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City HallThe AgendaThe price of ending homelessness—and how to prevent SRO evictions

The price of ending homelessness—and how to prevent SRO evictions

A city plan that's marked for failure, and some hope of success saving vulnerable residents' homes. That's The Agenda for March 19-26


When Sup. Rafael Mandelman demanded that the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing come up with a plan to get all unhoused people off the streets in three years, a lot of folks were skeptical.

Now HSH has done (sort of) what Mandelman asked: The agency has not presented a “plan” really, since that would imply that something’s going to happen. But it did come up with a study of what it would take to end street homelessness in San Francisco.

“It’s not an actionable plan,” Mandelman told me. “They did the absolute minimum of what they were compelled by law to do.”

It’s got a price tag: $1.4 billion over three years to start, plus $410 million a year in operating funds.

Homeless advocates hold a “die-in” in front of City Hall. The city’s latest report is a recipe for failure.

And even that, the agency says, won’t entirely eliminate homelessness:

With additional estimated investments of $1.45 billion into permanent housing, shelter, and homelessness prevention services, and taking into consideration that new people become homeless over time and flow into the homelessness response system:

Adult homelessness at a point in time is projected to decrease overall by 27% (from 6,138 in FY21-22 to 4,503 in FY25-26).

Family homelessness is projected to increase overall by 84% (from 205 in FY21-22 to 378 in FY25-26).

As indicated in the projections for adult households, additional investments into new programs would be needed beyond the 3-year timeframe to respond to future inflows into homelessness, retain the capacity of the system built through A Place for All, and maintain a zero rate of unsheltered homelessness.


While additional prevention resources represent a critical intervention that may reduce the number of people losing their housing and entering the homeless response system, most instances of new homelessness will not be prevented.

Finally, with new households experiencing homelessness annually, unless additional resources are continually invested to expand the capacity of shelter and housing providers, modeling indicates that unsheltered homelessness is likely to increase again after the initial 3-year timeframe. Current estimates reveal that for every homeless household in San Francisco that accesses permanent housing through the homelessness response system, four new households become homeless. The continued housing needs of the people experiencing homelessness that are still residing in shelters at the end of the three years would also need to be addressed.


A 2020 analysis by the Government Accountability Office found communities see about a 9% increase in estimated rates of homelessness for every $100 increase in median rent.

So now we have yet another report that pretty much confirms what several other major city presentations show: We can address serious problems, but not without more money than the current tax framework allows us to raise.

“It’s not financially feasible,” Mandelman said. “It’s not remotely sustainable.”

We can end homelessness, but not without tools that current state law forbids. “It’s not an optimistic picture,” Mandelman said.

The city’s current General Fund, the money the supes and the mayor get to allocate, is about $6 billion. (The rest is set-asides or “enterprise” departments; the airport, for example, has a $1.4 billion budget, and it’s technically included in the overall city budget, but none of it comes from the taxpayers and it can’t be diverted to other uses).

So $1.4 billion over three years would be $460 million a year (which I think is low), plus another $410 million a year going forward is about 7.5 percent of the General Fund.

For perspective, that’s a little more than half of what SF spends on the cops.

But it’s also more than the total annual budget deficit that the Controller’s Office is projecting for this year.

And for more perspective, it’s less than three-tenths of one percent of the net worth of the 60 richest people in San Francisco.

So: there’s plenty of money in this city to cover the costs of the Climate Plan, the affordable housing needs, and addressing homelessness.

In fact, a two percent wealth tax on the billionaires would more than cover all of the city’s needs—and all of the region’s needs.

But the state won’t let cities tax income or wealth. And the state so far isn’t taxing wealth. And Mayor London Breed has opposed almost every measure that would take money from the biggest corporations in town, and instead wants tax breaks.

Allowing rent control that extends to vacant apartments and the repeal of the Ellis Act would go a huge way to ending the evictions that lead to homelessness. But the state Legislature has refused.

I’m glad Mandelman asked for this study, and I’m glad HSH (sort of)  did its job. Now we know:

San Francisco is failing to deal with the homeless crisis for the same reason that the city will fail to build enough affordable housing and prevent catastrophic climate impacts:

We’re not limiting speculative real-estate profits, we’re not fighting displacement (in fact, the past several mayors have encouraged displacement) and we’re not taxing the rich.

Instead, Breed wants to go back to tax breaks. The last time the city did that, under the late Mayor Ed Lee, is created such a housing crisis and such rent increases that it had a huge impact on increased homelessness.

The Board of Supes will hold a Committee of the Whole hearing on the report Tuesday/21. I hope somebody raises these issues.

If you want a list of people at very high risk for homelessness, one place to start is the city’s Permanent Supportive Housing units. Many of the residents of publicly subsidized SRO hotel rooms are formerly homeless, and many have health issues. All of them are low-income.

In other words, if the PSH residents get evicted, they’re likely to wind up on the streets. And yet, it happens, all too often. “Evictions from SRO hotels are a real problem,” Sup. Dean Preston told me.

Preston’s holding a hearing Monday/20 to try to find some common-sense solutions. If the problem is nonpayment of rent, he said, the city should be able to solve it.

The housing providers are nonprofits, and they need the revenue from rent to keep operating. But the city has $24 million in rent relief money still sitting in the bank, unallocated.

That’s in part because tenants don’t know it’s available or how to apply, Cheryl Shanks a tenant in the West Hotel, told me. “They don’t tell us about the benefits we can get,” she said. “The managers aren’t very helpful.”

But Preston said the providers could stop trying to address the problem on an individual-tenant basis. “They can just tell the city how much rent they are missing, and the city can pay them directly,” he said. “It’s a simple solution that doesn’t involve evicting people,” he said.

Shanks said that managers have a lot of independence and power to decide who gets evicted for behavioral issues. From the Chron:

People are typically forced out of SROs for the same issues that qualified them for supportive housing in the first place: poverty, mental illness, trauma and inability to care for themselves.

Some tenants do, indeed, cause problems for others, which makes the situation complicated.

Jordan Davis, an SRO activist, told me:

The basis of this hearing is to present a layered approach to preventing eviction that respects tenant autonomy, and we need to make sure that tenants are at the forefront of drafting solutions. Many of these tenants who have been working on this are also alumni of the #30RightNow campaign, which helped bring rents down to 30 percent in all PSH and was the first really tenant-led PSH initiative. We, as autonomous tenants must lead and policymakers and providers must listen.

The meeting starts at 1:30.

Since the onset of COVID, the state and the city have prevented tenants who can’t pay their rent from facing eviction. The city’s put up $47 million to help renters catch up, and there’s money left in that fund, but there’s still a huge backlog. And as of the end of February, Mayor Breed has rescinded the public health emergency order that allowed the eviction moratorium.

Preston is asking that the moratorium continue for another 60 days, since a lot of tenants are still suffering the economic impacts of the pandemic.

This isn’t a rent-forgiveness plan; the landlords still have a claim on that money. But it’s civil debt, collectable like any other debt—but not a cause for eviction.

The matter also comes up at the Land Use and Transportation Committee Monday, and Chair Myrna Melgar has determined that it’s an emergency measure, so it will go to the full board the next day. I am already hearing landlord backlash.

This will be the first test for new board members Joel Engardio and Matt Dorsey on a major tenant issue that will require them to face the real estate lobby.

The mayor’s $27 million supplemental budget request for more cops (actually, it’s been whittled down to about $25 million) comes before the full board Tuesday. Since it’s a supplemental, it needs eight votes to pass.  It might be close.

48 Hills welcomes comments in the form of letters to the editor, which you can submit here. We also invite you to join the conversation on our FacebookTwitter, and Instagram

Tim Redmond
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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