Friday, July 16, 2010

San Francisco Housing Authority - The Other San Francisco Disaster

Alright. Maybe that's a little unfair. In that it implies that there are only two San Francisco disasters going on. Our Board of Supervisors and Mayor, when he is not campaigning (and by the way, when was the last time he wasn't?), seem to create a new one with each meeting.

But anyway....

San Francisco Housing Authority are the mandarins who are charged with providing and maintaining public housing in the city and county. Only, they are not very good at it. However, they're not quite as good as Muni is at running up a deficit. They've only managed to run up a $ 2.2 million one. That's chump change to SFMTA.*

Small favors I guess.

Why is this? A large part of it has to do with the fact that SFHA, apparently, simply does not collect the rent. Because, apparently, the SFHA thinks it has something else to do on the first of the month when it comes time to collect the rent. According to today's SFGate, SFHA has failed to collect at least $1.1 million in rent. There are, at least, 1,100 tenants who are behind in their rent. Basically, that means that 1 in 6 tenants of SFHA are simply not paying their rent. There is one person who owed $28,000 according to a report from last year. No word yet on whether they have collected.

Does anyone out there know what happens when people don't pay their rent? In case you don't, I do. There are two options. First is an unlawful detainer. An unlawful detainer is fancy lawyer talk for an eviction. The second option is sue for the rent, but not evict.

If I am being honest, there is a third option. It is apparently the SFHA's preferred one: ignore the situation. I suppose that is the easiest for the SFHA. In my experience, the people who work for SFHA are one step above slumlords. Its not they are trying to gouge the tenants in order to profit. Rather, the people who work there are trying to do as little as possible to earn their city salary. If the SFHA actually depended on being efficient to meet their budget, then they might actually have taken steps to get ahead of this problem years ago. However, since the head of the SFHA, as well as the rest of his staff, gets paid no matter how bad a job they do, then its real easy not to be proactive.

Yeah, I know. SFHA won the prestigious "Most Improved" Award from HUD. If the agency wasn't so horribly mismanaged, it wouldn't need to win the award. And the fact that it has decreased the uncollected rent by $1.9 million should not be taken as a measure of success. It should be taken as a measure of failure because three years later, they still haven't gotten the rest of the problem under control. Either you are doing your job, or you are not. And there is no reason that SFHA cannot be doing its job. The people who manage and operate it allow it to underperform. And not just when it comes to collecting the rent either.

So back the question of what will they do? More than likely, they are going to unleash the landlord attorneys that the SFHA contracts with to begin eviction proceedings. The problem is, the people that they are going after the poor. Its not like they are going to get a whole lot of blood out of those stones. Losing their SFHA housing, a lot of them are suddenly going to find themselves.... well homeless.

And as we all know, San Francisco has been doing such a bang up job with homelessness. So of course, SFHA wants to contribute more to that project.

My suggestion? SFHA should just forgive all unpaid rent under $5,000.00. The likelihood of recovering it from their tenants is really, really low. The only thing that it will do is just flood the San Francisco courts with a boatload of unlawful detainer cases. The SFHA will spend a dollar to recover a nickel, and a whole lot of people will end up homeless. However, the flip side of the forgiveness program is that starting, say August 1, SFHA will rigorously collect the rent which is owed. If the rent is late, because SFHA has allowed its tenants to get out of the habit, they will be immediately brought in for counselling to see what is going on. If its late a second month, the three day notice goes out and unlawful detainer to follow.

Would you guess this proposal comes from someone who spends a large part of their practice representing tenants? Well, it does.

The final part of the plan? Fire the head of the SFHA and his staff. Hire new people who are given strict metrics by which to judge their performance. The fact that City and County of San Francisco has allowed this to go on for this long is ridiculous.

People need an affordable place to live, even when they are poor. But conversely, being poor should never be an excuse for people not honoring their end of the bargain. Too often, we here in San Francisco only subscribe to the first sentence.

* Of course, I would be remiss by not stating that SFMTA hasn't gone bankrupt yet. SFHA was all but bankrupt a few years ago because it had managed to perform so poorly that it lost a series of employment sexual harassment suits and a negligence suit because the maintenance of one of the buildings was so bad that a grandmother and her grandchildren died.

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