SF may extend rent subsidy program

October 19, 2009 7:19:21 PM PDT
It is estimated there are close to 2,000 families in San Francisco who are homeless or on the verge of losing their homes. The city offers a program to help some of those families stay off the street, but there is a limit to that help.

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It is a rental assistance program that costs the city about $6,000 per year, per family. It is designed to offer short-term help but now with the unstable economy, there is debate about whether that support should last much longer.

It was not that long ago that Francisca Flota was living in a garage with her husband and two children. Now home is a studio apartment in the Tenderloin. The city pays $500 -- about half of the monthly rent.

"They needed a bridge to support their rent payment while they get back on their feet, while they look for employment, while they engage in training or education," San Francisco Human Services Agency spokesperson Trent Rhorer said.

The city says since the program began about two years ago, 396 families have enrolled -- 190 are still receiving the rental help, 144 are now making it on their own and 62 have either voluntarily quit or been terminated. The subsidy is designed to last for up to two years. Flota's time is up.

"The reality of the economy in these years has been so bad, we've looked for work and we haven't been able to find opportunities," Flota said through a translator.

Monday, Flota and other families made their way to City Hall to a hearing called by Supervisor John Avalos. He is suggesting the time limit on the rental subsidy be extended up to five years to keep those on the edge of homelessness from ending up on the street.

"Our unemployment rate is 10.1 percent, we need to have flexibility in programs that serve very, very low income people," Avalos said.

Those in the program are helped with everything from computer training to counseling. It costs the city about $1.3 million a year. San Francisco's homeless director believes extending the time frame would limit participation.

"We would not have the opportunity to have the turnover to serve additional families that came through our doors," Rhorer said.

The city says it is now dealing with families on a case by case basis. Flota has been given an extension but she is still worried about the future.

"I don't want any other family to go have to go through that," Flota said.

City lawmakers turned down similar legislation last year, but with the current state of the economy, the outcome could be different this time around. Monday's committee unanimously OKed the measure; it goes to the full board for a vote next week.

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