Budget and Payback

Homeless families, individuals, and their supporters are ecstatic that the Board of Supervisors Budget Committee funded critical housing subsides for homeless people. At the same time, folks are very disappointed that as a means to squash dissent, the board committee refused to fund any citywide tenant defense work.
On June 24, the Board of Supervisors budget committee made their final decisions on what items would be funded in San Francisco’s budget. The Board of Supervisors has the power to cut items out of the budget that was presented to them June 1 by the Mayor, and to put funding for other items back in.
The Homeless Emergency Services Programs Association and the Coalition on Homelessness had a proposal that would cost $6 million, and the Board along with the Mayor funded about $4 million, housing 195 households over the next year.
These included:

  • 30 subsidies for transitional aged youth from Mayor and Board
  • 45 long-term disabled/senior subsidies from the Board
  • 50 single adult rapid re-housing subsidies from the Board
  • 70 LOSP subsidies in 2016–2017 for homeless families from the Board
  • $250,000 for tenant outreach in the Mission from Mayor and Board
  • 29 flexible private market subsidies for homeless families from the Mayor

According to Miguel Carrera of the Coalition on Homelessness, “The budget is a moral document—the decisions the City makes on how it spends its money should reflect the values of this great city. Right now, housing those who are suffering without, and keeping poor San Franciscans in their homes should be our policy makers’ top priority.”
San Francisco is facing a full-blown housing crisis. In the past year, skyrocketing rents have closed the door on those trying to exit homelessness, while an epidemic of evictions has led to hundreds more experiencing homelessness.
Over 3,300 children have no place to call home, thousands of elders and people with disabilities are at risk of losing their homes, requests for single adult shelter have increased by 50% since 2007, and by over 100% for families with children in that same time period.
While great work was done on funding housing subsidies for homeless people by the Budget Committee, conservative members of the committee blocked money going towards eviction defense.
The Homeless Emergency Services Program Association is a collaboration of 22 homeless service providers working to ensure dignified emergency services, exits out of homelessness into permanent housing and homelessness prevention. This group put together the proposal, and included about $2 million to both ensure a right to counsel in eviction cases for all SF tenants, and comprehensive tenant outreach. It also included back rent for formerly homeless families and funding for mediation for publicly funded housing residents to avoid costly evictions and wasting of eviction defense resources.
In a meeting on April 17, with the Coalition on Homelessness, Budget Committee chair Supervisor Mark Farrell stated that funding for eviction defense would be difficult to assure as some of the organizations that would benefit were working against his colleagues. During the last-minute closed-door negotiations that took place, Chair Farrell asserted this with absolutes: He would not allow any money to go for city-wide eviction defense because the potential beneficiary organizations were working against his colleagues.
Much speculation arose about this among City Hall staffers and community members present—some thought it was due to bitter feelings about the condo conversion law Farrell proposed that got amended to such a degree that its author ended up voting against it. Others believed strongly that it was payback to some tenant activists who have been working on the staunchly pro-tenant candidate Aaron Peskin campaign against political appointee and Mayoral favorite Julia Christensen. In a San Francisco Examiner article that ran June 25, Farrell denied the connection to the Peskin/Christensen race, and insisted it was about the organizations: “That’s not accurate. As it related to some of the eviction defense asks there was concern from a number of colleagues both around the past effectiveness of these organizations and second of all a frustration that some of them have been here over the past few months demonstrating on certain political issues—whether it be organizing around the Mission moratorium or other things.”
In reality, beyond rumors, there has been no presentation of failings on the part of eviction defense organizations beyond the lack of resources to ensure all tenants are adequately represented. This was why the community had been asking to ramp up funding. A minority of tenants in SF have access to counsel in eviction cases, and only half of tenants city wide respond to unlawful detainers, believing wrongly that they must move out, when in reality they may have rights and resources.
Last year, the City funded expanded eviction defense by about $1 million, which was used to pay for seven lawyers in seven different organizations. These organizations included places like AIDS Legal Referral Panel, Homeless Advocacy Project and others who have no involvement in the Moratorium in the Mission struggle or other tenant organizing movements. If the Board had decided to fully fund tenant defense work, the money would have been put out to bid, and organizations of all kinds could apply for it.
However, the City ultimately decides by an appointed committee who to award the money to. In short, the action not only was attempting to suppress democratic dissent, but was misdirected in who the conservatives were trying to retaliate against. It is tenants who ultimately suffer: They are in dire need of defense and will not get it. More will lose their homes and needlessly suffer due to petty politics.
It is not too late to take action: Contact Supervisor Mark Farrell’s direct budget staff line at 554-7720 and tell his office to correct his mistake; tenants should not be the victims of retaliation by their elected official—they are suffering enough already at the hands of greedy real estate speculators and serial evicters.