Shelters Have Standards. SROs Should, Too!

In previous issues of Street Sheet, I have written extensively about the fact that some of our lowest income tenants in supportive housing are paying much more than 30% of their income toward rent — a problem that we are closer to fixing than before — as well as about the lack of WiFi and cooling systems, and infantilizing policies such as not allowing people to pay their rent by check.

But then I came to realize a certain irony in our homelessness response system. As you all know, in 2008, San Francisco passed comprehensive “standards of care” legislation for city shelters that went into a lot of minutiae not only about what policies needed to be put in place, but also what material needs were to be provided. The Permanent Supportive Housing Rent Contribution Standard legislation — aka #30RightNow — has now been signed and is awaiting funding, but there have been practically no meaningful standards for supportive housing, and this has led to a potpourri of problems within. 

To give you an idea, I will share my experience with one of many single resident occupancy hotels (SROs) being used to house formerly homeless people. After graduating from the Navigation Center in 2015, I was placed in a unit without the bathroom that was necessary for someone getting gender confirmation surgery — not to mention no fridge, no microwave or cooking appliance, and a trash bin that was just too small. I still have no fridge, but was able to pay for everything else. When I was able to get into a unit with a bathroom, there were no grab bars, because current guidelines only require them in communal toilets and baths, not in individual units. Anyone who needed grab bars had to pay for them out of pocket, to the tune of hundreds of dollars.

In addition, during my more than six years at that site, I have had to deal with an unreliable elevator, water outages and conditions that would not be tolerated in any other type of housing. And while people under rent control can seek a rent reduction because of a decrease in services, SRO tenants don’t even have that option.

What I am mentioning is important, not just because of the need for us to eat healthier and to be able to not trip and fall, but because we should treat these units more like middling college dorms and less like flophouses.

And the sad part of all of this is that many SRO tenants have suffered worse experiences than I have, not only in terms of lack of provision of material needs—especially since people are just coming out of homelessness—but standards that are inadequate and infantilizing.

What we need most is a comprehensive list of standards and practices for supportive housing; we need new legislation that will spell out clearly what is needed for supportive housing with input from supportive housing tenants. Also, we need a way to seek rent decreases for every day we have a reduction of services. Imagine if every time the water goes out, we get a small decrease in rent? It would certainly force the City to pay attention to conditions within our housing.

If any tenants wish to be a part of this hopefully collaborative process in the coming months, they can always email me at