“El sistema no funciona igual para todos,” or “the system doesn’t work the same for everyone,” explained one leader at a community meeting hosted by Faith in Action, a group fighting for housing rights and covid rent relief.
Around 40 people crowded into a small room on 16th Street across from the BART Plaza on Wednesday evening to air their concerns over the use of Proposition I funds. The meeting was convened by Faith in Action, who has been advocating for housing for low-income residents, many of them undocumented. It was attended by Supervisor Preston and staffers for Supervisors Hilary Ronen and Connie Chan.
In August, 2020, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors unanimously voted to use these funds for Covid rent relief and affordable housing. The proposition, which passed in November, 2020, doubled the real estate transfer tax on properties selling for $10 million or more. While the anticipated hundreds of millions of dollars raised over the next couple of years is ostensibly to be directed toward affordable housing and rent relief, this is not binding. And a debate is roiling among members of the Board of Supervisors and Mayor London Breed over whether the money should ease renters’ burdens and fund affordable housing, or be directed to other city needs.
The community leaders sitting in the room yesterday held the supervisors accountable for enacting their promises. Since, as the housing activists point out, it was in part due to their phone calls and rallying, that Prop. I passed in the first place.
“Thanks to you, San Francisco has $150 million that they wouldn’t have had if it weren’t for your activism,” acknowledged Supervisor Dean Preston, who put Prop. I on the ballot.
Amy Beinart, a legislative aide to Supervisor Hilary Ronen, who was attending a celebration for Unidos en Salud nearby, was present at the meeting. When asked whether she could promise that the funds from Prop. I would be used for rent relief and affordable housing, she focused on the discussion of the city budget, which Beinart said needs to pass with eight out of 11 supervisors in order to avoid a veto by Mayor London Breed. “Ronen is in 100 percent agreement that current rent relief is insufficient, and back debt should be forgiven,” she said.
But Preston went a step further. “Anything less than fully funding the promises of Prop. I is unacceptable,” Supervisor Preston stated multiple times during the meeting that San Francisco has enough money in various places such as reserves and general funds, to ensure that people do not get kicked out of their homes because of the pandemic.
So far, San Francisco has not given out any money to renters through the local program, although some people have been approved. The state program, which is actually funded by federal money, has not had much broader reach. According to the California Department of Housing’s latest dataset (from June 17), 3,420 applications have been submitted in San Francisco thus far. Just 239 have been approved for payment or paid.
And the need is real: Miguel Mateo, a leader of Faith in Action, has not been able to receive benefits because of his immigration status. Mateo applied for rent relief for the first time more than a year ago. Even then, it was a difficult process, as there were many questions he did not understand. Then, back in May, he had to reapply. “To date, I have not received a response. But for the government, who is a priority?” he asked. Mateo and other Faith in Action leaders say they want a local fund for rental assistance for people who do not qualify for the state program.
Of the people who have applied for rent relief through the local program, 98 percent earn below 50 percent of area median income, according to Eric Shaw, the director of the Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development. Shaw could not respond to how many applicants are non-English speaking.
“The paperwork is designed to screen people so we don’t give relief to everyone,” said Preston.
Oscar Martinez, a leader from Faith in Action stood up from his chair at the meeting and said “the right thing to do would be to honor the choice voters made … As people don’t qualify for the state program.” If San Francisco is a sanctuary city, we need it to use Prop. I as designed, he said in Spanish.
Assuming that the application process becomes easier, and back rent money is eventually paid, still, two out of three people who need rent relief will be without help, according to figures presented at a Wednesday morning board of supervisors meeting. By the end of June, San Francisco will have formalized a budget, and it will be clear to what extent rent relief for those who owe money will be funded. The California eviction moratorium is due to expire on July 31.
“Nowadays, the crisis is not the virus, the crisis is indifference,” said Doris Alanya in Spanish. “We are once again the parable of the persistent widow. We are in despair, waiting for the right, moral and ethical thing to be done, making our outcry public through our faith and moral values.”