Op-ed: Supportive Housing Should Have Its Own Board

by Jordan Davis

As many of our readers know, this year, the Homelessness Oversight Commission (HOC) was launched last spring to oversee the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing (HSH).Three advisory committees— the Local Homeless Coordinating Board, the Shelter Monitoring Committee, and the Shelter Grievance Advisory Committee—were placed under the commission that would appoint members who would report directly to the commission rather than the mayor or board of supervisors. 

So if we have a Local Homelessness Coordinating Board that is mandated by federal law and two committees dealing with different facets of the shelter system, why do we not have a committee dealing with supportive housing—the “SH” in HSH?

This is especially egregious given that the whole reason that the HOC even exists was the San Francisco Chronicle’s investigation into the state of SROs used as permanent supportive housing (PSH) in April 2022. Also significant is that though the bulk of HSH’s budget goes to permanent supportive housing, the City is completely unfocused on the multiple issues that permanent supportive housing tenants face. When it’s necessary to go on a hunger strike to force the City to admit to a decades-old injustice in PSH, you know there is a problem.

The closest thing we’ve ever had to an advisory body addressing issues in PSH was the Single Room Occupancy Task Force, which was created in 1999, became dormant in late 2019, and officially sunsetted at the end of 2021. I served on that committee representing tenants from May 2017 until after it became dormant, and I wrote in a previous piece how the landlord dominance, conflicts of interest, and frequent absences prevented any substantial movement towards justice for SRO tenants, both private and PSH.

The idea of bringing back an advisory committee on permanent supportive housing is controversial among some stakeholders, such as tenants, service providers and landlords. But, I believe that there is an argument for returning a committee to raise permanent supportive housing issues if—and only if—landlords don’t dominate seat designations. 

There are some who also believe that advisory committees are expensive—however, existing human resources can be pulled from HSH, who would staff the meetings, and the City Attorney’s office, who would be a legal advisor. Some might  believe that it would create more bureaucracy, but nothing could be further from the truth. The purpose of an advisory committee is merely to seek community input on an issue from stakeholders within that community so that oversight commissions and elected officials don’t have to stretch their limited resources trying to create solutions to certain problems without any damage to others.

It’s time for a Permanent Supportive Housing Advisory Committee, or PSHAC, appointed by HOC and designed to bring stakeholders together, so that HOC commissioners can focus on the department as a whole, and we can dive deep into PSH issues. Such a committee could be composed of nine members: three PSH tenants, two support services/case managers, two managers/agency heads, one tenant lawyer and one senior/disability advocate.

I am glad that we have a Homelessness Oversight Commission, which is already examining PSH—especially as it relates to evictions—but we need to be able to dig further.  We need a forum for those with experience and diverse perspectives to help correct these problems once and for all. This is long overdue.