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News + PoliticsHousingBreed hedges on supporting legal protections, rent relief for tenants

Breed hedges on supporting legal protections, rent relief for tenants

Weirdly, she suggests that her own office can't stop 'abuse' in program that helped 20,000 renters keep a roof over their heads.

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Mayor London Breed refused today to commit to fully funding the city’s Right to Counsel Program, which has prevented hundreds of evictions in the past five years, although she said she would make sure it is “appropriately” funded.

In response to a question by Sup. Dean Preston, she said: “We know this is a difficult budget year, and tough decisions will need to be made.”

Mayor Breed won’t promise to protect a program that has prevented homelessness.

(This is exactly why journalists are taught to avoid the passive voice; “decisions will need to be made” is like Nixon’s press secretary saying “mistakes were made” during Watergate.” Breed will be the one making those decisions.)

We all know that she will have to make cuts, and doing a budget is a matter of priorities. She’s already made it clear that the cops face no cuts.

But in this case, as Preston pointed out, preventing evictions saves money; it costs ten times as much to provide services and find new housing for someone on the streets than it does to keep them in their home.

It’s only about $17 million, which is about 2 percent of the Police Department budget

Then came a somewhat odd moment. Preston noted that the city’s rent relief program, funded by a tax on high-end real estate deals, has stabilized 20,000 tenants. At some point, he said, “the funds will not meet the need,” and asked if she would work with him to make sure that program, like Right to Counsel, is funded at an adequate level.

Again, Breed agreed that prevention is cheaper than eviction, but she said: “We need to make sure it goes to people who really need the money,” and suggested that there was “abuse” of the system.

The program is run by the Mayor’s Office of Housing. Was she saying that her own office is bungling the work and letting people cheat?

Preston told me that in his discussions with housing staffers, there’s never been any mention of abuse or fraud. “That’s news to me,” he said. It’s a pretty carefully managed program; the applicants are all screened, and the money goes to their landlords anyway, so it’s not like they’re talking fancy vacations with rent-relief money.

I reached out to MOHED for comment, and have not heard back.

But let’s also put this in context.

The rent-relief program goes directly to help people stay in their homes. The vast majority of them are very low-income folks.

When I first started at the Bay Guardian, back in 1983, the editor, Bruce Brugmann, told me that any reporter who tries hard enough “can always find a welfare cheat.” It happens. Not that often, but no system is perfect.

But, he told me, that’s a waste of everyone’s time. “The problem is people on welfare don’t get enough money,” he said. “The problem is the big corporations getting billions in corporate welfare. Those are the stories we should do.”

Good advice that helped frame my 40-plus-year career.

Are we really so worried about “abuse” in the rent-relief system that the mayor is going to threaten its funding?

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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