OPINION If the Bush administration has its way, conditions for San Francisco's public housing residents are about to get much worse.
The San Francisco Housing Authority, which operates 6,000 units of public housing, is facing a $7 million shortfall this year due to Republican-led cuts to the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) budget. Congress has already cut the public housing budget by $1 billion since 2001 and has now created a $300 million shortfall in operating funds for already cash-strapped public housing agencies. As a result, agencies will receive 85.5 percent of what they need. But that's not all. The president's proposed budget for 2007 guarantees that funding will drop again to (at most) 80 percent of the need.
San Francisco will be one of the hardest-hit housing authorities. That's because HUD uses a nonsensical funding formula that unfairly cuts funds to some agencies while providing increased funding for others.
The impact of these budget cuts is alarming, as agencies try to do more with less. Housing authorities across the nation are being forced to cut back vital tenant services such as security and maintenance.
The impact on San Francisco's public housing residents will be nothing short of disastrous. The housing authority will now have to operate with only $342 per unit (down from $454).
Since Bush took office, per unit funding has declined sharply, from $585 in 1999; combine that with rising housing costs and other expenditures and you'll see that San Francisco's poorest have been hit hard. Residents are plagued with deferred maintenance and growing repair needs. Units sit empty because there are no funds for rehab. Shootings continue on many public housing sites while cutbacks in security are made. There's a backlog of $245 million in immediate capital improvements needs and no plans for new development, despite the 30,000 families who have been languishing for years on the waiting list.
A loss of $7 million will mean dire consequences: longer turnaround on repairs, less secure buildings, and a further halt to modernization and new construction — this at a time when the agency has already failed its tenants and when housing costs continue to climb out of reach of San Francisco's homeless and low-income families. Congress must take a stand now and stop the Bush administration and its unconscionable attempts to dismantle low-income housing programs. Democrats in Congress should take the lead and demand that a $300 million budget supplemental for public housing be passed to stop the losses for this year. It will also take strong leadership to ensure that public housing is fully funded for 2007. If the Republicans succeed once again in ridding cities of housing for the poor, it would be, as Erni Young of the Philadelphia Daily News wrote, nothing short of "an act of domestic terrorism perpetrated by our own government." SFBG
Sara Shortt is an organizer with the Housing Rights Committee.
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