Update, August 4: Some eviction notices recorded in city data do not appear to match records of eviction notices held by property managers. Some “eviction notices” may have been erroneously disclosed to the city, and may include other types of notices.
When Leonard Ross, longtime resident of the affordable housing project JFK Tower, returned to his studio apartment after a stint in the hospital in November, 2021, he was met with an unwelcome surprise: An eviction notice pinned to his door.
The eviction notice said that the 63-year-old Ross had threatened other residents, flooded his room, and harassed the Mercy Housing staff who run the Pacific Heights property. He was given 10 days to leave.
“They accused me of being some kind of criminal,” said Ross.
Ross is one of thousands of publicly subsidized tenants who have received eviction notices since 2016. According to city housing data from 2016 to 2020, a relatively small percentage end up actually being evicted. But while property managers say that eviction notices are used only as a last resort to change tenants’ behavior, some advocates say they are used far too readily, eroding tenants’ rights, causing intense stress for some of the city’s most vulnerable, and leading thousands to lose their homes.
Like many living in city-funded housing projects, Ross has complex needs. In his own words, he is “gravely disabled,” with diagnoses of schizophrenia, obesity, vertigo, incontinence, and agoraphobia. Since 2019, he has regularly requested an “emergency transfer” to a ground-floor one-bedroom apartment that his doctor believes would suit his conditions better. But Ross has not been relocated. He denies the charges against him, and alleges that he is really being evicted because of complaints he had made against the property manager for not accommodating his disabilities.
“Even if there’s a reasonable accommodation, there’s typically a waitlist,” said John Ryan, senior property manager of Mercy Housing. Although he did not wish to comment specifically on Ross’ ongoing case, he said that the extreme need for housing in San Francisco makes it impossible to grant every request, even those that are accepted on principle. He said that eviction is always “the very last resort” for tenants.
In some ways, Ross’ case seems to match a pattern seen throughout much of San Francisco’s affordable housing. Property-management companies receive hundreds of millions of dollars from the city to house people with complex needs, but multiple managers say that some of their tenants need more support than they can deliver. After failing to receive the care they need, many are instead faced with eviction.
But before we dive into the data:
Some important caveats
The data used for our analysis includes roughly 26,000 affordable units in multifamily housing projects funded by the Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development and the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing.
Between them, these two departments track most, but not all, of the subsidized housing projects in the city. However, there are a few issues with the datasets.
In many cases, the onus of data collection is on property managers, who sometimes fail to capture everything accurately. (For instance, several hundred notices were erroneously reported in John Stewart Company properties, according to a spokesperson, and a representative of the Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development said that evictions in market-rate rentals may be incorrectly included in some reports.)
What is more, the mayor’s housing office and the San Francisco Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing use different reporting windows and sometimes name projects differently from year to year. Add that to the pandemic’s disruption, which led departments to pause tracking certain metrics such as incoming resident racial demographics, and it becomes clear that getting a bird’s eye view of city-wide housing data is tricky.
All this means that there is an unavoidable degree of uncertainty in the precision of our eviction numbers. Nonetheless, this data includes a broad majority of the city’s subsidized multifamily housing, so it should give a good indication of overall trends.
With that in mind, let’s begin.
How many evictions?
Among the some 26,000 affordable housing units in our dataset, nearly 14,000 eviction notices were served between 2016 and 2020. Those notices resulted in 2,256 court appearances and 1,108 evictions.
According to both property managers and tenant advocates, eviction notices are often used as leverage to change tenant behavior, rather than immediately remove them. This may help explain why a fairly low proportion of eviction notices appear to end up in court or result in actual evictions. (Some tenants may also receive several notices, and some are incorrectly reported, potentially inflating the number of notices.)
13,823 eviction notices
2,256 court actions
13,823 eviction notices
2,256 court actions
Data from the Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development and the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing.
From 2016 to 2019, evictions remained fairly steady, hovering between 240 to 280 each year across the city’s multifamily apartments. These numbers nosedived by some 70 percent when pandemic protections kicked in and made evictions much more difficult. Still, more than 1,000 notices were issued during 2020–21.
What happens once someone is evicted?
Neither the Mayor’s office of housing nor the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing track what happens after an eviction, so it is hard to know if they find new housing or if they end up on the street.
“Nobody pays attention to what happens to the tenants after they are evicted,” said Ryan Murphy, deputy director of litigation and policy at the Eviction Defense Collaborative. “They are left to fend to themselves.”
Tenants sometimes move in with friends and family, into housing with more supportive services, or become homeless. Randy Shaw, head of the Tenderloin Housing Clinic, said many simply move to another SRO or affordable housing facility, which he says are often not capable of helping them.
“The same scenario repeats,” said Shaw. “The city has not invested in smaller facilities where they can get the more specialized treatment that they need.”
“That would be more expensive, which is why the city does not do it,” he added.
Even this option is not available to everyone. Case workers say that having an eviction on your record can make it more difficult to secure supportive housing in the future. And Rick Sprague, regional vice president of Mercy Housing, said that the need for housing means there are huge waitlists, even for those with immaculate records, noting that one of their 2015 projects had 70 affordable units and received thousands of applications.
Who is evicting tenants?
There are hundreds of property managers in the city, and the majority processed at least some evictions in the 2016–20 period. But some are more active than others.
Take a look at the diagram below to see reported eviction notices, court actions, and evictions from the ten largest property managers in the city between 2016 and 2020. The dotted circle shows the number of affordable units that each property manager maintained in 2020 (not including those properties not tracked by MOHCD or HSH).
Please note: Some eviction notices recorded in HSH and MOHCD data do not appear to match records of eviction notices held by property managers. Some “eviction notices” may have been erroneously disclosed to the city, and may include other types of notices.
260 to court
144 to court
John Stewart Company
346 to court
59 to court
475 to court
360 to court
150 to court
18 to court
20 to court
260 to court
John Stewart Company
144 to court
346 to court
59 to court
360 to court
475 to court
18 to court
150 to court
20 to court
Data from MOHCD and HSH. Some projects may be missing and some data may not have been reported accurately by property managers.
Out of the top 10 biggest managers in the city, the Tenderloin Housing Clinic consistently issued one of the highest rate of eviction notices (that is, notices per affordable unit) from 2016 to 2020.
“We deal with some of the hardest tenant populations out there,” said Camlo Looper, senior associate director of property management for the Tenderloin Housing Clinic. “We have tenants who have been homeless for 10 to 20 years, who have multiple mental illnesses, who have multiple addictions.”
According to Looper, tenants have become increasingly difficult to house over the past five to ten years, with a higher proportion of longtime homeless people and people with more complex medical and behavioral problems moving in. He said that had meant sometimes more extreme problems, recounting incidents of tenant stabbings and arson.
“We need to consider the needs of the other tenants,” said Looper. He said that other tenants and some staff were “living with the threat of danger” because of a small number of tenants’ behavioral problems.
But tenant advocates say evictions will not improve the situation.
“A solution to homelessness is complicated, definitely, but evicting vulnerable people in mental health crises cannot possibly be any part of the solution,” said Murphy. “People are coming to these houses with years of trauma, and the consequences of the years of poverty they have experienced. That all gets worse if they get evicted.”
Kavin Williams, a lawyer with the Eviction Defense Collaborative, and Leonard Ross’ attorney, said that many of the cases that he dealt with were spurious and did not involve violent tenants. One case, he said, involved an attempted eviction over a tenant buying a pet fish. (The tank allegedly flooded the building; the case was ultimately withdrawn.)
“It must be difficult to provide supportive housing,” said Williams. “But that’s what they’re paid to do. It’s easy to evict tenants.”
Are certain populations especially vulnerable?
The majority of large subsidized housing projects are clustered in the Tenderloin. So, perhaps unsurprisingly, it is the Tenderloin that has seen the most evictions. Explore the map to see which projects have reported the most evictions, court actions, and eviction notices.
Data from the Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development and the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing. Affordable units are based on 2020 figures.
Housing projects that cater primarily to formerly homeless tenants tend to see the highest rates of notices, while apartments for seniors and families see some of the lowest.
And some racial groups also appear to bear a disproportionate burden. Black residents make up only around 6 percent of the total city population and around 19 percent of MOHCD-funded housing, but accounted for 27 percent of MOCHD’s 2020 eviction notices.
% population in city-funded affordable
units vs. % eviction notices served in 2020
This partial data suggests that
Black and Latino residents may
be served eviction notices at a
disproportionately high rate.
% population in city-funded
affordable units vs. % eviction
notices served in 2020
This partial data suggests
that Black and Latino
residents may be served
eviction notices at a
disproportionately high rate.
Data includes MOHCD-funded properties. Population percentages are based on an average of 2017–19 responses; they are unavailable for 2020 due to tracking changes during the pandemic. Eviction notice percentages are based on 2020 notices.
This data from the Mayor’s housing office has many missing responses, where no demographic at all was listed, which makes it hard to draw any firm conclusions. But this finding does match the observations of many experts and advocates in San Francisco housing.
“Black tenants and other racial minorities are evicted at a higher rate, and they are treated more harshly,” said Murphy, citing personal experience with eviction cases. “But the data is bad. If they’re going to fund this so much, they should be tracking racial discrimination more thoroughly.”
Matthew Oglander, from the Human Rights Commission, investigates discrimination claims in public and subsidized housing. He said that proving discrimination of individuals is more straightforward than proving a pattern of discrimination, because San Francisco’s data is sometimes patchy and uses relatively small sample sizes. Having multiple departments and property managers tracking and delivering data differently does not help either, he said.
The mayor’s housing office intends to launch a new reporting system at the end of this year that will allow occupancy and eviction data to be collected more uniformly and with less of a time lag. But even with the old system, we can get a tentative sense of the people most impacted by evictions and eviction notices: Tenderloin residents, the formerly homeless, and Black tenants.
Why so many eviction notices?
Many property managers say that they issue eviction notices not to have tenants kicked out, necessarily, but to pressure them into changing their behavior.
“Sometimes you have got to through this painful, scary, elaborate eviction process just to get it across to someone that they might lose their housing,” said Jack Gardner, president and CEO of the John Stewart Company, one of San Francisco’s largest affordable housing providers.
“It takes many months and many notices to advance to an eviction meeting,” he added. “We only get there if our efforts have fallen on deaf ears.”
Property managers often ask tenants faced with eviction to sign “behavioral stipulations” in a settlement to avoid court. These contracts typically ask for certain behavioral promises from tenants, such as not playing loud music at night, or not fighting with other residents. If broken, the tenant faces an expedited eviction process in the future. Some stipulations also include a clause prohibiting tenants from suing the property managers for past actions.
Looper said that sometimes eviction proceedings helped tenants receive services that would be unavailable to them if their housing were not in jeopardy. He referenced a case in which an elderly woman, who he said was unsuited to life in an SRO, had eviction proceedings brought against her so that she would move into more intensive supportive housing.
“People don’t always want the help,” he said. “Sometimes you have to move forward with an eviction to compel them to accept the help.” But he added that other routes like mediation were attempted before eviction notices were issued. The Tenderloin Housing Clinic also has a wing of defense lawyers dedicated to fighting evictions, separate from the property management side of the nonprofit, who Looper said are the “gold standard” in tenant defense.
“I take them at their word when they say they don’t really want to evict the tenant,” said Williams, from the Eviction Defense Collaborative. “Almost every single time, they want a behavioral stipulation, which means strict compliance with the tenancy agreement.”
But Williams said that behavioral stipulations can involve restrictions not just on aggressive behavior and other serious issues, but also minor infractions like messiness, loud music, or certain visitors, which can open the tenant up for a speedy eviction later. And he said that eviction notices, even if they do not result in an actual eviction, can be extremely distressing to tenants, and can include clauses that strip them of legal protections.
Williams alleges that, in Ross’ case, a behavioral stipulation is being sought because Mercy Housing’s case is too flimsy to hold up in court. Ross contends that the flooding in his apartment was down to faulty plumbing that Mercy Housing did not fix, and that his comments to other tenants were taken out of context. But if Ross were to sign a behavioral agreement, that could open him up to swifter removal in the future.
“Sometimes they are not used as a last resort, but as a tool to change behavior,” said Anne Stanley, communications manager for the Mayor’s housing office. “We obviously don’t agree with using eviction as a first touchpoint.”
The number of tenants who are evicted via an infraction of a behavioral stipulation is not tracked, so it is difficult to tell how effective they are in changing behavior and how often they simply result in an expedited eviction.
As for Ross, he remains in his apartment after eight months in legal limbo. He said that he is unsure where he would go if the case against him is upheld. “I would have no other options,” said Ross. “I would have to go to a men’s shelter and pull myself up by my bootstraps.”
“I’m not going to admit to being a nuisance, because I’m not,” he said. “I’m just someone who has a condition that needs to be addressed.”
Got evicted for complaining twice to property manager on her favorite tenant have police reports from where I called property has camera’s resident threat to shoot my child over half the apartment complex witness also heard the verbal threats that were made towards my child property manager did nothing to assure me and my family safety instead gave an eviction notice tenant in the complex telling me that the asked them to falsely come into her office and make false complaints and she would pay them to come to court with her to falsely lie but did not one time did she worry about me and my kids safety manager brought the tenant to court I made complaint to falsely lie I was the one evicted but before I left the tenant she brought to court with her got arrested for all kind of drug,child endangering eluding the law trafficking,credit card fraud stayed in jail for 2 abandoned her HUD apartment but still right to this day still resident in South Of Dauphin Apartments getting all the government services both ways it’s people still there done been on the news for attempt murder the system needs more attention so some want use their position they took oath’s for to their advantage HUD really need to start stepping up it’s a lot of people HOMELESS FOR UNJUST, UNHEARD do to property manager do what they want and nobody to stop them legal aid system is no help when there working for HUD all together
Not having water leaks and nothing is getting work on in this building I wanna see how y’all keep it open yeah I need to close this this is disgusting it is
I’m get tried be her with molde on the wall rat in my room i can’t sleep at all with rat so so the so managers is sleeping with the people that pay ret her to not said nothing too nobody else Tenderloin Housing an’t shit than is working with them and they city of San Francisco 528 Valencia the crown hotel im is in 205 room
How many eviction notices have there been — percentage-wise — in private/market-rate housing over the same period?
Will has done a good job of reporting here. I am very familiar with this subject and others who have written on this topic have not done the thorough job Will does here. An eviction from one of these places is almost always the single worst outcome as all of the work everyone has done to end homelessness for one person results in adding that one person back into homelessness. (Sometimes, evicted folks do come back in and make a better go of it.) To Sean and Jonathan, I urge you to think about better solutions to the scourges of drug addiction and homelessness since you don’t like the current ones. And let us all know how they would work and get better results. Permanent Supportive Housing has been shown time and time again, while not perfect, to result in many positive outcomes for individuals and the community at large. If either of you can point to better ideas that have a proven record, I know you will share them with us. We all want the same things: an end to homelessness, improved street conditions, lives saved, etc. The organizations Will reports on, and many others, are filled with folks working hard to get those results. What are you offering? (For those who will now entertain us all with stories of highly paid nonprofit workers fleecing the taxpayers, please come with some evidence/ data.)
Will, did you look into which of these buildings are under rent control and which are not?
I am no expert in these matters but I believe that buildings may be exempt from the SF Rent Ordinance if they are owned, operated or funded by some level of the government or a non-profit.
Buildings exempted from rent control would find it much easier to evict since no just cause is needed – only the 60 day notice as required by State law.
You’ve made Ross your article’s anchor. Did you interview his neighbors to find out if they found him threatening? You quote racial statistics but don’t examine whether there is any behavioral differences that could account for apparent racial disparities– you need to compare populations with very similar profiles and problems to avoid an apples to oranges comparison.
Good point. I live next to such housing (and have done so in 4 different locations). I enjoy chatting with my neighbors of many different backgrounds. Even though I am not directly affected, I learn from them (and bear witness to specific incidents) that a few tenants can disrupt an entire building. Some are slovenly, some are raucous, some are bullies, and some need care. In one complex, kids were dealing drugs and “recruiting” neighbors’ kids (some of whom joined). That was in the Bayview. In one building a tenant lost control and set fire to their own unit and then to the only elevator. That was in SOMA. In another building, new tenants hosted lots of gatherings. After 3 years, someone was shot when 13 bullets passed through exterior and interior walls including neighbors’ units. That was Hayes Valley. I don’t blame management (who lack resources) or most residents (who just want to live without fear). This is a very complex issue that seems to have gotten bigger, worse and more dangerous. Now I live in a different neighborhood next to and near low income housing with loud music, people changing motor oil on the street, mail theft and occasional muggings (including me), but it feels relatively safe and I still get to be in San Francisco.
there is so much anger and lack of empathy appearing in the comments lately when the issues of housing, crime and poverty are discussed. after 2 years being locked down for a pandemic our society appears to be heading for another ‘lock ’em up’ for the solutions to these complex issues (3 strikes, etc). the comments here on mission local appear to overwhelmingly reflect anger and sometimes hate. we have already lost ground on many fronts with the future portending more hard core approaches. there is now a pervasive narcissistic trend in our society that needs to stop otherwise we will find ourselves back where we started;the old and tired 13th century medieval solutions some ignorant people in power posit. i suggest we take a step back and remember to have empathy for our brothers and sisters.
and moving forward is progressive. i refuse labels being used to diminish the value of a person.
One may take a view that most philosophies and the brighter side of religions boil down to two concepts – I think this is a distillation of what Confucius is reportedly to have said when summarizing his world view:
1) Don’t do anything to someone you would not want to have done to yourself
When residents of our current encampment cross the street, prop their backsides by our front door and lay an egg – one definitely takes “a step back” but the empathy is hard to come by.
Perhaps the “pervasive narcissistic trend in our society” has also something to do with folks being so self absorbed that they would not even give the slightest bit of consideration how their actions impact others. Perhaps that’s why some are living in a tent on the street.
You are quite right D. A lot of this stems from the pandemic lockdown. But it’s also the fruit of 40 years of Thatcher-Reagan-Feinstein power at City Hall. Guess what? They were not Marxist then and aren’t now. The City’s policy for homeless has fluctuated for 40 years between aggressive harassment (and “deportation”) for “quality of life” crimes and benign neglect. By doing nothing and allowing encampments in residential neighborhoods, Breed and Co. aggravated the situation, thereby paving the way for a more aggressive response (see Newsom and Trump’s latest proposals for “concentration camps” (Trump’s words; Newsom, good Democrat he is, speaks in euphemisms). Reagan closed down the State’s asylums, which were grotesque, but never had a plan or provided funds for local communities to deal with the mentally ill.
Mark, you refer to the grotesqueness of state asylums. Obviously you walk around with eyes closed to even hint that the current situation is not magnitudes worse than state asylums.
These people don’t get better. At best you can stabilize and slow the deterioration but not without the constant around the clock care offered at mental institutions. Add current formulation of meth and fentanyl, we are talking serious permanent neurodegenerative effects.
You’ve touched on a topic that few in the homeless alleviation business will consider, and one I think is actually a key reason why efforts to address the “homeless problem” continue to fail: The responsibilities of the homeless people themselves.
The city can offer as much support as it wants to people who are unhoused. And well-meaning activists can offer their two cents by demanding the unhoused be coddled and arguing over semantics during community board meetings.
But until we start to admit the role that questionable personal and social decisions often made by homeless people have on the success or failure of all the other efforts, we’ll just continue running in circles looking for that magic combination of services that does the trick.
For sometimes complicated reasons, many people being find homelessness less painful than accepting the sacrifices that need to be made to take part in our inequitable, unfair, money-focused social construct.
If we all think we have a “problem” with homelessness, we need to define it first, then get past our blinding empathy and desire for a quick-fix to help everyone involved take responsibility for their actions—accepting this includes us, too.
You know, it took 80 years for the “goodness” of Marxism to be reveled to be a fraud and to actually be a monstrous evil. I hope people like you will see the truth, sooner rather than later. Look around at what “progressive” San Francisco has produced…. none of it is good.
So just housing is not a full solution? “Progressives” have no clothes. A drug addict in an SRO is no better than a drug addict in a tent.
Thousands of units that are being occupied by drug addicts and homeless could be transformed into perfectly good housing for productive adults .
Sounds like posters Tom, Sean and Jonathan ( Aug 2 around 3 pm) are ready to bring back gas chambers for the “useless eaters” among us. They could never be in need of a hand up I guess. Kind of shocking.
This is a good investigative piece, thankyou Mr. Jenkins.
Looking at the results of cartel meth and fentanyl, it is hard to envision how those passed out folk draped across the sidewalk or that character on the street corner pants around his ankles screaming at the top of his lungs, are fit for public housing.
Obviously you have not been in these “hotels”