Plan would renovate vacant public housing units for homeless people

Sup. London Breed has proposed setting aside city funding to renovate vacant and dilapidated San Francisco Public Housing units, in an effort to quickly make housing available for homeless families in the face of a dire shortage.

At the San Francisco Board of Supervisor’s meeting on April 15, Breed called for the city controller and city attorney to begin drafting a supplemental appropriation of $2.6 million, to be put toward renovating 172 public housing units that are currently sitting vacant and in disrepair. 

Tragedy struck at Sunnydale, the Housing Authority’s largest housing development, today [Wed/16] when a 32-year-old woman and her 3-year-old son were killed in a blaze that started early this morning. The cause of the fire is under investigation, but a report in SFGate noted that the Housing Authority has planned on rebuilding Sunnydale for years due to its poor condition.

“There are over 40 public housing developments in San Francisco, and given the decades of mismanagement and financial neglect that public housing has endured, many units are currently not available for San Franciscans to live in,” Breed said. “As we grapple with an unprecedented affordability crisis and an acute shortage of housing, particularly affordable housing, these fallow public housing units represent one of our best and cheapest opportunities to make housing available now.”

Breed, who represents District 5, previously lived in San Francisco public housing. “Living in public housing for over half of my life has given me a perspective unlike, I think, anybody else that I know, to understand exactly what we need to do as a city to make a difference in the lives of those constituents,” she said.

She mentioned that between 25 and 50 homeless families stay in a church every night that has been converted to a shelter in her district – but there are no showers there, “only a few toilets and sinks that those families can use.” 

As the Guardian has previously reported, homeless people enrolled in public services frequently discover that very little permanent housing is available – even though the Department of Public Health, the Human Services Agency, and the San Francisco Housing Authority all oversee programs that were created to assist individuals who are in need of housing.

As things stand, about 175 homeless families remain on a wait-list for housing, homeless czar Bevan Dufty told the Bay Guardian in a recent interview. And more than 300 other homeless individuals have applied for housing assistance through the Department of Public Health’s Direct Access to Housing program, which provides subsidized housing in SROs and apartments.

The San Francisco Housing Authority receives its funding not through the city, but through U.S. Housing and Urban Development, a federal agency. However, Housing Authority spokesperson Rose Marie Dennis said federal funding doesn’t stretch far enough for the agency to perform routine restoration of vacant units that have fallen into disrepair. “We have to work with the resources that we have,” she said.

According to an analysis by Budget & Legislative Analyst Harvey Rose, the city has lost $6.3 million in rent that could have been collected had empty Housing Authority units been occupied.

“From our perspective, we share the supervisor’s commitment to prioritizing the housing of the homeless,” Dennis said, adding that the Housing Authority would be “very grateful” for any support the city would lend toward renovation.

Gene Gibson, a HUD spokesperson, said that it was too early to comment specifically on Breed’s proposal since it was still in the early stages of being drafted. But in general, “If a community comes up with an innovative approach … I don’t think HUD would have any problem with it.”