The Americania Hotel at 121 7th St. is one of the many hotels the city has under contract. Trip Advisor rates vary from $75 a night to more than $300 a night. Tuesday, April 14, 2020 Photo by Lydia Chávez

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The Board of Supervisors this afternoon unanimously passed emergency legislation that requires the city to acquire 8,250 hotel rooms by April 26 for unsheltered residents, first responders and individuals leaving hospitals with no suitable place to quarantine.  

Already, the city has said it is working to get 7,000 hotel rooms under contract. Paul Monge, legislative aide to Supervisor Hillary Ronen, called that earlier commitment “the good news.” 

The city had already put together staff and a plan to reach that 7,000 room tally last week, he said. “The difference here is really 1,200 rooms, so the bulk of what the city is committing to today is reflecting on these numbers.” 

But District 6 Supervisor Matt Haney said today’s legislation was necessary because the city’s plans are “not clear enough [and] not fast enough.”

“We have tried to do this through partnership but legislation is absolutely required,” Haney said. 

The legislation was introduced and passed quickly following the aftermath of an outbreak at MSC South shelter, where more than 100 people have already contracted COVID-19 — which, according to Haney, is now the biggest outbreak in any shelter across the country.

District 9 Supervisor Hillary Ronen added, “we have turned our city upside down fiscally. It was the right thing to do, because saving lives matters more.” But “we have simply not done that for the unhoused population. We have not gone all out.”

Of the 8,250 hotel and motel rooms, 7,000 rooms will be used to shelter unhoused individuals, 750 rooms will be set aside for first responders, and 500 rooms for other individuals needing to quarantine after getting discharged from hospitals.

At present, the city has 2,082 hotel rooms under contract, according to Trent Rhorer, the director of the San Francisco Human Services Agency. Of those, 880 rooms at two sites have been set aside for first responders. 

The remaining 1,202 rooms already in the city’s grasp are for vulnerable populations, including residents from shelters that are undergoing thinning, homeless people who are 60 years old and have underlying health conditions, and those who have been discharged from hospitals and have nowhere to go. Of the 1,202 rooms, Rhorer said at a Monday briefing, 751 had been filled. Rhorer said Wednesday that the city was working to get 7,000 under contract. 

According to Tuesday’s legislation, it would cost $58.6 million to acquire 8,250 rooms for one month, including security, food and personal care and room cleaning expenses. An additional $1.67 million per month might be needed to pay for onsite management staff at the hotels and motels.

Supervisors emphasized that the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the California Office of Emergency Services could reimburse the city for up to 93.75 percent of emergency costs that it will incur in implementing the legislation.

“We have approximately 5,600 people that are living on the streets and in shelters that couldn’t care for themselves,” said Ronen.

The emergency legislation is now awaiting approval from Mayor London Breed. As an emergency ordinance, today’s legislation required eight votes to pass — a veto-proof majority. It received 11. 

In San Francisco, however, whether eight or even all 11 supervisors vote for legislation, it remains the mayor’s purview to not spend the money that would enable it. 

What’s more, questions remain about the operational feasibility of the emergency hotel legislation, especially on an expedited timeline. Even if the city repurposes employees normally working in a variety of departments into staffing these hotels, any number of them may decline to do so and go on leave (city sources noted that a similar inability to field enough drivers was a large factor in Muni service being cut to a bare minimum, and there are fears that COVID hotel staffing could suffer a similar fate). 

Multiple contracts involving multiple departments would need to be finalized to enable this legislation— also a bottleneck. 

“Passing something at the board,” one City Hall source tells us, “does not, in and of itself, constitute a plan.”

So, today’s legislation may not be enacted on a timetable that would please its backers. 

“The fact that we haven’t had the urgency,” said Ronen during today’s meeting. That the city hadn’t been hustling to place vulnerable homeless people into hotels for the past month, she continued, was wrong —  “wrong from every which way you look at it.” 


Joe Eskenazi contributed to this report. 

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  1. Well this should be interesting to watch unfold. From my personal experience 90% of the homeless people I encounter have some sort of mental issues. Many are drug users…dangerous drugs like meth and crack. Both of which lead to issues with Paranoia and Schizophrenia.

    It’s hard to imagine how the city plans to manage the 8500+ homeless individuals under the circumstances. Most of the mentally ill homeless will not understand whats going on around them. Most will wander about the hotels in their own “private Idaho”. Will they be locked up against their free will? And who’s going to stand guard next to their doors? Hillary Ronen? Arron Peskin? Matt Haney ?Trent Rhorer ? London Breed? Ya sure. Will the ACLU step in and file lawsuits on behalf of those who are held against their will?

    The drug uses will need their drugs. The drug pushers will wander the hotel hallways pushing their drugs. Who’s going to ensure these drug users do not overdose in their room nightly? Who’s going to clean up the mess? A mess that most likely will require personal wearing Hazmat suits so they are not exposed to the Covid-19 virus.

    Already there have been reports of Covid-19 being transmitted in elevator cars by folks breathing the same air. Many highrise buildings are restricting elevator use to no more than one person to a car or one family to a car. How’s that going to work with mentally ill folks who have no clue to their surroundings?

    As usual San Francisco leads the way without ever thinking about the unintended consequences of their actions. Ban plastic bags….make folks bring bacteria laden infected bags into the grocery stores to be fill by baggers and check out clerks. Ban plastic straws because they end up in the Bay….but pass out plastic syringes and needles to drug users that end up in the Bay.

    Make drug use legal so drug users can sit in the underground tunnels of Muni/Bart shooting up and defecating and urinating in the passageways all day and night.

    Like I said, this is going to be interesting to see how this soup sandwich gets eaten.

    1. A frequent complaint, perhaps, but not overwhelming.

      8000 rms – and they’ll all need cleaning (possibly painting and new carpet), A % will need new furniture, drapes, etc; and a few will have possibly plumbing repair. So lets say $1000 for each room for cleaning = $8M. Lets figure an additional $5000 for 30% of the rooms for more extensive damage = $12,5M. Then for a small percent (lets say 100 u) there will be ‘rock star damages’ of $25,000/ = $2.5M. So, looks like total damages could come in at around $23,000,000. NeitherFEMA nor CA will probably pick up much of that cost, so that’s on the City.

      But what else is the City gonna spend $25M on anyway? And the plus side is that that figure is more like a fixed cost than on-going; so whether this last a month or a year doesn’t change the figure to heavily.

    2. Exactly. I know several people with adductions,drugs, alcohol etc. They don’t do it alone often and bathrooms mean nothing. In the thros of addiction everyplace is a bathroom. Those tasked with cleaning after possible virus infected people won’t choose it for long. It will be unlike cleaning after a paying guest with values. For a person falling on hard times and needing a bit of help it is a no brainer, they will even clean their own room, but the others will have the room looking like the streets before long.

  2. Will the homeless go back on the streets after this short hotel stay? That won’t be good for the many months of social distancing needed before a vaccine is found.

  3. “Passing something at the board,” one City Hall source tells us, “does not in and of itself constitute a plan.”

    This mandate by the Board of Supervisors is unworkable, un-staffable and wildly expensive. Accordingly, it will never get off the ground at the scale required within a time frame to actually address the problem that it is intended to solve.

    Only the most responsible homeless individuals (i.e. those requiring minimal management and/or services) should be provided with an hotel room.

    Alternatively, sanctioned open-air encampments consisting of tents set a clear 12-feet apart — complete with restroom/shower facilities and 3 meals per day would be safer and substantially less costly — and, therefore, economically sustainable for the uncertain duration of this crisis.

    To begin with, these encampments should be set up on the sidewalks directly in front of the Mayor’s home and those of her key staff and department heads (DPW, SFMTA, Planning, Building, SFPUC, etc.) as well as the residence of each Supervisor (and their staff) including all the members of the Planning Commission, so that these public officials can maintain an immediate and continuing finger on the pulse of the situation for the duration of the crisis.

    Next we could roll out the program in the 2 dozen City-owned surface parking lots and above-ground open parking garages throughout each neighborhood.

    This would have the collateral benefit of putting the kabash on political grandstanding and motivate those in power to work constructively together to solve this challenge — long term and once and for all.

    1. how do I flag Karl’s post for being realistic?

      We want a world where it is considered too cruel to ask people living on the street to move their tents. We should buy them hotel rooms for $200 a night instead.

    2. yeah but. …
      The problem with camps is the latrine issue. Common baths are a vector; perhaps the sole benefit of hotel-ing these (as well as SRO) folk.

      I do think that, for a significant’ % of this population, giving them a room will do little to contain the virus, as they will then spend 12 hrs a day scoring, hangin’ and socializing.

      But perhaps if they are going to do that, then containing them out-of-the-way, such as the Cow Palace (or even some schools-that-are-closed); with catered food & dope, might be the best alt. Those who are truly willing to shelter-in-place could then be given a private room.

      And, yeah, this will go on for months, with a BIG ruckus when its time to open up for business.

  4. My team has been staffing the hotels and there have a myriad of issues. Unsafe staffing, sexual harassment, abuse in addition to positive patients walking around the property unmasked and no security. The staff does not have any PPE so before they decide to open up more of these rooms, they need to find the staff and that’s the biggest hold up.

    1. Thanks Rn. What more can you tell us (without outing yourself)? Are you housing people from shelters or the streets or both? Are the guests restricted from coming and going? I’m wondering what effect all this will have if the guests are out and about all day and just go back to the room to sleep.

      Not necessarily a knock on anyone, but I can barely stay put in my comfortable home surrounded by all my creature comforts. I would have a much harder time just sitting in a hotel room all day.

      1. The guests are not supposed to be coming out of their rooms. They are bored and feel like “this is worse than prison” as one resident voiced. They are coming from the shelter and streets. I don’t see how this process is containing the virus as they are congregating and coming out of the rooms unmasked, placing other residents and the staff at risk.

        1. Thanks RN. Disconcerting news but it should not be unexpected by anyone who has thought this through. People who are used to having freedom to roam, suddenly asked to spend 24/7 in an unfamiliar hotel room. How much HBO can you watch? Completely cut off from everything they are familiar with. Sleeping is obviously better but what about the waking hours?

          Very sad to think about the essential services (libraries, schools, MUNI, etc) that will need to be cut because of this baseless decision from the BOS.

          Thanks for your service.

  5. The occupancy rate for hotels in large North American cities is presently 3% to 15%. Since many hotels and hotel chains are deeply indebted this means many will enter bankruptcy in the coming months. It should be easy for the city to rent rooms for less than 33.3% of the going rate. The cleaning and other usual hotel services would be included in the room rental charge. Food would be individually wrapped delivered by truck and picked up by the room occupants in the parking lot. This would be a 3 to 9 month rental with no need for the City to own or operate anything they simply rent rooms in a hotel that provides normal room rental services.

    1. >”Food would be individually wrapped delivered by truck and picked up by the room occupants in the parking lot. ”

      That’s good to know. I wasn’t even aware that most hotels in San Francisco had parking lots. Wait, do they?

      >”The cleaning and other usual hotel services would be included in the room rental charge. ”

      That is also good to know also. I hadn’t heard that the hotels had agreed to include those services, Wait, did they?

    2. There are a lot of additional costs incurred in putting homeless folks in hotels rooms that would not be there for regular paying guests.

      Like security, sanitation, extra cleaning, homeless and health services . .

      1. The chronic homeless many of which are drug users will certainly cause a great deal of damage and destruction to rooms especially. I know a few people who go into psychosis when using drugs and destroy everything in sight. I would think the city leaders would need to plan on a huge amount budgeted for damage. And owners would demand it. Also how safe would a person be later on in a room that a person infected occupied?

  6. ““We have approximately 56,000 people that are living on the streets and in shelters that couldn’t care for themselves,” said Ronen.”

    56 thousand?!!. Is that a typo, or just Hillary being melodramatic?

      1. Isn’t the quote “could” care for themselves? That’s the population that the supervisors and activists were saying could be moved to hotels right away without much up-staffing required.