RESIDENTIAL BUILDERS ASSOCIATION
S.F. is evicting its most vulnerable tenants closer to pre-pandemic levels.
Evictions from San Francisco’s housing units for formerly homeless people have jumped sharply over the past year, a sign that the city’s most vulnerable residents — who typically have nowhere else to go but back to the streets — are increasingly at risk of losing their homes as the city emerges from the pandemic.
At least 114 people were officially evicted from the single-room-occupancy hotels, or SROs, in the fiscal year that ended June 30, a significant uptick from the prior year, when 40 people were kicked out of the city-funded and often neglected buildings, according to a Chronicle analysis of newly released data from the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing. The percentage of households displaced from these hotels increased from 0.7 to 1.8.
A small number of SROs accounted for a large share of last year’s evictions: The Chronicle found that more than half of all evictions were in nine residential hotels that housed 16% of all supportive housing SRO residents.
Emily Cohen, a spokesperson for the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing, or HSH, said the agency anticipated such an increase in evictions this year, given that pandemic-related restrictions on evicting tenants have loosened. She said HSH is “proud” of the relatively low eviction rate, and that it proves permanent supportive housing is “one of the strongest and most effective solutions we have for ending homelessness for people with really complex needs.”
But a Chronicle investigation published last month found that, under Mayor London Breed’s administration, these official statistics represent only a portion of the displacement within San Francisco’s $160 million permanent supportive housing system. Reporters found that an untold number of tenants are forced out of their SROs through informal channels or through means that HSH doesn’t track.
The nonprofits that contract with HSH to manage SROs typically kick out residents for the same issues that qualified them for the supportive housing programs in the first place: poverty, mental illness, trauma or an inability to care for themselves. With limited options, The Chronicle found, many people wind up homeless again.
“Unfortunately, at times there are individuals who have to be removed from the buildings for the safety and well-being of all the residents,” Jeff Cretan, a spokesperson for Breed, said in a statement Tuesday. “Housing is key to helping people exit homelessness, and our department staff and nonprofit providers will continue to work with individuals to keep them stably housed.”
Before 2020, nearly half of the residents who were formally evicted from supportive-housing SROs were kicked out for owing money, HSH records show. Due to new laws and financial assistance programs that have almost entirely prevented evictions over nonpayment of rent, the number of official evictions in city-funded SROs is still lower than before the pandemic, when rates hovered between 2.2% and 2.6%.
Still, the climb in evictions over the past year appears to confirm the fear of some attorneys, tenants-rights groups and activists that cases would begin to increase once the pandemic-era restrictions were lifted.
“There is no arguing that it’s a small percentage and I’m happy to see that,” said Sara Shortt, director of public policy and community organizing at the supportive housing nonprofit HomeRise, which has relatively low eviction rates. “But at the end of the day, if you think of ... extremely low-income tenants being evicted into San Francisco’s homeless crisis, it’s very meaningful because we have seen how hard it is to house each and every person who is on the streets.”
While many of the residents in hundreds of eviction court cases reviewed by reporters didn’t appear to pose a safety threat, a significant number involved violent or destructive behavior that caused a serious risk to other tenants and employees.
Reporters, though, found that HSH has failed to provide adequate support services in many of its hotels that could help tenants address issues before facing an eviction. Additionally, the city agency has declined to create guidelines to limit evictions or spell out what constitutes an evictable offense from SROs.
With no clear direction, evictions vary broadly from address to address. A Chronicle review of the new city data found that of the 75 residential hotels that provided information to HSH, about 45% reported no evictions last year — though some of the properties housed just a handful of HSH clients. Meanwhile, a small group of buildings accounted for an outsize proportion of the displacement.
At the Altamont Hotel on 16th Street, run by Mission Housing Development Corp. and managed by subcontractor Caritas Management Corp., eight households were evicted last year, or 9% of the building. At the Baldwin Hotel on Sixth Street, run by Tenderloin Housing Clinic, 12 people were evicted last year, or about 9% of the tenants.
The Tenderloin Housing Clinic did not respond Tuesday to requests for comment. Sam Moss, the executive director of Mission Housing Development Corp., said that stabilizing some residents is “extremely difficult” and that eviction is the “last course of action,” sometimes after years of working with the tenant.
In an interview last month, HSH acknowledged the need for more consistent practices. After months of inquiries from The Chronicle, Cohen said the agency was working on standardized eviction policies for all supportive housing providers. HSH officials said they were unable to share the guidelines Tuesday because they were not yet finalized.
The city agency counts an eviction when a judge has ruled in favor of the landlord in court, or the Sheriff’s Office has been ordered to remove a resident.
However, The Chronicle found that these official figures do not represent the full scope of how many supportive housing residents lose their homes every year. For example, some residents sign agreements with property managers, promising to leave by a certain date in order to keep the eviction off the books and preserve their housing record.
Rita and Wesley Magnenat, who received an eviction notice after Wesley got in a physical fight with a neighbor, signed such an agreement to leave the Crosby Hotel by Aug. 31. In the weeks leading up to their move-out date, the couple said their case manager offered no support in finding a new home. They will not be counted under the city’s method of tracking evictions.
On their last day in the Crosby, the Magnenats picked through their belongings in their cramped and crowded room. They packed their stuff into plastic bags and crates, a task made more difficult by Rita’s disability and use of an electric wheelchair. Their plan was to head to Ocean Beach with their little dog, Meme, and pitch a tent on the sand.
“It’s better than the sidewalk, that’s for sure,” Wesley said.
Joaquin Palomino and Trisha Thadani are San Francisco Chronicle staff writers. Email: email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @JoaquinPalomino @TrishaThadani