Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 3 / 18 January 2018

Housing subsidy program up in the air


Supervisor Aaron Peskin's legislative aide Sunny Angulo, left, speaks with a group of housing activists as they lobby the supervisors to support restoring funding to a city rental subsidy program. Photo: Rick Gerharter
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Citing the voters' decision not to approve a sales tax increase last fall, San Francisco city officials have not restored $3 million in housing subsidy funds, setting off a scramble so that low-income people, including those living with HIV/AIDS, can get shelter.

Last week, about two-dozen clients of the Q Foundation met at City Hall to implore the Board of Supervisors to restore $1.6 million in housing subsidy money that had been cut by Mayor Ed Lee, according to Brian Basinger, executive director of the Q Foundation.

Q Foundation provides rental assistance subsidies to low-income people with AIDS and other disabilities, as well as to low-income LGBTQ seniors.

Basinger and Jennifer Friedenbach, executive director of the Coalition on Homelessness, accompanied the clients January 19.

According to Basinger, the Homeless Emergency Services Providers Association secured $3.1 million in the current city budget for 250 senior or disabled rental subsidies, "heavily targeting LGBTQ and HIV-positive tenants," he said.

"The oldest person in our subsidy program is a 99-year-old African-American lesbian who moved here in the 1950's," Basinger said. "These are homelessness prevention and rapid rehousing subsidies – $1.5 million came from the Board of Supervisors and $1.6 million came from the mayor."

Basinger shared some of the stories of Q Foundation clients.

"We have a female with cancer who is unable to start chemo because she has lost her home," he said. "She has a certificate of preference from when her family was bulldozed out to the Fillmore due to redevelopment because it was blighted. She won the lottery to use her certificate at an affordable housing complex but has been turned down because she does not make enough money to meet the minimum income requirements of affordable housing."

Basinger added that three women in the Mission, two of whom were seniors, and their disabled daughter, were evicted through the Ellis Act and lost their business in a recent fire.

"They won the lottery for an affordable unit in the Mission but were turned down due to insufficient income," he said, noting that there were many other clients with similar stories.

The Ellis Act is a state law that allows landlords to evict tenants without prior notice so they can "get out of the rental business."

But Basinger said that Lee decided to withhold the funding for seniors and disabled people, citing lack of funds after voters failed to pass Proposition K, a city sales tax increase, as well as a vote by the Board of Supervisors earlier this month to make City College of San Francisco tuition-free for full-time students who are San Francisco residents.

The mayor's office did not respond to messages seeking comment.

"Now, more than ever, the LGBTQ community needs to hold our local elected officials accountable to ensure that our city uses its $9.6-plus billion budget to keep our community housed," Basinger said. "Our community needs rent subsidies today. Locally, we can use our voices and our vote to demand that San Francisco gets back to its roots of a safe and welcoming sanctuary for LGBTQ people, and people from all walks of life. It is more important than ever to fight displacement, eviction and homelessness – the costs of getting displaced back to Trump-land is too high a price for far too many of us to pay."

As the City Hall action got underway, both Basinger and Friedenbach said that the mayor was trying to pit City College and low-income people in need of housing against each other. They also said that they would not accept the "divide and conquer" mentality and that there was enough funds in the city budget for all.

The protesters, accompanied by Basinger and Friedenbach, made their way to supervisors' offices.

District 3 Supervisor Aaron Peskin was not in his office, but staffer Sunny Angulo talked to the protesters.

Patricia Hayashi, 62, who has cancer, spoke for the crowd. She said that she could not begin her chemo treatments until she had housing.

"I'm living on the streets out of a storage unit," Hayashi said. "I only have two years to live. I don't want to die on the streets."

Angulo listened to Hayashi.

"We are not going to defund City College," Angulo said. "We are not going to pit students against the homeless. We are committed to restoring those funds."

District 1 Supervisor Sandra Lee Fewer stepped out of her office to talk to the protesters. She expressed her commitment to restoring the subsidy funding.

"I'm a fourth-generation San Franciscan," she said. "I've never seen such a wealth gap. San Francisco is at its best when we unite to help those who need it most – we're going to work really hard at this because there's enough funds to satisfy everyone."

Bobbi Lopez, legislative aide for District 6 Supervisor Jane Kim, said that Kim was 100 percent supportive of the funds being restored. Lopez spoke in Spanish with a Coalition on Homelessness client who was hopeful about receiving a subsidy.

Rosie Dilger, a legislative aide for Board of Supervisors President London Breed (D5), said that she didn't know what the supervisor's position on the issue was. Dilger asked Hayashi for her contact information.

"I would love to connect you to organizations that can get you some short-term help," Dilger said.

District 9 Supervisor Hillary Ronen was also not in her office, but legislative aide Sheila Chung Hagen said that Ronen was supportive of restoring the funds.

District 8 Supervisor Jeff Sheehy, who is gay and HIV-positive, also expressed support for the funding. The supervisor was not in his office at the time of the protesters' visit, but responded to the Bay Area Reporter afterward.

"With the high cost of housing affecting so many San Franciscans, it's important for the city to support the most vulnerable," Sheehy, a member of the budget and finance committee, said. "Rental subsidies for seniors, persons with disabilities, and families keep folks housed and off our streets."

Sheehy also addressed the city's possible loss of federal funding as President Donald Trump has said he plans to end federal assistance to sanctuary cities, of which San Francisco is one.

"We must also be vigilant in the face of potential federal cuts to the Housing Opportunities for People with AIDS program," Sheehy said. "I am committed to providing critical funding for these programs."

Basinger said that he was pleased with the outcome of the action.

"I was heartened by the reception we received at the Board of Supervisors on our coalition's request to restore the funding for the family and senior or disabled subsidies that were recently re-allocated to other priorities in the budget," he said. "I have high hopes for this woman-led majority at the Board of Supervisors. It feels great.

"We are hopeful for unanimous support from the entire Board of Supervisors to maintain the commitment they already voted for and passed to help keep families, seniors, and disabled San Franciscans housed," he added. "Now more than ever, we need to make sure that immigrant families who need San Francisco's sanctuary city status, people with HIV, and LGBTQ people who need and deserve to live in a world free from stigma and discrimination, that all of the us's have access to the necessary rental support to stay in this city."

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