Facing the high costs of pandemic response, San Francisco officials are making a play for a pile of cash that voters created through a 2018 ballot measure. But many of their proposals for that money lose sight of what voters had in mind when they passed Proposition C, says the measure’s author. That was to finally turn the homelessness crisis around. Proposition C established a gross-receipts tax on large businesses, netting hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue that was locked up in court until September. City staff last week appealed to the fund’s oversight committee, requesting money to cover recent expenses and expand existing programs, including a pharmacy run by the Department of Public Health. But these are hardly the types of results that voters expected, said Jennifer Friedenbach, who wrote the ballot measure and is the executive director of the Coalition on Homelessness.
Rents may be falling, but the Bay Area is still unaffordable and has for years fallen short of its housing construction goals. The construction shortfall is particularly pronounced in subsidized housing. While the pandemic is changing the way people work and socialize and has resulted in economic downturn, acquiring land and building remain expensive. Sarah Karlinsky, senior advisor at the San Francisco Bay Area Planning and Urban Research Association, a public policy think tank better known as SPUR, has published a report indicating that Bay Area municipalities should be constructing 45,000 units of housing per year.
In 2005, a coalition of advocacy groups working on homelessness formed a coalition to collaborate across cities and states and advance national policy. They called it WRAP, the Western Regional Advocacy Project. Its director, Paul Boden, joined “Civic” to look back on 15 years of organizing and ensuring that people experiencing homelessness themselves inform research and policy.
As the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing scrambles to find placements for the more than 2,300 residents of its shelter-in-place hotels, little attention has been paid to the people who work at those sites. Nonprofit organizations that run the hotels are working diligently not just to identify exits for residents, but to keep their staff, many of whom have worked at these nonprofits for decades. When COVID-19 hit, San Francisco closed its shelters and navigation centers to prevent the coronavirus from spreading. Many residents from those facilities were relocated to shelter-in-place hotels — and the shelter staff went with them. But now that the city has declared that the hotels must close, and with shelters operating at a fraction of their original capacity, there’s nowhere for staff to go.
Photojournalist Yesica Prado has been documenting the lives of people living in their cars, vans, RVs and campers — including, at times, turning the lens on herself as she shelters in place in her own RV. This week, Prado expanded the series with story updates and new images showing how the lives of two people featured in earlier photo essays have changed during the pandemic.
During the pandemic, parking enforcement has been lax, and the 72-hour rule that forced Gregory Nelson to park in a new spot every few days is suspended. He found peace and stability staying in one spot — his version of sheltering in place — like millions of Americans. But working from home was not possible for him. Every week he tried to drive for Lyft, Nelson grappled with out-of-pocket expenses to use the ride-hailing app: car rental fees, tolls, gas and the occasional car wash. Within weeks of the shelter-in-place order, Nelson could no longer afford driving.
In a dimly lit living room, Tantay Tolbert reaches for a warm bottle of milk on the glass coffee table. Her month-old baby, Supreme Samuel Lloyd-Vaughn, softly cries in her arms. She caresses his black curls as she tilts the bottle into his mouth. “You were hungry, my baby?” Tolbert asks with a smile. “You eat a lot, baby.” It’s an ordinary day for Tolbert — comforting Supreme and dressing him in cute clothes. And yet, what seems ordinary now represents dramatic change and newfound stability.
Earlier this year, the San Francisco Public Press featured Tantay Tolbert in “Driving Home: Surviving the Housing Crisis,” a photojournalism project by Yesica Prado documenting the experiences of people living in vehicles in the Bay Area. Prado followed up with Tolbert to find out how her life has changed in recent months.
According to a resident and advocate, Treasure Island has experienced more than 160 power outages in the last 20 years, with the average blackout lasting about five hours. Disruptions from power outages include sewage backflow and opportunistic burglars who know to expect outages, he said.
Rents may be falling as the coronavirus pandemic reshapes our economy, but San Francisco is still in an affordable housing crisis. Proposition K on the November ballot represents an attempt to allow the city to create new low-rent housing units, a municipal version of public housing.