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City policy forces families
into substandard hotels

By Pat Murphy

February 22, 2006

Supervisor Tom Ammiano will spearhead recommendations to improve living standards for very low-income families living in Single Room Occupancy (SRO) hotels, he told a City committee today.

Recommendations sprung from a study presented to the Land Use Committee conducted by the SRO Health and Safety Task Force.

The study found that half of children awaiting permanent affordable housing in SROs are made sick by the environment.

"It is a telling fact that out of the estimated 450 families living in SROs in San Francisco during the period of 2004 to 2005 only 26 were able to transition to permanent housing," District 9 Supervisor Ammiano noted.

He will present task force recommendations to the Board of Supervisors on February 28.

An ironic twist to City housing policy prevents families from moving into City master leased hotels as even these refurbished units are considered inappropriate for families. The policy forces families into private market SROs often with worse living standards than City financed SROs.

"The public policy here in San Francisco is that families with children do not reside in our master leased SROs," reported Maria X. Martinez, community programs director of the San Francisco Health Department.

"Policy makers and the community pretty much all agree that SROs are not an appropriate place for families to live," explained Martinez.

"Then why do they go to private SROs?" asked committee chair Sophie Maxwell.

"There's no option to go to the master leased hotels," Martinez responded.

Chinatown, the Mission District, and the Tenderloin have highest prevalence of families living in private SROs, the report conducted over six years found.

Mission District "tenants advocates came to the department and said, 'We've got kids growing up in these SROs and they're falling through the cracks,' so the department responded by creating this work group," Martinez continued.

Speakers painted a specter of violence, illnesses carried by rats, cockroaches and bedbugs as well as serious childhood depression.

The 15-year-old daughter of Ernesto Garcia has been hospitalized twice for major depression, Garcia told the committee.

Garcia lives in a one-room SRO with three teenage children.

Major recommendations include:

-- Set standard that 25% of all current and planned City owned and/or operated low-income housing units will have living space appropriate for families with children; provide recreational space and open space, be affordable to 0-25% median income families; and have support services that are family and child focused.

-- Amend land use inclusionary law and other laws to require 25% of private housing development units achieve above standard.

-- Replace portion of Section 8 housing subsidies lost by families due to federal reductions implemented in October 2005.

-- Create a local housing subsidy for 120 homeless families a year.

-- Triple eviction prevention funds to ensure poor families stay housed and avoid homelessness.

-- Review the San Francisco Planning Code, Administrative Code and other pertinent City Ordinances for amendments necessary to implement and enforce the above.

Ammiano will ask appropriate agencies to review recommendations to develop funding needs.




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