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Peskin Ballot Measure Aims to Pay Rent for Thousands of Low-Income Households in SF

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Gen Fujioka, policy director for the Chinatown Community Development Center, speaks at a rally on May 20, 2024, in support of a San Francisco proposal to expand funding for affordable housing for seniors and others with low incomes. (Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez/KQED)

Thousands of impoverished San Francisco seniors and people with disabilities may soon get help paying the rent under a proposed amendment to the city charter.

The charter amendment, which Board of Supervisors President Aaron Peskin plans to introduce Tuesday, would dedicate millions of dollars a year to creating a Housing Opportunity Fund primarily to help pay rent for people 62 or older living in affordable housing developments.

“A just society takes care of our grandmas and grandpas, our seniors, and our disabled,” Peskin told a crowd of more than 100 supporters gathered Monday in the courtyard of the Mary Helen Rogers Senior Community housing development, where he announced the proposal.

One potential recipient of the new funding is the Senior Operating Subsidy program, which was created in 2019 by the Board of Supervisors and first funded by the California Department of Housing and Community Development. It has helped hundreds of extremely low-income seniors pay their rent so far, Peskin said. However, housing advocates at the event said the city hasn’t consistently funded the program.

Advocates say the need for rental assistance among seniors is growing: 18% of San Francisco’s 897,000 residents were seniors in 2020, but that is expected to jump to 26% by 2030, according to a Senior Operating Subsidy program policy brief authored by the city last year.


Under Peskin’s new charter amendment, the Housing Opportunity Fund would increase by $8.3 million a year for four years starting in 2026 but would be capped at $33 million in fiscal year 2029–2030. That would help pay rent for roughly 2,200 households, Peskin’s office estimates.

Single seniors with a monthly income of $1,500 would qualify, as would single people with a disability making $1,493 monthly. Some families would also qualify, including those with single parents working a full-time minimum-wage job with two kids making $3,111 monthly.

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Chinese seniors who are members of the Community Tenants Association, an organization that supported Peskin’s mayoral campaign kickoff in April, attended the rally in support. They carried signs reading “Real Affordability Now” in English and with Chinese-language messages such as “Waited for 17 years, still no affordable housing.”

The organization’s president, Wing Hoo Leung, said this measure was long overdue.

“We have many members who have been waiting for senior housing for over 10 years on the waiting list,” Leung said in Cantonese, with the aid of an English-speaking interpreter. “Then some of them finally receive offer of housing, but are then told they do not qualify because their income is way too low. This is not justice.”

The proposal comes as Peskin, who has long counted on the support of Chinatown groups that aid low-income seniors and families, aims to strengthen his bona fides with his core supporters ahead of November’s mayoral election.

Gen Fujioka, a policy director with the Chinatown Community Development Center, said Peskin’s proposal was based on community frustration. Many tenants would come to the Chinatown Community Development Center’s housing clinic on Clay Street and ask the staff for help when they could no longer afford their rent as they grew older.

The housing clinic staffers often have no city resources to offer extremely low-income seniors, Fujioka told KQED.

“We have no place to tell them except when you actually get put on the street, where you go to find shelter. That’s it,” Fujioka said. “That wears down our souls.”

Theresa Flandrich, a North Beach resident who famously fought back an Ellis Act eviction in 2015, said the senior housing funding would have given her neighbors another option during their eviction battle.

“My upstairs neighbor actually died during our eviction because there was no place to go,” Flandrich said. “She had crossed the entire city trying to find housing that was affordable, and there were waitlists that were closed for five years, for eight years. And that hasn’t changed much in the last decade because there’s not enough truly affordable housing.”

The measure does not involve tax increases or bonds; instead, it would draw from the city’s general fund to create the Housing Opportunity Fund, which would exclusively help extremely low-income households.

Funding increases may be a tough sell with the Board of Supervisors as the city faces a budget deficit of $1.3 billion over the next five years. In a December memo, Mayor London Breed asked departments to freeze the creation of new positions and to make reductions. Peskin said he’s open to tweaking the charter amendment should his colleagues have budgetary concerns.

“It’s going to be tough to do,” Peskin said. “But there’s never a good time, and now is the time.”

A state-mandated goal for San Francisco to build 82,000 housing units by 2031 may favor the proposal. Of that housing, 14,000 units are supposed to be for extremely low-income households.

If passed by the Board of Supervisors, Peskin’s proposed charter amendment would appear before voters this November and require a simple majority for approval.

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