Tenants at Work on PSH Issues

by Jordan Davis

In early August of 2022, I wrote a piece for Street Sheet on the eviction crisis in permanent supportive housing—or PSH. Later that month, the Chronicle published their second article for the Broken Homes series, focusing on issues around PSH evictions. The main focus of the story was Robert Bowman, a Black disabled queer man who was evicted from an SRO run by Episcopal Community Services for non-violent visitor policy violations. At the time, two major things were happening in the world of permanent supportive housing: tenants—including myself— were working on a broad permanent supportive housing tenants bill of rights as a long term project (which included eviction protections), and a very flawed proposal for a Homelessness Oversight Commission was sent to the ballot. When the article came out, many PSH tenants were determined to not lose control of the issue to opportunistic members of the Board of Supervisors.

We brought the matter to Supervisor Dean Preston and after some really broad conversations, we settled on holding a hearing before a committee of the Board of Supervisors to discuss the PSH eviction crisis, and as we continued to discuss the matter and to devise solutions, Supervisor Preston introduced the hearing in December of 2022. The work continued for months, and the hearing at the Land Use and Transportation committee was scheduled for March of 2023.

Many tenants, including two LGBTQ+ elders who have faced or are facing eviction from permanent supportive housing spoke out concerning how the system has failed them. We had another PSH tenant do a presentation on several solutions that tenants have devised over the last months. Fred Sherburn-Zimmer, during public comment, spoke of several solutions that the Housing Rights Committee proposed, which were in line with our goals. During the department presentations, Preston raised the issues of coordinated entry, funding for rent forgiveness and “stipulated agreements” where tenants forfeit their rights if they’re found to have violated a rule came up.

However, it was after the hearing that an opportunity for tenant activism came up. Supervisor Preston had to cajole the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing to produce a document that they were working on concerning eviction prevention. Lo and behold, it was totally inadequate: 1) It only featured guidelines and not firm requirements, 2) It only addressed non-payment evictions and only briefly touched on nuisance evictions and, 3) it assumed that landlords, case management and tenants are on equal footing.

When we received this document, we spent April and May amending a redline of the document, most of it involved changing “should” to “must,” but also touching on the following issues: substantial nuisance toward other tenants in the building, the right for tenants to move if there’s a problem in their unit mobility, enforcement of stipulated agreements going beyond the scope of the original issue, right to pay rent by check or remotely, right to organize, and arbitration, among other issues.

At the June 1 meeting of the Homelessness Oversight Commission, myself and several other tenants asked for the PSH eviction issue to be agendized. We have been working with Commissioner Christin Evans on the issue for over a month, and we are hoping that chair Jonathan Butler agendizes it at the July 6 meeting.

This is an issue that is long overdue to be addressed in a meaningful manner and with us PSH tenants as equal or even senior partners. We hear the concerns about safety, however, this can be balanced with making evictions a truly last resort. Furthermore, during these tough budget times, it makes fiscal sense to prevent evictions from PSH as much as possible, as displacing low-income people will lead to more use of emergency services. Our success in staying housed is the city’s success, even if it is just a place to live.

If you are a permanent supportive housing tenant who has been evicted, had an eviction case filed against you, or has been threatened with eviction, we would like to hear from you. Contact 30rightnow@gmail.com for more information.