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News + PoliticsHousingSupes rent-relief program saved 20,000 people from eviction during the pandemic

Supes rent-relief program saved 20,000 people from eviction during the pandemic

New city report shows how taxing the rich to help low-income renters is highly effective.

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The rental assistance program that the Board of Supes pushed for during the early days of the pandemic saved as many as 20,000 people from eviction and possibly homelessness, a city report shows.

The report by the Budget and Legislative Analyst demonstrates how successful local government can be at preventing people from living on the streets—by forcing the very rich to pay even a fraction of their fair share.

Most of the money that funded the program came from two measures supported by progressives, including Prop. C and Prop. I, which taxed big corporations and high-end real-estate deals to provide revenue for addressing and preventing homelessness.

Sup. Dean Preston says rent relief helped keep people off the streets. Photo by Ebbe Roe Yovino Smith

Half of the people who received rental assistance were Black or Latinx, and 87 percent earned less than 30 percent of the Area Median Income, making them particularly vulnerable to homelessness.

“20,000 San Francisco renters were spared eviction and crushing debt thanks to our unprecedented local rent relief program,” Supervisor Dean Preston, who helped promote Prop. I and was one of the leaders in passing the legislation that funded the program. “I’m incredibly proud of how our city came together to make this happen.”

It wasn’t easy. Mayor London Breed made clear from the start made clear that she didn’t want to spend the Prop. I money on rent relief. The state rent-relief programs were a mess. Working-class tenants often lost all of their savings and modest wealth just surviving.

And yet, thanks to progressives continuing to push the issue, the city funded a program that should be a national model.

“Our pandemic program is the biggest local rent-relief program in any city in the country,” Preston told me.

The Emergency Rental Assistance Program provided $61.2 million worth of help to 10,110 households between 2021 and 2024, the report shows.

And that money came from taxing the rich.

The message here: It’s possible to pass policies, even at the local level, that seek to address radical economic inequality. And those policies can be successful.


“Taxing the rich to fund rent relief absolutely worked here in San Francisco to prevent massive displacement over the last few years,” said Roisin Isner, director of activism and operations of the San Francisco Tenants Union. “The Tenants Union backed these taxes at the ballot for a reason: they help stop displacement and allow tenants to stay in their homes.

San Francisco still has a serious homeless problem, in a city with 68 billionaires. Imagine how much worse it could have been if the progressives on the Board of Supes hadn’t essentially forced the mayor to spend money keeping 20,000 low-income folks housed during the pandemic.

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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