Housing Commission Budget Reflects Shift Away From Housing
San Diego City Council members Monday heard a budget presentation from the city's Housing Commission, which Mayor Kevin Faulconer is increasingly using to manage San Diego's homelessness crisis rather than fund affordable housing construction.
The commission is budgeting for three relatively new homeless programs spearheaded by the mayor. The budget includes $10.1 million to run three industrial tent shelters, $1.7 million for a facility where homeless individuals can store their belongings, and $1.6 million for a "housing navigation center" where they can be connected with social services and placed on a waiting list for permanent housing.
Those new programs were offset by cuts to programs that actually build low-income affordable housing. The commission awards loans to affordable housing developers each year, but will have less of that money available as it continues to fund the temporary tent shelters. A report by the Independent Budget Analyst said the decrease in loans to fund affordable housing construction totaled around $14.6 million.
The IBA report also highlights a decrease of $8 million in federal Section 8 housing voucher and "Moving to Work" funds that were indirectly being used to fund the tent shelters. The money was being "transferred to the contingency reserve in order to free up SDHC Real Estate funds to support the bridge shelters and to also maintain contingency reserves at 5% of new revenue."
The tent shelters have been mostly paid for with money originally allocated to the commission's "Housing First" program that funds data-driven, permanent solutions to homelessness. The mayor's office and Housing Commission have promised, however, that the tent shelters would not delay or derail affordable housing projects that were already due to receive money.
The commission has pledged to "backfill" those affordable housing projects with funds from other sources. But City Councilwoman Barbara Bry, who chairs the council's Budget Review Committee, said she was concerned the backfilling would create the illusion the city had not lost money that could have gone to building new affordable homes.
"I view it as we've really stolen $10 million that we're not getting back, because we really had an opportunity to have $20 million," she said.
Councilman David Alvarez, who cast the only vote against the mayor's tent shelter program, said he did not think the city should "double count" money for affordable housing.
"You still need to be made whole for the expenses that are arising from these initiatives," he said. "That funding should be used for the creation of housing."
Councilwoman Georgette Gomez also noted that more than half of the $11 million the city was getting from affordable housing fees charged to developers was going, not to affordable housing construction, but to homeless services.
Mayor Faulconer announced his plan for the temporary tent shelters last September as the city was dealing with the deadly Hepatitis A outbreak, which disproportionately affected San Diego's homeless population. The tents provide meals, bathrooms, showers and laundry services to people who were previously living on the streets.
The local nonprofits operating the tents had a difficult first few months as they struggled to find people in need of housing previously entered into their database. By the time all three tents were up and running in January, a public vaccination campaign and sanitation efforts around the city had slashed the number of new Hepatitis A infections.
Councilman Chris Ward acknowledged the city was paying for the shelters with money that could otherwise go to more permanent solutions to homelessness. But he suggested abruptly closing the tents would be a worse alternative.
"Managing homelessness is expensive," he said. "So if this is the status quo going forward, we have to know that and own that, because I can't have 700 people today leave those shelters and come right back onto our streets."
Michael McConnell, a former vice president of the Regional Task Force on the Homeless and a frequent critic of Faulconer's homeless policies, said the tent shelters amounted to a "Band-Aid" solution to the homeless crisis.
"Feeding 80-plus million dollars into our homeless service system, when there is no plan, no strategy, no vision and no goals for how it's going to actually reduce homelessness, just does not make any sense," McConnell said. "I just cannot in good conscience support spending $5,000 a month to put a family of four in a tent."