SF Supervisor Dean Preston, who worked as an eviction defense attorney before he was elected to the Board of Supervisors, is putting that hat back on and calling for a hearing into the numbers and process of evictions involving formerly homeless people in city-funded supportive housing.
As it wades further into providing supportive housing for the homeless, something that is seen as key to solving the homelessness crisis, the city of San Francisco is finding some complex and expensive obstacles in its path. While the city still doesn't have nearly enough supportive housing — or enough tiers of shelter to address the stages of moving off the streets — much of what we do have has its own share of problems. This was highlighted in an April investigation by the Chronicle that found a lot of squalor and extensive disrepair in the single-room-occupancy (SRO) hotels in SoMa and the Tenderloin that the city relies on for some of that housing.
A subsequent August investigation by the Chronicle delved into evictions, and reports by formerly homeless residents of some of these SROs that they had been evicted and once again left to fend for themselves on the streets. These evictions reportedly occurred due to back rent owed — sometimes just a few hundred dollars — or due to rule-breaking, sometimes involving guests or drug use.
"These cases are sometimes very, very complicated, and people have been through trauma and are holding onto behaviors that don’t work in [multi-unit, communal housing]," said Shireen McSpadden, the director of SF's Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing (HSH), speaking to the Chronicle. "We don’t want to see anyone be evicted, [but] we know that there are circumstances that sometimes make that happen."
The Chronicle came up with numbers far higher than ones cited by HSH for the number of evictions that have occurred in SROs over the last three years — it might be around 410, or more, because some residents facing possible eviction leave of their own accord rather than face a lawsuit.
Now Preston is interested to find out what the real number may be, and to question city leaders about how these cases might be handled better so that those whose lack of housing has been "solved" don't end up lacking housing once more.
"These are some of the most vulnerable tenants in the city — folks who are one step away from homelessness — and we need to make sure we’re doing everything possible to support them and make sure that eviction is an absolute last resort," Preston tells the Chronicle.
Preston planned to propose a hearing on the matter at today's Board of Supervisors meeting, and he seems to want to suss out whether some of the building managers — typically nonprofits who contract with the city to administer and provide supportive housing — are worse than others when it comes to evicting people.
Per the Chronicle, Preston said he wants to "gather more information on eviction rates across the different supportive housing nonprofits, which contract with HSH," and see why some seem only to rarely resort to evictions, while others do it more often.
San Francisco spends 62% of its total homelessness budget — around $400 million out of annual budget of $670 million — to acquire, build, subsidize, manage, and maintain supportive housing, much of which is done through a network of nonprofit partners.
In related news, the city continues to face footing the bill for operators of regular, tourist hotels whose properties were damaged when they were put into use as supportive housing during the pandemic. These hotel owners are claiming millions in damages to their rooms, and a city agency recently recommended a $5 million settlement with one of them, with potentially dozens more to come.
Top image: One of the city's SROs, the Crosby Hotel, via Google Street View