Case Study: San Francisco Housing Authority

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Case Study: San Francisco Housing Authority

Introduction:

In recent years, the San Francisco Housing Authority (SFHA), which is the oldest housing authority in California, is facing a housing crisis brought on by overspending, insufficient federal funds, and a lack of proper budgeting. Supervisor Aaron Peskin details that the SFHA overused its housing assistance payments and spent 30 million dollars that the department did not have, consequently, creating a budget hole.[1] Accordingly, the SFHA suffers from a structural deficit in which there is not enough funding to meet the capital needs of the city, as there is a budget shortfall of over 1.7 million dollars and federal funding continues to diminish.[2] Without a financially sustainable housing strategy to properly budget and supervise the SFHA resources, approximately 31,000 low-income SF residents will suffer.[3]

Structure & Background:

 The San Francisco Housing Authority was established in 1938 by the SF Board of Supervisors. It is the 17th largest housing authority in the country and has expanded to incorporate over 40 housing complexes in SF.[4] In 1940, the SFHA opened the first low-income housing development west of the Mississippi, equipped for approximately 118 families.[5] From 1940 to 1970, the SFHA experienced significant expansion as capital funds from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) increased, allowing them to both build new residences and make improvements to the older residences (including fixing roofs and creating handicap accessible ramps). Later, in 1974, the Housing Choice Voucher Program, which now serves over 10,000 families and individuals, was incorporated into the SFHA, thereby, allowing low-income families to rent privately owned residences in SF. Today, the SFHA oversees 31,000 SF residents.[6]

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 In overseeing 31,000 SF residents, the San Francisco Housing Authority depends upon a bureaucratic system of governance. While the SFHA is an independent agency, the mayor elects the seven members of its board of commissioners. Two out of the seven commissioners must be SFHA residents, to effectively provide a voice for those who reside in housing developments such as senior citizens, handicapped individuals, and family units. The Board elects an Executive Director that is in charge of more than 200 SFHA employees.[7] Moreover, the SFHA is comprised of a Public Housing Department, Office of the Executive, Government Affairs Division, HR Department, and IT Operations.[8] It is also important to note that the residents pay 30% of their income to rent while the rest is funded by HUD, the primary sponsor of the SFHA.

Demographics and Public Housing Portfolio:

 In regard to its public assistance programs, the agency seeks to provide high quality and affordable housing amenities for its voucher holders and housing authority residents. The SFHA oversees 6,371 public housing units, manages approximately 12,738 housing choice vouchers.[9] These public housing units have been revamped through HOPE SF, RAD programs, and HOPE IV.[10] Meanwhile, the SFHA’s housing vouchers include both tenant-based and project-based voucher programs.

 In highlighting the SFHA’s history and structure, it is also important to acknowledge the demographics that the agency serves. For leased public housing in SF, African-Americans received the greatest assistance (1,836), followed by Caucasians (1,166) as exemplified in Appendix 1.[11] However, the positions were switched in regards to housing vouchers as Caucasians received the greatest number of vouchers (7,148), African-Americans received the second most, and Asian-Americans were third (6,329).[12] It is also important to highlight that the people of color in San Francisco run a greater risk of being cost-burdened, especially African American and Hispanic renters as exemplified in Appendix 2.[13]

SF’s Urban Renewal in the 1960s:

Upon outlining the demographics of the SFHA and its public housing portfolio, San Francisco’s previous plan for urban renewal is also worth detailing. The Housing Act of 1949 spurred the urban renewal efforts in major cities like SF in the 1950s and 1960s. The Act encouraged the eradication of subpar housing and the elimination of slums as a means of providing better quality living conditions for American families.[14] Accordingly, this plan for urban renewal was undertaken by the SFHA; however, in actuality, it was an initiative for commercial interest rather than as an initiative to alleviate poverty. In fact, in SF, the cleared areas were where low-income African Americans resided, but the alternative housing they were promised by the SFHA never appeared.[15] Accordingly, urban renewal in SF led to the displacement of African-American communities and the communities of other people of color as their homes were taken by the city through the practice of eminent domain. This practice allows the city to seize private property for public means and, consequently, minority communities are forced out of their homes and pushed out of city centers, downtowns, and business districts.[16] San Francisco’s urban renewal plan was highly publicized for being misguided, and residents no longer trusted the city and, in particular, the SFHA.   

SFHA’s Housing Choice Voucher Program:

 A way of countering both this displacement and distrust harbored by San Francisco residents was the creation of affordable housing programs via the SFHA. One of these initiatives is San Francisco’s Voucher Program in which tenants with a housing voucher were offered both assistance and counseling services by the agency. As previously mentioned, the SFHA offers both tenant-based and project-based housing vouchers. While tenant-based vouchers are portable and allow tenants to pay only 30% of their income, project-based vouchers are not portable as the subsidy is attached to the building unit itself.[17] More precisely, with this project-based voucher, tenants still only pay 30% of their income, but when they move out, their rent is no longer financed. Instead, the unit is subsidized for the next tenant who transfers in. Housing vouchers unique to the SFHA include Housing Opportunities for People with Aids (HOPWA) and Shelter Plus Care, which caters to previously homeless people who suffer from addiction or are disabled.[18]

To go into further detail about the SFHA’s Voucher Program, it is critical to highlight its components. These include but are not limited to the program’s waiting list, tenancy, income statistics, and average rent. According to the Subsidized Households database, an SF resident is placed on the waiting list for an average of 28 months and a typical voucher-holder acquires housing benefits for approximately nine years.[19] The waiting list is ordered by both the time and date of an individual’s application as well as preference. More precisely, veterans, non-elderly disabled, and involuntarily displaced residents are given priority. It is also important to note that the tenant-based and project-based voucher waitlist have both been closed since June 2019.[20] Once an applicant gets off the waiting list and receives their voucher, they have 120 days to find an apartment before their voucher expires.[21] However, they may also apply for a 60 day extension.[22] In regards to income statistics, the typical voucher household contains, on average, almost 2.0 persons and has a household income of roughly $18,574.[23] Moreover, almost 85% of households partaking in the voucher program were so low-income that their primary source of income was either welfare (Public Assistance, TANF) or other income sources such as Social Security and Pensions. Accordingly, the average tenant under the program paid $479 a month, meanwhile, HUD’s expenses were around $1,569 per month.[24]

Initiatives:

HOPE VI:

 Beyond the SFHA’s Housing Choice Program, there is also the HOPE VI Program. This is a program recommended by the National Commission on Severely Distressed Public Housing, another initiative in which public distrust of the SFHA was meant to be relieved. More specifically, the program was created to alleviate the most distressed public housing projects and transform them into mixed-income residences.[25] In light of this program, the SFHA received $307 million in total revitalization funds and was specifically given $118.6 million for HUD HOPE VI grants.[26]Accordingly, five distressed public housing projects (Valencia Gardens, North Beach, Plaza East, Bernal Dwellings, Hayes Valley) were revitalized by the SFHA. The projects were revitalized into approximately 1,150 units of public housing and a total of 2,607 rooms.[27] Under HOPE SF, a program specific to San Francisco, further revitalization of public housing sites was planned.

HOPE SF

An initiative specific to San Francisco and inspired by HOPE VI is the HOPE SF initiative. The program is the United States’ first large-scale public housing transformation project. It works towards decreasing social isolation and deconcentrating poverty by transforming SF’s most distressed public housing sites into mixed-income communities, equipped with recreation centers, retail malls, and parks. The two-billion-dollar initiative revitalized four public housing sites where previously more than 5,000 SF residents had lived in dilapidated, barrack-style housing units.[28] These brand-new developments included: Hunters View, Potrero Terrace and Annex, Sunnydale, and Alice Griffith.

It is critical to note that each of these four communities was built near the old sites and residents were immediately relocated to the new units once they were completed, so that residents were not displaced, maintained their sense of familiarity with the space, and were not forced to adapt to a new area. Moreover, HOPE SF went further that HOPE VI, in aiming to build secure communities with well-resourced schools, easy access to health centers, job training, career centers, and leadership programs for the youth. To combat the previous failure of SF’s urban renewal plan in the 1960s, HOPE SF worked to establish trust with its residents and keep the promises made to them.[29] This initiative has proven to be a success in comparison to past programs as residents were not displaced, housing affordability increased, and public housing in SF was both revived and modernized.

Recent Problems/Challenges

 While these initiatives and the Housing Choice Voucher Program have proven effective, they have also proven to be costly. The SFHA primarily faces a structural deficit as a result of these programs as well as a lack of managerial organization and improper operations. More precisely, such problems arose because the federal government cut capital and operating funds of the SFHA’s initiatives (especially its Housing Choice Voucher Program), consequently, leading to an under-funded managerial staff and capital deficiency. As a result of these operational factors and insufficient budgeting, the SFHA fell into a budget hole of 30 million dollars and required a bailout by both the city and the federal government.[30] This compelled the city of San Francisco to take over the operations of the SFHA and it now oversees 14,000 households.[31]

 However, in the city’s overtaking of the SFHA, the number of employees will be reduced. Therefore, the city of San Francisco intends to offer severance packages and relocate employees elsewhere in the local government. The city also intends to craft an oversight organization for the SFHA, consisting of third-party experts that will enable greater managerial oversight on the parts of executives.[32] As the city has expertise in organizational structure, financing, legal work, and technology, it can better implement such an organization. Finally, the city plans to maintain the SFHA’s 14,000 subsidies as well as formulate new communities at the larger public housing sites, Potrero and Sunnydale.[33]

Conclusion:

This case study has provided a detailed overview of the San Francisco Housing Authority, particularly, its structure, history, the demographics it serves, its current programs, as well as its recent challenges. While the SFHA’s recent initiatives such as HOPE SF have proven to be successful in alleviating high degrees of displacement, the problem continues to exist. Even in recent times, San Francisco has been faced with increasing housing costs resulting from its changing racial and ethnic population as well as the displacement of certain communities of color. This displacement arose out of the early 2000s “Dotcom Boom” in which SF’s proximity to Silicon Valley made it a prime city for emerging tech companies and subsequent gentrification.[34] Accordingly, these companies, willing to pay higher rent, began transforming residential spaces into office spaces. 

Such actions drove prices higher and led to residential displacement as SF residents (primarily Hispanics) were pushed out of the city center. This is exemplified by Appendix 3, which records the race and ethnicity of SF’s Mission District (a place of major displacement during the Dotcom Boom) from 1980 to 2013.[35] A community resistance and response particular to the Mission District’s displacement was the creation of the Mission Anti-Displacement Coalition (MAC). This coalition promotes the rights of SF tenants, maintains space for local businesses, and advocates for the overall security of its neighborhood.[36] The MAC’s lobbying efforts were successful as it convinced other neighborhoods to undertake similar lobbying efforts to combat displacement in SF. Accordingly, it is efforts like these, intended to bolster the endeavors of the SFHA, on the part of SF residents that will ensure that the impoverished populations of their city will have access to affordable housing for the foreseeable future.

 

 

 

 

Appendix 1:

[37]

Appendix 2:

[38]

 

Appendix 3:

 

 

[39]

Bibliography

  • “Affordable Housing Homeless Problem Solutions.” Wells Fargo Stories. Last modified August 27, 2019. https://stories.wf.com/promise-kept-hope-sf-revitalizes-distressed-public-housing/.
  • Brinklow, Adam. “San Francisco Housing Authority Broke, $30 Million in the Hole.” Curbed SF. Last modified October 31, 2018. https://sf.curbed.com/2018/10/31/18048626/san-francisco-housing-authority-broke-30-million-hud-bailout.
  • Rongerude, Jane. “The Sorted City: San Francisco, Hope SF, and the Redevelopment of Public Housing.” University of California, Berkeley. Last modified 2009. http://digitalassets.lib.berkeley.edu/etd/ucb/text/Rongerude_berkeley_0028E_10230.pdf.
  • Sabatini, Joshua. “City Working to Finalize Housing Authority Takeover Plans.” The San Francisco Examiner. Last modified April 9, 2019. https://www.sfexaminer.com/the-city/city-working-to-finalize-housing-authority-takeover-plans/.
  • “San Francisco Housing Authority, San Francisco, California.” Affordable Housing Online. Accessed October 17, 2019. https://affordablehousingonline.com/housing-authority/California/San-Francisco-Housing-Authority/CA001.
  • Saunders, Debra. “Eminent Domain Means Your Home Can Be Their Castle.” SF Gate. Last modified August 19, 2016. https://www.sfgate.com/opinion/saunders/article/Eminent-domain-means-your-home-can-be-their-castle-9173840.php.
  • “Section 8 Vouchers.” Housing Rights Committee of SF. Accessed October 17, 2019. http://hrcsf.org/public-housing-hud-sect-8-2/section-8-vouchers/.
  • SF Planning. “San Francisco Housing Needs and Trends Report.” 403 Forbidden. Last modified July 2019. https://default.sfplanning.org/publications_reports/Housing-Needs-and-Trends-Report-2018.pdf.
  • SFHA. “Pages -.” SFHA Intranet Portal. Accessed October 17, 2019. http://sfha.org//Pages/History.aspx.
  • SPUR. “Re-envisioning the San Francisco Housing Authority.” SPUR, June 2013. https://www.spur.org/sites/default/files/publications_pdfs/SPUR_Re-Envisioning.SF_.Housing.Authority.pdf.
  • Turbov, Mindy, and Valerie Piper. “HOPE VI and Mixed-Finance Redevelopments: A Catalyst For Neighborhood Rental.” Brookings – Quality. Independence. Impact. Last modified 2005. https://www.brookings.edu/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/20050913_hopevi.pdf.

[1]  Adam Brinklow, “San Francisco Housing Authority Broke, $30 Million in the Hole,” Curbed SF, last modified October 31, 2018, https://sf.curbed.com/2018/10/31/18048626/san-francisco-housing-authority-broke-30-million-hud-bailout.

[2]Ibid.

[3]   SPUR, “Re-envisioning the San Francisco Housing Authority,” SPUR, June 2013, xx, https://www.spur.org/sites/default/files/publications_pdfs/SPUR_Re-Envisioning.SF_.Housing.Authority.pdf.

[4]  SFHA. “Pages -.” SFHA Intranet Portal. Accessed October 17, 2019. http://sfha.org//Pages/History.aspx

[5] Ibid.

[6] These statistics in this paragraph are found from the SFHA website. “Pages -.” SFHA Intranet Portal. Accessed October 17, 2019. http://sfha.org//Pages/History.aspx.

[7]Ibid.

[8]  Ibid, these statistics in this paragraph are found from the SFHA website.

[9]  SPUR, “Re-envisioning the San Francisco Housing Authority,” SPUR, June 2013, xx, https://www.spur.org/sites/default/files/publications_pdfs/SPUR_Re-Envisioning.SF_.Housing.Authority.pdf.

[10]   SPUR, “Re-envisioning the San Francisco Housing Authority,” SPUR, June 2013, xx, https://www.spur.org/sites/default/files/publications_pdfs/SPUR_Re-Envisioning.SF_.Housing.Authority.pdf.

[11] SFHA. “Pages -.” SFHA Intranet Portal. Accessed October 17, 2019. http://sfha.org//Pages/History.aspx.

[12]  Ibid.

[13]  Ibid.

[14]Jane Rongerude, “The Sorted City: San Francisco, Hope SF, and the Redevelopment of Public Housing,” University of California, Berkeley, last modified 2009, http://digitalassets.lib.berkeley.edu/etd/ucb/text/Rongerude_berkeley_0028E_10230.pdf.

[15]Jane Rongerude, “The Sorted City: San Francisco, Hope SF, and the Redevelopment of Public Housing,” University of California, Berkeley, last modified 2009, http://digitalassets.lib.berkeley.edu/etd/ucb/text/Rongerude_berkeley_0028E_10230.pdf.

[16] Debra Saunders, “Eminent Domain Means Your Home Can Be Their Castle,” SF Gate, last modified August 19, 2016, https://www.sfgate.com/opinion/saunders/article/Eminent-domain-means-your-home-can-be-their-castle-9173840.php.

[17] “Section 8 Vouchers,” Housing Rights Committee of SF, accessed October 17, 2019, http://hrcsf.org/public-housing-hud-sect-8-2/section-8-vouchers/.

[18] “Section 8 Vouchers,” Housing Rights Committee of SF, accessed October 17, 2019, http://hrcsf.org/public-housing-hud-sect-8-2/section-8-vouchers/.

[19]“San Francisco Housing Authority, San Francisco, California,” Affordable Housing Online, accessed October 17, 2019, https://affordablehousingonline.com/housing-authority/California/San-Francisco-Housing-Authority/CA001.

[20]  SFHA. “Pages -.” SFHA Intranet Portal. Accessed October 17, 2019. http://sfha.org//Pages/History.aspx.

[21]Ibid.

[22] Ibid, the statistics from this paragraph are primarily drawn from the SFHA official website.

[23] “San Francisco Housing Authority, San Francisco, California,” Affordable Housing Online, accessed October 17, 2019, https://affordablehousingonline.com/housing-authority/California/San-Francisco-Housing-Authority/CA001.

[24] “San Francisco Housing Authority, San Francisco, California,” Affordable Housing Online, accessed October 17, 2019, https://affordablehousingonline.com/housing-authority/California/San-Francisco-Housing-Authority/CA001.

[25] Mindy Turbov and Valerie Piper, “HOPE VI and Mixed-Finance Redevelopments: A Catalyst For Neighborhood Rental,” Brookings – Quality. Independence. Impact, last modified 2005, https://www.brookings.edu/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/20050913_hopevi.pdf.

[26] SFHA. “Pages -.” SFHA Intranet Portal. Accessed October 17, 2019. http://sfha.org//Pages/History.aspx.

[27] Ibid.

[28] Mindy Turbov and Valerie Piper, “HOPE VI and Mixed-Finance Redevelopments: A Catalyst For Neighborhood Rental,” Brookings – Quality. Independence. Impact, last modified 2005, https://www.brookings.edu/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/20050913_hopevi.pdf.

[29] “Affordable Housing Homeless Problem Solutions,” Wells Fargo Stories, last modified August 27, 2019, https://stories.wf.com/promise-kept-hope-sf-revitalizes-distressed-public-housing/.

[30]  Adam Brinklow, “San Francisco Housing Authority Broke, $30 Million in the Hole,” Curbed SF, last modified October 31, 2018, https://sf.curbed.com/2018/10/31/18048626/san-francisco-housing-authority-broke-30-million-hud-bailout.

[31] Ibid.

[32]  Joshua Sabatini, “City Working to Finalize Housing Authority Takeover Plans,” The San Francisco Examiner, last modified April 9, 2019, https://www.sfexaminer.com/the-city/city-working-to-finalize-housing-authority-takeover-plans/.

[33]Ibid.

[34]  Jane Rongerude, “The Sorted City: San Francisco, Hope SF, and the Redevelopment of Public Housing,” University of California, Berkeley, last modified 2009, http://digitalassets.lib.berkeley.edu/etd/ucb/text/Rongerude_berkeley_0028E_10230.pdf.

[35]Ibid.

[36] Ibid.

[37]SF Planning, “San Francisco Housing Needs and Trends Report,” 403 Forbidden, last modified July 2018, https://default.sfplanning.org/publications_reports/Housing-Needs-and-Trends-Report-2018.pdf.

[38] Ibid.

[39] SF Planning, “San Francisco Housing Needs and Trends Report,” 403 Forbidden, last modified July 2018, https://default.sfplanning.org/publications_reports/Housing-Needs-and-Trends-Report-2018.pdf.

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