In a puzzling phenomenon, the city of San Francisco spends hundreds of millions of dollars to house the homeless population. But it also spends millions of dollars evicting some of those same people from the very housing they were placed in.
There is currently an eviction moratorium in San Francisco. Yet the city of San Francisco (or rather, the city’s Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing) evicts hundreds of people every year — ironically, evicting the very people they’d housed through their programs, from buildings we call single-room occupancy (SRO) hotels. Supervisor Dean Preston and the Chronicle called attention to this issue in December, and it is gaining some traction with the rest of the Board of Supervisors.
The Chronicle notes in a new analysis of the formerly homeless being evicted again by the city that “The 75 single-room-occupancy hotels, or SROs, used by San Francisco to house homeless people accounted for about a quarter of all court-ordered evictions carried out by the Sheriff’s Department between 2019 and May 2022, even though the buildings housed just over 1% of the city’s renters.”
The SF Board of Supervisors Land Use Committee held a hearing Monday on the seemingly counterintuitive practice of putting people into supportive housing, only to evict them a short time later.
“It’s alarming to me that once someone’s housing is in jeopardy ... the city does not have any real programs to make sure that folks don’t end up back on the streets,” Supervisor Dean Preston told the Chronicle after the hearing. “I mean, my office has stepped in to just rent a hotel room for someone because there’s no city program, which makes absolutely no sense.”
In a further more frustrating paradox, the Chron adds that “Typically, people were evicted for the same issues that qualified them for supportive housing in the first place: poverty, mental illness, trauma and inability to care for themselves.”
It makes little sense that people are evicted for non-payment of rent (during an eviction moratorium!), and the numbers indicate that half of the formerly homeless were evicted from SROs for falling behind on rent. But admittedly, some of these evictions were for matters over which one absolutely should be evicted.
On one hand, the Chronicle reports that “a person was evicted after shooting their neighbor in the back through an adjoining wall.” On the other hand, “a tenant was kicked out for owing less than $1,000 in rent.”
This is obviously a difficult issue; we’re talking about a population where mental illness and drug abuse issues are pretty rampant. But there is some nuance to this. Many advocates for the homeless population pointed out at Monday’s hearing that these SROs are absolutely squalid, and non-payment of rent under these conditions is in many cases justified. Further, the rules at these SROs are often insanely strict, allowing maybe three visitors a month and no visitors after 10 p.m. Some people are being evicted for trifling reasons, others for reasons over which they frankly ought to be in prison.
And so it’s a tricky continuum to legislate. But SF voters did approve a Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing oversight committee in November, and the supervisors are set to approve most of that oversight committee tonight. (One nominee withdrew his nomination). And that oversight commission will be expected to help legislate the tricky issues like this.
Image: Kevin Y. via Yelp