In the fall of 2020, as the #30RightNow coalition was preparing legislation to cap rents at 30% of income for permanent supportive housing (PSH) tenants, I made a request to see the annual eviction report required of housing providers receiving funds from the city. I wanted to see if there was a positive correlation between buildings where tenants are rent burdened and the number of notices of eviction for non-payment. By cross checking that against a list provided to Supervisor Matt Haney’s office of buildings in which tenants were paying more than 30% of their income in rent, I was able to determine that the one-third of buildings in which tenants were rent burdened accounted for 60% of the total of notices for non-payment. In fact, some of these buildings had more eviction notices for non-payment than overall tenants in a year.
To investigate this, I had to print out a physical copy of the eviction report (difficult during a global pandemic) and use a pink highlighter to even compare data due to the print being so small and the layout being so difficult. Furthermore, the reports were not grouped by housing provider, so it was difficult to compare whether certain providers had more evictions than others.
Thankfully, all PSH tenants are now paying 30% of their income towards rent, and I hope that this impacts the data for the next eviction report in September. However, in moving forward, this will still present difficulties in being able to track evictions by providers and trying to see where there is need for improvement.
It has been well known in the community that the Tenderloin Housing Clinic, which runs single-resident occupancy hotels that are so run down and has been so corrupt and unaccountable that it was prominently featured in a Chronicle exposé in April, is one of the biggest evictors of those who have been traumatized by homelessness. The fact that executive director Randy Shaw victim-blamed the tenants for the conditions says a lot about this.
There are several reasons the Tenderloin Housing Clinic has a disproportionate amount of evictions. One reason is that the Tenderloin Housing Clinic retains in-house counsel for evicting tenants, which creates a perverse incentive to justify the existence of that position and to threaten or carry out evictions, often for silly reasons.
Another reason has to do with the joint habitability inspections and pest control done every month. While I believe pest control should be mandatory, unfortunately, these habitability inspections mean that us poor people are held to a higher standard than college students, and it often leads to “missed a spot” violations—a violation for something left on the floor or for having a disorganized room—and a vicious cycle leading to evictions, especially if the staff does not like you. They will even write us up if we are slightly disorganized in a way that does not harm other tenants. I once confronted a manager about this, and they wrote me up for “not speaking to staff with respect”. Yes, we can be evicted for violating infantilizing rules that don’t harm other tenants, and the City so far has failed to do anything about it.
The eviction reports I mentioned earlier are required under an ordinance passed in early 2015, but said law was written by former District 2 Supervisor Mark Farrell, a pro-business conservative who has often been at odds with homelessness and housing advocates, and the lack of public comment at the hearing indicates that this was not done with affected communities as equal partners.
Furthermore, months after the milquetoast eviction reporting legislation, former District 6 Supervisor Jane Kim, an ally of Shaw, successfully pushed for Eviction Protections 2.0, which would have made it harder for landlords to evict over minor issues. However, it did not include PSH tenants or anyone who was not under rent control. Likewise, Matt Haney, Kim’s successor, pushed for expanding just cause evictions to tenants who weren’t previously covered under the rent ordinance, but not to PSH residents.
So, what is the solution here? The magnitude and complexity of this crisis requires that any City supervisor who wishes to work with us on this issue do so with a critical mass of affected tenants as senior partners. We should set the vision and the supervisor should work to turn that vision into functional legislation.
I can’t say that I, as an individual, have all the answers, but I can suggest several fixes, including limiting grounds for eviction to only non-payment and substantial nuisance that is harmful to other tenants, yearly audits on providers’ efforts in eviction protection for PSH tenants, a ban on in-house evictors for PSH providers, and possibly examining the underlying causes of substantial nuisance and correcting such cases in a humane and lasting manner. Another fix would be requiring that providers report how many tenants in a building “voluntarily” self-evict while an eviction is pending.This is because sometimes, when a tenant is in the process of being evicted, the landlord may offer to have the person voluntarily leave in exchange for the eviction not being on their record, which means that the data on evictions that have been finalized may be incomplete.
Furthermore, eviction reporting legislation should be upgraded by aggregating supportive housing providers’ data and creating an online tool that can compare crosstabs and detect possible trends among providers and their buildings, so that they can be investigated and solutions provided.
Whatever the solutions will look like, the one clear constant should be that tenants guide a process where the response to evictions are rights-based. We do not want people parachuting into our lives and pushing false solutions that further infantilize tenants.