The Board of Supervisors is in agreement that the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing (HSH), with its massive budget, needs better oversight. Mayor London Breed doesn't agree.
On the ballot this November will be local Proposition C, which would create a new oversight commission that would theoretically create more accountability for HSH. The department's annual budget has ballooned in recent years to $668 million, and in July, the Board of Supervisors voted unanimously in favor of putting it to voters whether a new commission should be overseeing how this money is spent and whether it's showing results.
"The Commission’s duties would include reviewing and approving HSH’s budget, formulating goals consistent with the objectives of the City and County, and holding hearings and taking testimony," reads the voter information pamphlet text for the November election.
Supervisor Ahsha Safai sponsored the legislation, and as he said in July, "Having a department of this size without the appropriate oversight is just not acceptable."
Three years ago, Mayor London Breed opposed a similar measure to create a commission to oversee the department, and this week, the Chronicle reports that she opposes this measure as well. (Two months ago she was still hedging.)
Breed argues that there are already three entities providing accountability for HSH, and we don't need a fourth. There is a shelter monitoring committee, the local homeless coordinating board, and a group that decides how the city spends the millions in business tax income from 2018's Prop C.
Through a spokesperson, Breed tells the Chronicle that she opposes this new commission "because she doesn’t believe it would improve efficiency or ensure accountability, but would create more bureaucracy."
In that view, she is in the same camp as the San Francisco Republican Party, which has the only paid argument against the new Prop C in the voter pamphlet. "Bureaucracies don’t increase transparency," the local GOP says. "The seats on this commission will go to the homeless industrial complex, who will gloss over the non-accountability of the non-profit organizations."
The impetus for this latest push for a new commission originated in part with a Chronicle exposé from April that found squalid conditions at many of the Tenderloin/Sixth Street SROs that account for some of the city's supportive housing stock — and whose landlords are receiving funds from the city in one way or another.
There is a network of nonprofits that use HSH funds to tackle various problems under the umbrella of homelessness and supportive housing, and the public hasn't really been privy to the nature of all the spending, or how well these problems are being met.
Another recent example of public outcry came with the 2021 revelation that HSH was spending $5,000 per month — the equivalent of market-rate rent on a large SF apartment — on each tent at the city's "Safe Sleeping Villages." Those funds were going in large part to the nonprofit Urban Alchemy which was managing the sanctioned tent encampments, providing meals and security for the tent dwellers. That program has since been wound down.
Even without Breed's endorsement, Prop C seems very likely to pass, and it has plenty of other endorsements, including from the Democratic Party.
"We feel very fortunate that there’s a broad coalition of supporters for Prop. C - labor, the business community, nonprofits and everyday residents," Safai said to the Chronicle.
Confusingly, though, voters will also be asked to rescind something they voted for just two years ago — the creation of the Department of Sanitation and Streets, as separate from the Department of Public Works. The supervisors put Prop A on the ballot to reverse course on the new department, however we'll still be getting two new oversight commissions — one for sanitation, and one for Public Works.
Top image: San Francisco Mayor London Breed speaks onstage during the 2022 Essence Festival of Culture at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center on July 2, 2022 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Paras Griffin/Getty Images for Essence)