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San Francisco must take over troubled Housing Authority

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Rent relief for 14,000 low-income households now in city’s hands

Photo by Mark Schwettmann/Shutterstock

The San Francisco Housing Authority (SFHA) got word this week that San Francisco city government will take over most of its duties, as the federal government is fed up with what it calls mismanagement and financial irresponsibility at the agency that manages housing vouchers in SF.

Mayor London Breed said via email Thursday that SFHA “received notice from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) that SFHA is in default of various agreements and obligations.”

HUD alleges that the Housing Authority has not been keeping up with necessary financial reports and has neglected oversight of its budgets.

The HUD move comes after a nearly $30 million budget deficit in 2018 required a bailout for SFHA from both the city and the feds.

SFHA’s Acting Director Barbara Smith said at the time that “over utilization of its Housing Assistance Payments” from the federal government led to the budget hole—which is to say, the agency lost track of how much they had spent.

Smith also said that the Housing Authority had trouble retaining “experienced, competent finance staff.”

The city of San Francisco must now “assume responsibility for the essential functions currently being performed by SFHA,” according to the HUD mandate. This will now make the city the key to rental assistance for an estimated 14,000 SF households.

Despite the words “San Francisco” in the Housing Authority’s name, SFHA doesn’t have much to do with city government, and answers primarily to federal authorities. SFHA manages the payment of Section 8 housing vouchers to qualifying SF renters.

The budget debacle was the latest in a string of scandals and embarrassments. A federal audit in 2013 declared the authority “troubled.” The Housing Authority Commission responded by firing then-director Henry Alvarez—months after the commission itself had been entirely replaced.

Earlier this year, the Housing Authority considered doubling minimum rents on Section 8 families to help mend its budget problems, a move that HUD has long pressed the agency to make, but ultimately declined to make the move.

Breed said Thursday that the city “will continue to work collaboratively with HUD to ensure the financial stability of SFHA’s housing choice voucher and public housing programs.”