SF’s SRO tenants anxious for better housing, will wait years

Mission Hotel, 520 South Van Ness.

Residents of the Mission’s SROs are often dismissed by the neighborhood as a nuisance, and many would agree they are treated that way — “like fourth-class people,” in the words of one resident.

But on Thursday, during a meeting with District 9 Supervisor Hillary Ronen, they challenged that notion. “We’re citizens like everyone else,” said Mervyn Greene, a Mission Hotel resident who organized the event.

And, like everyone else, they voiced concerns about homelessness, pedestrian safety and public sanitation. One question, however, came up repeatedly: Where is the affordable housing, and is it for us?

“We see huge projects coming up that are excluding us,” said Greene, who also works with the Central City SRO Collaborative. “The number of people who move from SROs into those units is minimal, because the process is so difficult.”

Ronen received so many questions about affordable housing projects in the Mission that she decided on the spot to schedule a public hearing about the status of those projects — a majority of which are at a standstill.

Peter Rauch, who’s lived at the All Star Hotel for six years, asked about the status of two fully-affordable projects: one 143-unit development at 1990 Folsom St. and another 127-unit building at 2060 Folsom St.

“Are those moving forward?” he said.

Ronen said she believed the projects had received their entitlements, but hadn’t yet found the right financing, which she said was slowing them down.

“This issue of how long it’s taking to build these project is frustrating for all of us,” Ronen said, noting that speeding up the process is something her office is “looking into.”

At present, the Mission District has seven fully affordable projects in the pipeline that comprise some 770 affordable units, including the two on Folsom Street. However, none of those projects have broken ground and will not begin leasing in the near future. Many have been delayed by neighbors, red tape or lack of financing.

“Are these buildings going to be affordable for people who are on (general assistance), who are on (Supplemental Security Income)?” asked Gaylord Dixon, a Mission Hotel resident. “I don’t know if you have any power over that, but I’m hoping they can do that for us.”

Ronen explained that the fully affordable projects are reserved for low-income people, and 20 percent of those projects’ units are reserved for formerly homeless individuals.

As the residents asked questions about housing, it was clear they were anxious to move on from SRO living — once considered “transitional housing” but now, by most accounts, treated as a permanent situation for those in need.

“A majority of SRO tenants are saying, ‘I want my own bathroom, my own kitchen, and I want to live independently’ — and I don’t see that happening anytime soon,” said Diana Martinez of the Mission SRO Collaborative.

“The participants and leaders in our program tell us they have been on the list for 10 years or more, trying to secure an affordable apartment — and this is with the help of case management,” she added.

All of the Mission Hotel’s 245 rooms are for formerly homeless residents. In the Mission, there are eight SRO hotels run by nonprofits — most of which are dedicated to formerly homeless or at-risk populations — representing around 709 units, including the Mission Hotel.

“A lot of the people who live in these buildings are disgruntled,” Rauch said after the meeting. “They’ve lost a lot of faith, and they think this is where they’re going to live for the rest of their lives.”

Indeed, one woman told Ronen that she has given up on applying for low-income housing because she never gets chosen, no matter how many times she applies. For one application, she said, she has been waiting nine years.

“I sign up for it, qualify for it, they put me on a list and never call,” the woman said. “I don’t believe it anymore.”

“If you’ve lost faith in the system, I completely understand,” Ronen replied. “If you’re living in the Mission, though, I’d ask you to keep trying.”

Ronen explained that the so-called “neighborhood preference law” had passed recently, in late 2015, and that if the woman lived in the Mission, she would have a higher chance of occupying one of the units being built here.

In fact, under the law, every SRO tenant in the Mission would have a fair crack at living in one of the fully-affordable buildings slated for the neighborhood. The question, again, comes down to: when?

Yet, just like low-income apartments, SRO spots are highly coveted. Many homeless people in shelters yearn for supportive housing, but end up languishing for years on waiting lists.

“Most people (in shelters) are on the list for a very long time,” Martinez said. “Years and years and years.”

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