels in San Francisco showed that more than 70 are open to either selling their property or giving the city a long-term lease.

We’re not talking about the Hilton or the Marriott here; these are hotels that will probably be empty or have low occupancy for several years to come as tourism slowly returns.

“Many of these could be converted to studios easily, require little rehabilitation, have elevators, and would be available at half the cost of new construction,” the study says.

And there’s money available, both from Prop. C and from state and federal sources. That’s the most remarkable thing about this study: It identifies exactly where the money is, right now, for the city to acquire 1,590 units of permanently affordable housing.

It’s way cheaper to buy and retrofit hotels:

And there’s a lot of state money – right now, but it won’t be there forever. Here’s what the state is offering:

Here’s how the money could add up:

The report concludes that Mayor London Breed has “a generational opportunity to save countless lives.” She could “significantly, permanently, and visibly reduce homelessness.”


The 1,590 unit acquisitions, added to the Prop C investment plan of 1,695 permanent private market rental subsidies and 540 two-year private market rental subsidies, would result in a total of 3,825 unhoused households leaving homelessness behind them, while preventing homelessness for at least another 7,000 households each year, and adding hundreds of beds to our mental health and substance use treatment system. For comparison, in a typical year pre-pandemic, San Francisco was bringing about 780 unhoused households into housing each year.  With this investment, Mayor Breed would house almost 50 percent of the current Point in Time Count, five times the number of unhoused individuals housed by her predecessors. 

Imagine: Cutting homelessness in half, in just a year or two, by moving people into safe spaces with social-services support.

Breed is happy to move toward more cops into mid-Market (where a lot of unhoused people live). Friedenebach told me:

I think we have learned the hard and long way that police are not an appropriate nor effective response to socioeconomic and health issues. If we want to address homelessness, we know housing works. If we want to address drug addiction, we know treatment works. If we want to address underground economies, we know providing opportunities for dignified employment works.

Imagine what would happen if we had the leadership from the Mayor’s Office to do this.

Tim Redmond
Tim Redmond has been a political and investigative reporter in San Francisco for more than 30 years. He spent much of that time as executive editor of the Bay Guardian. He is the founder of 48hills.
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  1. @dpfabie it’s useless to argue with these people. They’ll just call you a Trump supporter, a Fox News watcher, a Q conspiracist (whatever that is, I never heard about him until was accused of being a follower) or a conservative, regardless of the truth. San Francisco is lost. Leave them to their misery and find a functional community. That’s what I’m gonna do.

  2. My problem with this whole idea is how this is conveniently leaving out the fact that the largest costs associated with addressing homelessness is not getting someone into housing but KEEPING them housed. The “we need more housing” canard makes for great sound bites but totally ignores the root causes and factors that lead someone to become homeless and then fall BACK into homelessness AFTER being given housing.

    So lets say we “find” housing for the 8000 chronic homeless living on bay area streets, the argument by the “coalition” is it is cheaper to just let people live in housing at taxpayer expense than it is is to try to help them when they are living on the streets. How is that not likely to have the same effect as in the days when San Francisco just handed out cash to homeless in lieu of services and thus turned the bay area into a magnet for the homeless. With Cities like Memphis, Indianapolis, Chicago, and Milwaukee, gleefully offering their homeless one-way bus tickets to come here? Why are in effect putting up a huge sight saying ” Come to SF if you are Homeless and you will get a FREE Apartment for LIFE!”

    I hear the advocates crying “that’s not what we are proposing!” yeah, but I would bet you the entire SF homelessness budget that this is message that will spread like a CA wildfire

    And what is the plan for when a substantial number of those folks fall BACK into homelessness because the complete LACK of resources to address things like Mental Health Issues and Substance abuse, and not to mention the total absence of vocational training to help these folks actually get JOBS , (Remember JOBS? the thing that the rest of us have to have in order to PAY for the housing we live in?)

    Right… let me guess, the answer to that is….. .more taxpayer funded housing?

    This isn’t about right or left, This is about doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. Until the approach to homelessness looks beyond just “housing” the problem will continue to get worse.

  3. Richmond man, I did not compare City Hall policy to how Blacks were treated in the South. I was comparing the rhetoric expressed by haters to what was said about Blacks. Breed certainly panders to the purveyors of that rhetoric. Breed plays to haters the same way the commissioners in Birmingham played to racists. Oh, and I would never compare mandating masks to the Holocaust. I had a close friend who escaped Germany right after Kristallnacht. That makes the Holocaust very real for ne, and I also made an uncle who landed at Normandy, and fought across Europe to Germany where he was part of the occupation.

  4. Nowadays everyone compares their pet peeve to nazis and the holocaust. Its really overdone. If Marjorie Taylor Greene had ever been to one of the death camps she would re evaluate her statements. She should wear a mask just to shut her mouth.
    The problem with having a liberal/progressive legislature or Congress/Board of Supervisors and a moderate conservative mayor or governor is that you don’t end up with a balance of power or checks and balances. You end up with a situation in which nothing gets done. If breed is playing the role of the moderate all she is doing is blocking progress.

  5. Comparing City Hall’s catagorization of homeless to how Blacks were treated in the deep south in the 60’s is like comparing mask mandates to the holocaust.

  6. It looks really bad for the democrats on a national level to have SF be the perpetual example of high crime and homelessness in democratic run cities. What is she trying to accomplish?

  7. Yes, Ed Lee would have likely faced a recall if he hadn’t died. His approval rating was extremely low. And there was also the possibility that those facing charges for collecting bribes for him would have turned on him if the DA did his job. I suspect that stress was a lot of what caused his death.

  8. I have pointed out many times that Breed does not want homelessness solved, or substantially reduced. I provides her with an issue that distracts from other failings. There is clearly an organized effort to demonize the homeless, portraying them a lazy, mentally ill, addicts, criminals, bums, etc. The language is pretty much identical to what I heard growing up in Alabama during the Civil Right’s era. The only difference is some of the hateful epithets used. Since at least Jordan, this has been the rhetoric expressed by the mayors that have served. It is time to speak out, and, if she will not move forward, recall Breed.

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