Where are poor people supposed to go in San Francisco?

root - Posted on 31 December 1969

Low income residents and housing advocates fight the Housing Authority’s economic cleansing policies (The Housing Work Responsibility Act)

by Rebecca Vilkomerson, Homeless Prenatal Program

On Wednesday, October 27, a righteous assortment of immigrants, public housing tenants, tenant organizers, housing providers, immigrant/welfare rights activists, service providers and others gathered on the steps of City Hall to serve notice that we will not allow the racist, economic cleansing policies dictated by Washington to destroy our communities here in San Francisco.

Itís not as if gentrification, greedy landlords, dot.coms, no vacancies and high rents arenít enough. But then on top of it all we have the Quality Housing Work Responsibility

Act, which basically does two things: shuts undocumented families out of Section 8 housing and the public housing; and converts public housing, traditionally for the poor, into housing for the middle class. Could it be a coincidence that this is shortly after HOPE VI destroyed the old projects to make way for renovated new ones that are now almost inaccessible for the old tenants who were promised they would get them back? But we digress

How does it do this? By forcing SFHA to verify immigrantís ìstatusî (documented/undocumented) with the INS, and by forcing 60% of units as they become available to be reserved for families making between 30% and 80% of the median income. Thatís pretty high here in San Francisco, and 70% of current residents currently make less than 30% of median income. So what that basically means is that if you have been waiting and make less than 30% of the median, you are not going to get housing. So where are poor people supposed to go in San Francisco?

But we are not taking any of this lying down. San Francisco is a ìcity of refugeî for immigrants and has signed onto the ìDeclaration of Human Rights,î which recognizes housing as a human right. On this basis, we are demanding four action steps which would at least slow down the damage of this law, including:

1) no reporting to the INS
2) keeping everyone on the waiting list for housing
3) create a fund to replace the lost subsidies of ìmixed statusî families
4) create a fund for displaced families.

So we gathered on the steps of City Hall, over one hundred strong, representing Homeless Prenatal Program, the Day Laborer Program, SF Bayview Reporter, La Raza Centro Legal, Mission Agenda, Coalition on Homelessness, POWER, Family Rights and Dignity, Hogares Sin Barreras, Housing Rights Committee, St. Peterís Housing Committee, Mission Anti-Displacement Coalition, and many, many more, to declare with singing, poetry and words of resistance that we will not disappear without a fight!

Then we went inside, and we made the walls of City Hall shake with singing and chanting as we charged up the steps into the rotunda. So much so that the next thing we knew we were surrounded by cops. This was not cool, especially since we had many undocumented families and children with us, who had courageously come out to assert their rights. It is clear that our joint growing power and strong spirit is scary for those who thought they could roll right over us.

The Finance Committee was in session, and they knew we were there, even from outside the hearing room! We were scheduled last on the agenda (what else is new), but given our strong presence, they knew we wouldnít wait forever to have our say. Meanwhile, we took over the main Board of Supervisors chambers and conducted a teach-in for ourselves about what we are experiencing and how we can fight back. The passion and life experiences that were recounted, in Spanish and English, moved everyone to stand up and cheer with renewed vigor and determination.

The Committee rearranged its schedule to accommodate us, and in we went. Renee Saucedo summarized our demands, and then we screened a videotape, produced by Hogares Sin Barreras and Whispered Media, which allowed immigrants too frightened of retaliation to tell their stories. As it turned out, they had good reason to be worried: the committee room was filled with police who guarded the door and lined the room. After hundreds of hearings, many of them raucous, I have never seen such a clear attempt at intimidation as the police showed that day. But no one left, because they wanted to have their say. Still, it makes you wonder what is going on in our ìdemocracyî if the mere attempt to participate in a public hearing that will massively change housing policy in the city is met with that kind of police presence.

The Housing Authority, which had been requested to appear and answer questions at the hearing, did not show up. This is simply indicative of the arrogant, shameful way the Housing Authority conducts its business. However, although not everyone was allowed to speak, enough speakers were allowed to explain what this law would do that our resolution gained Supervisor Yeeís support at the end of the hearing, in addition to Supervisor Ammiano’s (Supervisor Bierman was not present).

But this is only the beginning. The next step will be a vote on the bill at the full board, which we all know will be a hard sell given the voting history of the present board. So three times as many people need to show up for next time.

All are invited to a planning meeting for next steps in the fight, WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 4, at NOON, HOMELESS PRENATAL PROGRAM, 995 Market ST, 14th Floor. Lunch will be served and translation (into Spanish) provided. Be there

Fact Sheet

The Quality Housing Work Responsibility Act (QHWRA) was passed by Congress in 1998. It was designed in conjunction with welfare ìreform.

This is a federal (nationwide) law, which means that the city MUST comply with the law or with lose all of its money for housing (many millions of dollars).

This law applies to public housing projects and Section 8 housing.

Information for Immigrants

Before QHWRA was passed, San Francisco had the option of never asking immigrants about their status as citizens/eligible immigrants (with papers)/ineligible immigrants (undocumented), and never did. Now the city no longer has that option.

Starting NOW, as you come up for re-certification, the Housing Authority will ask you to certify your immigrant status. They will contact the INS to confirm that you are eligible. They will not report to the INS (supposedly) if you are ineligible.

If your entire family is ineligible, you will have up to 18 months with your full subsidy before you lose it. You can stay in the housing after that time but you will have to pay the full fair market rate rent (70% more than you pay right now). If you canít pay it, you will eventually be evicted.

If your family has some documented members and some undocumented, you will get a portion of your subsidy. For example: in a family of four with two undocumented parents and two documented kids, you will get 50% of your former subsidy and will have to pay the rest. If you canít pay it, you will eventually be evicted.

If you are on the waiting list for housing and are undocumented, you will lose your place on the list.

If your family all has papers, see the next section for other ways QHWRA will affect you.

Information for Residents and People on the Waiting List

QHWRA also requires that the Housing Authority create ìmixed incomeî developments. The Housing Authority is now required to reserve only 40% of its units as they open for people making less than 30% of the local median income, the rest (60%) are reserved for people making between 30 and 80% of median income. See table below to see where your family falls (the figures are from 1999 and may be slightly different for 2000 and 2001).

Family of 1: 30%=15,200 80%=38,100
Family of 2: 30%=17,400 80%=43,500
Family of 3: 30%=19,550 80%=48,950
Family of 4: 30%=21,700 80%=54,400
Family of 5: 30%=23,450 80%=58,750
Family of 6: 30%=25,200 80%=63,100
Family of 7: 30%=26,950 80%=67,450
Family of 8: 30%=28,650 80%=71,800

So if your family makes less than the number in the first column, you will have to fit in the 40% category of people making less than 30% of the median. If your family income falls between the numbers in the two columns, you will be eligible for the 60% of units reserved for those with higher incomes.

As a comparison, note that on minimum wage one person makes less than $15,000 per year.

But as you can see, most people in public housing make less than the 30% of median income. Because within 5 years the Housing Authority is required to make the mix 40/60, just about all of the openings that come up will be for those of higher incomes. Even if youíve been waiting for ten years, or are homeless, or lived in one of the projects that got torn down, or are a victim of domestic violence, you still will be out of luck if you fall in the lower income category.

The effect of this portion of the law will be that poorer people will have less public housing available to them. In combination with higher rents, gentrification, and low vacancy rates, the effect will be more and more people wonít have housing in San Francisco.


Sign-up for POOR email!