Research shows that rental assistance and housing vouchers are highly effective at reducing homelessness and housing instability, and thus present an invaluable opportunity to break the cycle of intergenerational poverty that impacts so many people in our country. For these reasons, the federal Emergency Housing Vouchers (EHVs) are one of the most important new resources to end homelessness and keep people housed in San Francisco. To be eligible for an emergency housing voucher, an individual or family must be homeless, at risk of homelessness, recently homeless, or fleeing violence (e.g., domestic violence, sexual assault, human trafficking).
While 906 vouchers is a significant number, it is not enough to meet the demand for housing in San Francisco. The Housing Authority of the City and County of San Francisco (Authority) and the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing (HSH), therefore, came together to develop a thoughtful, data-driven, and community-informed allocation plan that reaches residents who face the highest barriers to housing stemming from long-standing, harmful policies. Indeed, decades of policy decisions have led to skyrocketing housing costs and exclusionary housing in California. In addition, structural racism has directly contributed to high rates of homelessness for people of color in San Francisco, particularly Black residents.
Undoing this history requires evidence-based, systemic, equitable solutions that reduce homelessness and racial disparities. Accordingly, HSH and the Authority developed an allocation plan that prioritizes equity by ensuring that historically underserved communities, like Bayview Hunters Point, can access vouchers. In addition, the plan prioritizes individuals with prior involvement within the criminal justice system, as such involvement can present serious barriers to obtaining housing. The plan also dedicates a significant percentage of vouchers to families because we also know that the lack of affordable housing for families is a driving factor in homelessness. It is often extremely challenging to find apartments that are not only affordable but also large enough for families. Because these vouchers pay fair-market rent for even large apartments, they provide a rare opportunity to provide safe and secure housing for families in San Francisco.
Distributing 906 vouchers requires significant coordination among government, non-profit service providers, philanthropy, and the residents themselves. HSH and the Authority have, over many months, met weekly to strategize and ensure efficient implementation. The Authority immediately put a team in place to accept referrals from HSH and to process applications and quickly distribute vouchers. To support the non-profit organizations submitting applications, HSH holds weekly office hours and has conducted extensive training and community outreach. The Authority even created a dedicated space at its administrative offices so that HSH staff could be on-site to assist residents in person through the lengthy voucher application process.
From the outset, HSH knew that they would need to identify additional organizations to help identify housing for applicants. That is where CHI came in. CHI is funding five non-profit service providers to supply this extra capacity. Our grantee partners include: SafeHouse, Bay Area Community Services (BACS), Bayview Hunters Point Foundation, United Council, and 3rd Street Youth Clinic.
To date, almost 350 applications have been submitted and 130 vouchers have been issued. HSH, with the support of the Authority and CHI, is ensuring that every single voucher holder is offered a full package of housing location and tenancy support services by a range of skilled non-profit housing services providers so that they find homes in our challenging housing market.