Why San Francisco lags on housing its homeless inhabitants

Reyna De La Cruz had checked out 15 flats, no less than.

About half of the landlords rejected her. The opposite half by no means responded in any respect.

De La Cruz and three of her youngsters have been dwelling in a camper parked on a nook in San Francisco’s Bayview neighborhood. They’d been there since De La Cruz was laid off from her job at Wingstop in 2020. However their little household wanted an actual dwelling. De La Cruz stored a want record: sufficient bedrooms and bogs for her and her youngsters, a kitchen large enough to cook dinner in usually and, if she was fortunate, a yard.

In Could, the San Francisco Housing Authority had issued De La Cruz an emergency housing voucher. These vouchers, a part of a $1.1-billion Biden administration effort to quickly home Individuals in the course of the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, are presupposed to be a golden ticket: a promise that the federal authorities can pay most of a recipient’s lease for years.

Reyna De La Cruz speaks to a Catholic Charities outreach employee from the doorway of the camper the place she lives together with her three youngsters in San Francisco.

(Paul Kuroda/For The Instances)

However 4 months after receiving the voucher, De La Cruz and her household have been nonetheless homeless. The hurdles to discovering a house felt insurmountable: she spoke Spanish, not English; few models have been out there, and in the event that they have been, they have been too costly; and landlords didn’t wish to settle for a voucher, or home somebody who was homeless.

Related issues plague different cities’ efforts to make use of the brand new vouchers.

A yr and a half after they have been handed out, simply 56% of the brand new vouchers have been used throughout the nation. In California, which has one of many worst housing crises within the nation, lower than 50% of emergency housing vouchers are in use. And in San Francisco — probably the most costly housing markets within the nation — simply 44% of the 906 vouchers the town obtained have truly housed folks.

As The Instances has beforehand reported, different costly cities, together with San Diego, have excelled in putting folks into houses with the vouchers.

Regardless of the efforts of its native housing company and metropolis authorities, although, San Francisco has fallen behind. Voucher recipients like De La Cruz discover themselves misplaced within the rental market maze, clutching their golden ticket to a house, however with little steerage on how one can attain the prize.

“I sometimes don’t want to keep on going. I want to just give up,” De La Cruz mentioned. “If I had somebody sitting next to me, guiding me, coming with me to the units, calling the managers and landlords” — perhaps then, she may put her voucher to make use of and safe a house for her household.

Efrain Sandoval visits a homeless woman

Efrain Sandoval, a program supervisor with Catholic Charities SF, visits Reyna De La Cruz on the camper the place she lives together with her three youngsters in San Francisco’s Bayview neighborhood. He helped her apply for an emergency housing voucher in March.

(Paul Kuroda/For The Instances)

To discover a dwelling, De La Cruz and different San Franciscans with emergency housing vouchers should navigate not solely the town’s tight rental market, but additionally the thicket of organizations the town has enlisted to assist them.

De La Cruz, a soft-spoken 37-year-old who immigrated from Guatemala in 2014, had been dwelling homeless in Bayview for simply over a yr when Efrain Sandoval, a program supervisor for Catholic Charities SF, knocked on her door in December 2021.

De La Cruz was struggling. Her hair was usually thrown right into a low bun, and though her smile was heat, her eyes betrayed stress. The tank that holds the household’s water provide wanted to be refilled each three days. The camper was too small to cook dinner correctly. Her youngsters, two of their teenagers and one in his early twenties, have been indignant about their state of affairs, and threatened to run off. Nobody had sufficient area.

Three months later, Sandoval, the identical Catholic Charities SF program supervisor, confirmed up at De La Cruz’s door once more. His group, he defined, was amongst a handful of community-based nonprofits that the town relied on to refer folks into the voucher program. The group’s workplace was only a brief stroll away.

Sandoval unfolded a desk and chair — a makeshift workplace — on the curb exterior De La Cruz’s camper, and walked her via the 29-page voucher utility, ending it that very same day.

Cynthia Scott of Catholic Charities, left, visits Tammie Haley, who lives in her van with her husband Bruce

Cynthia Scott of Catholic Charities, left, visits Tammie Haley, who lives in her van together with her husband, to assist information her via the appliance course of for the emergency housing voucher program in San Francisco.

(Paul Kuroda/For The Instances)

In Could, the San Francisco Housing Authority accredited De La Cruz for a voucher. However the company couldn’t attain her; De La Cruz was behind on her cellphone payments.

As a substitute, Sandoval noticed De La Cruz’s title on the housing company’s record of individuals slated to obtain a voucher. He tried calling and texting De La Cruz. Later that day, he walked over to her camper, found her cellphone was out of service, relayed the excellent news and advised her the subsequent steps.

She eagerly attended a briefing on the housing authority and obtained a packet of knowledge on the method: how a lot her voucher was value, a discover that the voucher would expire in 120 days, a guidelines for what to search for in a brand new dwelling, a delineation of her rights, and a listing of assets.

The packet additionally included a brand new level of contact — a housing navigator at Windfall Basis, one other native nonprofit, who would assist her discover a dwelling. In San Francisco, the organizations that assist voucher recipients discover houses are separate from the nonprofits that refer folks into this system. Catholic Charities SF fulfilled its position in signing De La Cruz up for a voucher, and now Windfall Basis would assist her with the housing search.

Lots of of miles to the south, San Diego makes use of a distinct system. About half of the service suppliers that assist that metropolis’s emergency voucher program not solely assist purchasers apply for vouchers, but additionally help them of their housing search. The San Diego Housing Fee additionally employed 5 full-time specialists to assist out with housing searches that referring companies can’t deal with. San Diego’s voucher recipients usually take care of fewer entities and are much less more likely to fall via the cracks.

In San Francisco, De La Cruz was not so fortunate. Inside weeks of receiving her voucher, she realized she could be on her personal in her seek for a house. Her level of contact at Windfall didn’t communicate Spanish, and nobody on the company got here knocking on her door or knew precisely the place her camper was parked, she mentioned. (The Instances referred to as Windfall’s quantity a number of instances to ask about De La Cruz’s case; nobody answered. A voicemail message was not returned.) She discovered that calling the opposite assets listed in her briefing packet was fruitless. Often, nobody picked up. When somebody did, she ran right into a language barrier.

With greater than $4,000 a month in federal funds to assist her pay for housing, and her title within the information of no less than 4 metropolis and nonprofit teams, De La Cruz was nonetheless left alone to navigate the housing search. So she restricted it. She thought-about solely the listings that she may pull up on her cellphone on Zillow. She primarily toured flats round Bayview, close to the place she was parked. And he or she solely talked to landlords who spoke Spanish.

Usually, earlier than she may even apply for a unit, landlords would inform De La Cruz that they didn’t work with individuals who had housing vouchers. (It’s unlawful to discriminate towards voucher holders, however landlords stay reluctant to simply accept them.)

If a landlord was keen to simply accept a voucher, she’d discover out that the unit price greater than her voucher would cowl.

Voucher recipients usually pay 30% of their earnings towards lease, and the voucher covers the remaining. Most cities use a single quantity, referred to as a good market lease price, to find out the utmost quantity a housing voucher is value. For a three-bedroom voucher in San Francisco, that quantity is $4,111. Emergency housing vouchers can be utilized at 120% of the honest market price, which suggests De La Cruz’s three-bedroom voucher will be utilized to a unit with a lease of as much as $4,933 monthly. On Residence Record, the common month-to-month lease for a three-bedroom in San Francisco tops $5,000.

Efrain Sandoval and Cynthia Scott of Catholic Charities SF visit homeless they are trying to find housing for

Efrain Sandoval and Cynthia Scott, proper, of Catholic Charities go to the encampment of a homeless particular person they’re making an attempt to assist discover housing for in San Francisco.

(Paul Kuroda/For The Instances)

A extra nuanced strategy may provide benefits. Some jurisdictions throughout the U.S., together with San Diego, use small-area honest market rents, that are calculated by ZIP Code inside a metropolis. Which means the quantity a voucher can cowl varies by neighborhood. In dearer neighborhoods, vouchers are value extra.

A lot of the jurisdictions the federal authorities has required to make use of this method — together with San Diego — have housed voucher recipients at charges above the nationwide common. Housing companies elsewhere are allowed to choose in, however many costly cities, together with San Francisco, haven’t.

Even when De La Cruz managed to discover a landlord keen to work with vouchers and a unit inside her worth vary, she confronted a 3rd hurdle. Rental purposes typically request potential tenants to record a present tackle, and De La Cruz didn’t have one, tipping landlords off that she was presently homeless. After that, she’d usually simply by no means hear again.

“I don’t want to lie on applications, either,” De La Cruz mentioned. “I feel trapped.”

Her wrestle to safe a house dragged on for months.

A woman holding an infant stands on a sidewalk beside a school bus

Molly Bodkin holds her 10-month-old son Elijah subsequent to the college bus the place their household lives.

(Paul Kuroda/For The Instances)

A plant hangs from a rearview mirror of a used bus.

A plant hanging from a rearview mirror provides a home contact to a college bus that serves as dwelling quarters for a homeless San Francisco household.

(Paul Kuroda/For The Instances)

In San Francisco proper now, about 200 folks have the brand new vouchers in hand, are able to be housed and are nonetheless homeless. Nationally, that quantity is round 30,000 folks.

Simply steps from De La Cruz’s camper, a household lives on a faculty bus parked towards the curb. Molly Bodkin has had an emergency housing voucher since June, which she hoped may lastly home her, her associate, and their two youngsters. However her makes an attempt at securing housing have been fruitless — poor credit score meant rejection after rejection from landlords. After years of homelessness, the housing search and utility course of felt too daunting, and, like De La Cruz, she additionally felt like giving up.

Even success tales got here with wrestle. South of Bayview, a household of 4 with an emergency voucher moved into a house in San Francisco’s Visitacion Valley in September. The Torres household secured housing after months of denials — additionally pinned on very bad credit — and little steerage via this system from housing assist providers, mentioned Doria Torres. The household’s saving grace got here from a property supervisor who was touched by their story. Torres was grateful, however almost gave up on the method as nicely.

The San Francisco Housing Authority and the town’s Division of Homelessness and Housing level to the town’s robust rental market as a motive for the town’s low voucher utilization numbers: Hire is excessive, vacancies are low and receiving 906 vouchers without delay and effectively distributing them is a monumental job, they mentioned. Given these hurdles, the town stays happy with its progress with the vouchers, officers mentioned, notably as native authorities companies and nonprofits operated with fewer employees because of the pandemic.

Town’s service suppliers “are very committed and understand the importance of maintaining communication and engagement with our individuals and families. … Sometimes we lose touch with folks if their phone number changes. That happens pretty often. Our partners are really aware of that possibility, and they gather information about where folks hang out and where they’re staying,” mentioned Alan Guttirez, supervisor of housing subsidy applications with the Division of Homelessness and Supportive Housing. “Sometimes there’s just barriers to staying in touch.”

Shayla Anderson kisses boyfriend Eddie Ordenez before they go to their new home

Beforehand homeless Shayla Anderson and boyfriend Eddie Ordenez kiss earlier than heading to their new dwelling, which Catholic Charities helped them discover.

(Paul Kuroda/For The Instances)

One morning in August, Sandoval, the Catholic Charities SF program supervisor who had knocked on De La Cruz’s door the earlier winter, observed that she was nonetheless dwelling out of her camper.

De La Cruz advised him about her struggles to safe housing even with the voucher. Sandoval mentioned he reached out to contacts on the metropolis on her behalf, and pushed them to reassign De La Cruz to a Spanish-speaking housing navigator within the neighborhood.

Jessica Lopez, De La Cruz’s new housing navigator — additionally with Catholic Charities — pulled a lot of the load of the housing search. She referred to as landlords to confirm in the event that they’d be keen to work with a voucher (and reminded them it’s unlawful to refuse), defined that prices just like the rental deposit could be lined, advised the household’s story and assisted De La Cruz with purposes.

By a sunny Wednesday in mid-September, Lopez had submitted paperwork for a unit in Bayview. The owner simply wanted to lower the lease by about $80 a month to suit inside De La Cruz’s voucher limits. To steer the owner to simply accept the appliance, the town supplied a $1,000 incentive, Lopez mentioned.

On Oct. 15, De La Cruz and her youngsters lastly moved into a brand new dwelling. It was freshly painted blue, trimmed in off-white, with stairs resulting in the doorway, 4 blocks away from the place her camper was parked.

It even had a yard.