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EYE ON HOUSING Holds SF Housing Authority Accountable

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Two years ago COH’s Family Rights and Dignity Project (FRD) started seeing large numbers of low-income and homeless families migrating out of the city. We also saw more and more families having trouble exiting the shelter system into permanent housing. FRD wanted to get to the bottom of this problem and find a workable solution. Through extensive outreach and by working with families on a one-on-one basis we discovered that many were leaving due to a negative past history with the Housing Authority, and that many more were being mistreated and misinformed about what services they were entitled to. In response to this the Eye on Housing Workgroup was formed to stop poor families from being pushed out of the city.

The Eye on Housing Workgroup — comprised of homeless and low-income families, advocates and service providers — is working to ensure that families get the rights and subsidies they are entitled to from the San Francisco Housing Authority.

In December of 2002, the Eye on Housing Workgroup organized a protest and counted the vacant units in the Sunnydale Projects. Many of the families present at the action were almost immediately housed by the Housing Authority in hopes that once housed, people would drop out of the fight, lessening our numbers and thereby weakening our group. But those involved with the workgroup recognized this tactic and knew that the fight had to continue in order to insure that ALL families receive housing that they have every right to.

The Eye on Housing Workgroup has formulated a list of demands, that once met we feel will be a definitive step towards solving family homelessness in San Francisco:

  1. 100% rehabilitation of all vacant units within eighteen months.
    • SFHA is funded to maintain and rehabil-itate housing units.
    • SFHA has 164 units that are “make ready,” and 214 units that are ready to rent. There are 104 units that need some level of rehabilitation.
  2. Increase the percentage of units set aside for extremely low income families by 50%, a portion of these units should be going to families in drug treatment and shelters.
    • Extremely low-income families should be prioritized for federal housing expenditures; they are most at risk of homelessness, separation from their children.
    • 97% of homeless kids move at least once a year, 22% are separated from their families, 12% of homeless kids are not enrolled in school and 45% do not attend school regularly (source: Volunteers For America and Better Homes Fund, 2000)
    • While children are among the fastest growing segment of the homeless population, they are twice as likely to be in poor health as other children, twice as likely to experience hunger, and four times as likely to have delayed development, the United States is cutting social services, welfare, and has stopped spending on affordable housing. (source: Quotes Across the Country)
  3. Housing Authority will issue a clear handbook of the eligibility process, including appeals in all applicable languages.
    • Family Rights and Dignity / Eye on Housing has documented systemic problems with eligibility. Our research shows these are not isolated incidents.
    • Families who do not speak English as a primary language have been disparately impacted by lack of language accessibility.
    • Our findings indicate numerous cases of individuals whose families would not be experiencing homelessness if this recommendation was implemented.
  4. Create a community liaison position within SFHA to help waiting list members and community organizations use the eligibility process. This could be funded by the city as a cost saving and advised by the Eye on Housing Workgroup.
    • The complicated access process means homeless people are frequently unable to access SFHA services due to their housing status. Homeless families need special accommodations in order to access the housing they need.
    • This “go between” would bridge homeless service providers and the Housing Authority to ensure creative ways to house homeless families within SFHA units.
    • Homeless families report they are frequently intimidated by SFHA staff. ALiaison could address this issue.
  5. Open seat on Housing Authority Commission should go to a homeless family advocate representative.
    • SFHA holds the lion’s share of low-income housing. Homeless people are stakeholders that should have a voice and be represented on decision- making bodies.

What local Housing Authorities around the country are doing is nothing short of federally mandated discrimination in order to accommodate new federal laws ordering higher-income people be given priority for subsidized housing. One way the city is allowing the Housing Authority to displace families is by not only evicting the parents (often for petty offenses) but by evicting the children as well: not just one generation, but two. Currently, when a parent is evicted from housing the minor children’s names are also listed in the eviction records. With an eviction on the record it is nearly impossible to obtain housing in San Francisco.

These children are becoming a large unhouse-able population — due to evictions they couldn’t possibly be responsible for because they weren’t of legal age to enter into a lease contract. This is a clear violation of the child’s future civil right to housing. We have become a nation that is charging children for their parents’ mistakes.

The Housing Authority has also been systematically keeping units vacant as a part of the plan to integrate the housing projects with higher-income households. The reasoning behind this being that those higher-income households pay a larger portion of rent, supposedly saving our government money. But the reality is that by excluding the lowest-income families from public housing our government is inflating homeless populations here in San Francisco and across the nation, and spending more in budget dollars for shelters and homeless services than it would cost to provide permanent affordable housing. This is seen by the Eye on Housing Workgroup as a very real problem, because children are now living their young lives out in shelters, hotels and on the streets of our country — never enjoying the opportunity to have a real home just because they are poor.

The Eye on Housing Workgroup believes it is time for all low-income and homeless families to unite and claim our fair share of the so-called ‘American Dream’ that this country and this city has been trying so hard to keep from us.

Knowledge is power, and poor families should be entitled to a voice in developing solutions to the problems we face. Families need to come together and work towards housing for all — to bring attention to the fact that while we may be poor, we are still people and we have the same right to a place to live as the rich.

Return our country’s housing stock to ALL, not just the few.

Give it back to the people most in need!

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Author: Street Sheet Editor

The STREET SHEET is the oldest continuously published street news paper in the United States. Organizationally, it is the public education and outreach tool of the Coalition on Homelessness. Every month, the STREET SHEET reaches 32,000 readers through over 200 homeless or low-income vendors. Our vendors are charged nothing for the papers they receive, and keep all money they earn through STREET SHEET distribution.

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