Mass Evictions Feared for San Francisco Public Housing

Agency sending out notices to tenants that owe back rent

By Jackson West
|  Friday, Jul 16, 2010  |  Updated 3:00 PM PDT
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Mass Evictions Feared for San Francisco Public Housing

Peyton Chung

Valencia Gardens paints a pretty picture of public housing in San Francisco, but residents in older buildings are worried rent legitimately withheld for poor maintenance might earn them eviction.

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The San Francisco Housing Authority, like other city agencies, is facing a budget deficit, and unpaid back rent is partly to blame -- so it's sending out notices threatening eviction if residents don't come to terms.

The only problem is, conditions at the facilities are notoriously bad, as is record-keeping, and it's unclear if all that rent is actually unpaid, or if tenants were legally entitled to withhold rent because of problems with units that remain unaddressed.

Up to 20 percent of tenants are in arrears, according to the SFHA.

A flood of evictions would likely simply move the money problem along to other city agencies if a large number of families lost their housing, and the SFHA struck a conciliatory tone promising that if tenants are willing to negotiate repayment and make an effort, they won't be turned away.

"There is no reason to throw people out on the streets," SFHA director Henry Alvarez told the San Francisco Chronicle.

Of course, the lawyer at blog Wandering Bell suggests that it's not in the SFHA's interest to find itself buried in civil suits over disputed bills, so blogger AngryBell suggests just writing off the rent for those owing less than $5,000.

The authority, which receives federal funds to run the program, has been notoriously mismanaged for over a decade, but has worked to decrease outstanding rent receipts in the last two years, earning it a "most improved" sticker from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Jackson West figures a write-down is probably in order in most cases, at least from what he's seen of the condition of public housing facilities.

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