San Francisco to close public housing waiting list

January 5, 2010 7:21:14 PM PST
The principle of supply and demand is crushing the hopes of thousands of people in San Francisco. They are waiting, most patiently, some desperately, for a spot in public housing.

But the bad economy has put so many people on the waiting list, that now, they're not even taking any more names.

The number of people on the waiting list for public housing is so high, that the San Francisco Housing Authority will no longer handle applicants.

Hua Tan and Rou Shun are in their mid 70's. They live on social security in a small room in a resident hotel in Chinatown.

They've been on the public housing waiting list for seven years and they're finally 4,000 people away from getting a unit.

"I'm without a house. I'm on the street, I've got kids. It's been a lot of problems," Olga Romero said.

Romero applied for public housing two years ago and is near the bottom of the waiting list. She has not been able to find work for years.

But Romero, Hua Tan and Rou Shun are still fortunate; At least, they are on the waiting list.

At the end of the month, the San Francisco Housing Authority will no longer accept anymore applicants for public housing.

The waiting list has exploded to 30,000 people when there are only 6,200 units -- most of them occupied.

"The dilemma for us is when you start looking at numbers like 30,000 and that's like five times our inventory, how long will it take us to get to you if you applied right now?" San Francisco Housing Authority Chief Henry Alvarez said.

The answer is about 10 years to move from the bottom of the waiting list to the top. Last year alone, 10,000 people applied for public housing because of the recession.

"We don't have the vacancies to put people in units and we just don't have the units," Alvarez said.

We're absolutely in an affordable housing crisis in San Francisco," Sara Shortt from the Housing Rights Committee in San Francisco

Shortt says closing the waiting list will have a huge impact on those who need help the most.

"Those who are most greatly in need, those in an urgent situation where they need a roof over their heads immediately for their family are no longer going to have even a chance," she said.

Shortt wants the city to keep the waiting list open, so those who need help the most, while purging the list of those whose situations may have changed over the years.

Alvarez agrees with that and said his agency will review the names on the list and purge those who may no longer belong. He said that a manageable number for a waiting list is about 5,000 people out of 30,000.