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SF’s Department of Homelessness May Finally Get an Oversight Commission


SF's Department of Homelessness May Finally Get an Oversight Commission

A city department with an increasingly massive budget has no commission providing oversight or holding it to account. The SF Board of Supervisors may be about to change that.

The Chronicle successfully made some waves last week with a detailed investigative piece concerning the often squalid, single-room occupancy hotels (SROs) that make up a large portion of the supportive housing that gets funded by the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing (HSH). The city funnels around $160 million per year to a web of nonprofits that manage and are supposed to be maintaining these buildings, most of which are in the Tenderloin and SoMa. And it seems clear that conditions in the buildings are often very subpar, and barely better than living on the street.

The Board of Supervisors tried to float a ballot measure three years ago that would have created a commission — like the Police Commission and Planning Commission — to oversee HSH, but that effort failed and was staunchly opposed at the time by Mayor London Breed. But things have changed! As the Chronicle reports today, Breed seems to have reversed herself and may now support such a commission — and for one thing she’s happier with a newer proposal because it will give her four out of seven seats to appoint. The 2019 measure, introduced by outgoing supervisor Matt Haney, gave Breed only three seats to appoint.

“A commission doesn’t always make government more efficient. But this might be an opportunity here,” said mayoral spokesperson Jeff Cretan in response to the proposal.

Supervisor Ahsha Safai plans to introduce the new legislation for the HSH commission at Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting. If it passes, the legislation will put the commission up for a vote on November’s ballot.

In November 2020, San Francisco voters overwhelmingly approved the creation of two new oversight commissions — one to oversee the recently troubled Department of Public Works, and the measure simultaneously created a separate department devoted solely to sanitation and street-cleaning; and one to oversee the Sheriff’s Department.

And given the massive amount of money being spent annually by HSH — $1.1 billion now thanks to federal funds — and an increasing sense that it isn’t all being spent very well, voters will probably vote in this new commission too.

Per the Chronicle, the commission already has the expressed support of Hillary Ronen and Shamann Walton. Supervisors Dean Preston, Rafael Mandelman, and Aaron Peskin all sound like they support the commission as well, but they’re waiting to read the actual legislation.

Mayor Breed still hasn’t announced who she’s appointing to replace Matt Haney on the Board of Supervisors, and that vote could be helpful as well. Haney’s last board meeting was last week, and he now heads off to Sacramento to join the state Assembly.

Haney never revived his proposed legislation after there were seven votes against it in 2019. Then the pandemic happened and shifted priorities.

But revelations like the one last year, that HSH is spending the equivalent of rent for a market-rate two-bedroom apartment every month just to fund a tent for a homeless person in a sanctioned encampment, have been enough to raise eyebrows all over about the nonprofit homelessness complex and where all this money is going.

“I’m disappointed it was voted down by the board when I first authored it, but it’s important that it comes back this year,” Haney told the Chronicle about the new legislation.

Related: A Huge Number of SF’s Supportive Housing Units Are In Run-Down, Vermin-Infested SROs, and It’s Barely Better Than Being Homeless

Photo: Gordon Mak

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