Homeless advocates push for investment in vacant housing units 

click to enlarge Homeless
  • mike Koozmin/2014 S.F. EXAMINER FILE PHOTO
  • Homeless advocates are calling on city officials to utilize vacant public-housing units.
As San Francisco city officials are working to shelter thousands of people living on the streets, there are about 200 public-housing units that are going unused.

Homeless advocates are calling on city officials to immediately invest in these vacant public-housing units to be able to start moving people in from off the streets, especially families. They also encourage The City to open up the housing wait list, which has been closed for years.

Jennifer Friedenbach, executive director of the San Francisco Coalition on Homelessness, said that in discussions this week with public-housing officials, it was made clear that for nearly $3 million, 200 units could be made available.“

They said that they could get units open within three months if they have the funding to do that,” she said. “They have 200 that are sitting there boarded up.”

San Francisco Public Housing Authority spokeswoman Rose Dennis said the units are vacant due to lack of funding.

“We have to work within the resources we get,” Dennis said. The agency has faced difficult challenges with a budget deficit and criticism associated with being ranked among the state’s worst public-housing providers.

There are currently 287 vacant units in the public-housing inventory, Dennis said. Fourteen of them have signed leases awaiting move-ins and another 56 have prospective tenants undergoing background checks and certification, she said. Dennis said rehabilitation of the units ranges in cost from as low as $2,000 a unit to a high of $20,000.

While there have been discussions about opening up the housing wait list, Dennis said there are no immediate plans to do so. One issue is how to treat the other vulnerable populations currently on the list if it’s opened up with an emphasis on the homeless.

Homeless people on the list are currently given priority, Dennis said. The authority works with two separate wait lists: one for the section 8 voucher program, which covers about 12,000 households and was closed in 2001; and a public-housing list of about 25,000 households that was closed in 2010.

In October of last year, the authority sent out letters to those identified on the lists to determine if they remained interested or still qualified for the housing opportunities. If so, they would have to respond by the end of the year to remain on the list, Dennis said.

Supervisor London Breed said Wednesday that she plans to propose allocating the money to rehab the vacant units.

“The next supplemental I want to see on the table … is a supplemental to rehabilitate the vacant public housing,” Breed said, noting that, “There is a shelter in my district with no shower, with no ability for these families to get prepared for school or for work or for anything else.”

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