Starting in August, all tenants in Direct Access to Housing (DAH) program will pay only 30% of their income towards rent. Previously, while most supportive housing units — and all units that have come online since 2016 — were at 30%, 678 tenants in the DAH program were paying literally half their income towards rent, a legacy of backwards and cruel policies from the City and County of San Francisco.
The funding that was released came from a $1 million allocation that came as a result of me hunger striking for rent relief in 2019, and since it would cost roughly $1 million to get DAH tenants down to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development standard of 30%, it was agreed that the DAH tenants who were paying 50% would be covered.
However, the program will last only one year, unless Mayor London Breed renews it, and importantly, there are still more than 2,000 supportive housing units where tenants are paying half or more of their income towards rent. Many of these units are in dilapidated single-room occupancy hotels that the City master-leases. One of the biggest offenders is the Tenderloin Housing Clinic (THC), run by known slumlord Randy Shaw, who has benefitted from lucrative contracts from the City. I live in a building managed by THC and know the challenges within, and it was a hard fight to even get this funding. Given the realities of COVID-19, it will be even harder to get rents for every tenant in supportive housing down to 30% of income.
In late 2014, I came here homeless from Pennsylvania seeking a better life and new opportunities as a disabled transgender woman. I am a “graduate” of the first navigation center, and was placed in a THC building, where I was shell-shocked by bad policies, a dilapidated physical plant, and most of all, high rents. Through organizing around SRO issues, I learned all about the twisted politics of supportive housing and SROs, and how difficult it was to build power.
I eventually was appointed to one of two tenant seats by the Board of Supervisors to the Single Room Occupancy Task Force, an advisory body composed of landlords, collaboratives, department officials and two tenants. It was hard to get any truly progressive change there, and the rhetoric was really toxic. In early 2019, I introduced a resolution calling for rents in supportive housing to be only 30% of income. Through a Sunshine Ordinance request of the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing, I was able to calculate that it would cost a total of $7.5 to $8 million per year to correct all the rents in supportive housing down to 30% of income. Despite all that, passing the resolution at the Task Force was really difficult.
The landlord representative, Sam Patel, who has sued the City over an ordinance preventing residential hotels from being converted to tourist use, claimed it would harm owners, even though the City would fund the difference. Clifford Gilmore, who represents the Central City SRO Collaborative, made comments about how tenants will use the extra money to buy drugs and be irresponsible, which is in line with Randy Shaw’s support for the 2002 Care Not Cash ballot measure, which took cash away from assistance programs on the theory that tenants will drink and do drugs. Dion Roberts, who has ties to the mayor and who runs the supportive housing site Mary Elizabeth Inn, bogged the resolution down in technicalities that were beyond the Task Force’s purview, and RJ Sloan, the other tenant rep, who is also employed by the Tenderloin Housing Clinic, would mansplain that the numbers were all in my head. The meetings are all audio-recorded and publicly available on the Department of Building Inspection’s YouTube channel.
I was eventually able to win by a very narrow vote in June 2019, but only after I was 14 days in on a hunger strike, which made the San Francisco Examiner’s front page. On the day of the vote, another THC tenant gave a blistering public comment supporting the measure and opposing the anti-poor rhetoric of certain members. Later that day was the budget hearing for the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing, and after a question from Supervisor Matt Haney, then-director Jeff Kositsky admitted the issues, and said that all new supportive housing would be at 30%. I ended my hunger strike after 21 days, when the $1 million add-back to the budget was announced.
In March of this year, Supervisor Haney announced his intent to introduce legislation to get all rents in supportive housing down to 30% of income. Meanwhile, many months went by without the $1 million being spent, and with a policy memo in hand, SRO tenants, plus Senior and Disability Action, Tenderloin People’s Congress, Democratic Socialist of America and other organizations protested at the Mayor’s office. We got a promise from her chief of staff, Sean Elsbernd, that the $1 million would be spent, but then, Shelter in Place hit, and our plans were temporarily derailed.
In June, ahead of a meeting between Haney’s office and HSH, and after I had gone on another hunger strike, the newly formed #30RightNow Coalition penned a letter to the editor in the Examiner concerning the issue, and a few days after, it was announced that the $1 million would be spent starting in August. It was a long and hard process, but SRO tenants managed to get a major win. Legislation that will get the rents down to 30% across the board will be introduced in the near future, but the city’s budget situation could complicate matters.
It is very likely that revenue measures will bring in needed funds, and I hope that you all can vote for the ballot propositions that will fund this needed assistance, and hopefully, we can get the roughly $8 million to help tenants like us, many of whom are Black, brown, LGBTQ and disabled. To get plugged further into the campaign and to receive updates when legislation is introducing, please email firstname.lastname@example.org