The pandemic has highlighted deep inequities in San Francisco. When I took office this January, I pledged to provide relief to small businesses, working families, and make corporations pay their fair share. And since then, I’ve introduced legislation to help tenants and small property owners access rent relief, to urge the city and state to provide utility relief to those unable to pay bills, to create a Neighborhood Anchor Business program that helps small businesses access legal resources and relief funding, and to provide free summer camp to public school students.
Rent Relief Resolution for Tenants and Small Property Owners
San Francisco received $54 million in rent relief funds from the state and federal government thanks to SB-91 and the CARES Act. But according to a recent report from the Budget Legislative Analyst, tenants in San Francisco have accumulated more than $100 million in rental debt due to COVID-19 – twice the amount of available public funds for rent relief.
The reality of San Francisco, and of many cities, is that we have an uneven playing field for landlords. On one hand, we have an array of small, mom-and-pop landlords – many who only have a handful of tenants and no staff on their payroll. Then, we have larger corporate landlords who have access to incredible amounts of capital. These corporate landlords also have the ability to track new funding opportunities, the know-how to access them, and the flexibility to provide direct relief to their tenants.
Given that we know the relief funds from the government are not enough, I introduced a resolution urging large corporate landlords to work with their tenant associations and use their existing resources to provide relief to their tenants. Small property owners need more support from the government. If we don’t prioritize these rent relief resources for mom-and-pop landlords who are already struggling to get by, there is a huge risk that not only will their tenants be displaced, but also that the small landlords go under and they will be bought out by large corporate landlords, which further hurts tenants.
The funds from the state and federal government are critical, but it’s not enough to support all of the tenants in San Francisco staring down thousands of dollars in rent debt. If corporate landlords can leverage their existing assets to provide direct relief to their tenants, that allows public funds to forgive rent for tenants of smaller landlords who aren’t able to offer more relief than they already have. I am thankful to my colleagues for unanimously passing my resolution urging corporate landlords to do the right thing.
Utility Debt Relief for Residents and Businesses
Californians who were already feeling the crunch before the pandemic faced up to $500 million in gas and electricity debt. Since March 2020, that debt has accumulated to more than $1 billion, a staggering reminder that utilities, in addition to housing, should be a human right.
While the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) approved a utility shut-off moratorium in March 2020 and, voted in February 2021 to extend the moratorium until June 30, 2021, these ratepayers will need help now more than ever to relieve their debt. In San Francisco, our CleanPowerSF residential and small business customers owe close to $2 million in power bills.
That’s why in April I also introduced a resolution urging Governor Gavin Newsom and the CPUC to protect utility ratepayers statewide by providing utility debt relief and extending the power shut-off moratorium for residential and commercial customers. In preparation that the governor and CPUC do not take action, or in the event their action falls short of providing the appropriate amount of relief, I urged the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC) to continue to explore debt relief for San Franciscans. The resolution will be heard at the Government Audit and Oversight Committee on May 6.
Neighborhood Anchor Businesses and Free Legal Aid
As we recover from the impacts of this pandemic, it is critical that we do everything we can to support our local small businesses – particularly those who have been serving our neighborhoods for decades.
When I first took office in January, I asked the city attorney to draft legislation to expand the Legacy Business Program and create a second tier of small businesses known as Neighborhood Anchor Businesses. This program will celebrate our long-standing small businesses by prioritizing them for resources and legal services to prevent commercial evictions so they can continue serving our neighborhoods. The ordinance went before the Small Business Commission on April 26 and is expected to be sent to the Rules Committee and the full Board of Supervisors.
With support from my colleagues, including Budget Committee chair, Supervisor Matt Haney, the Board of Supervisors unanimously voted to allocate $15 million to support our working families this summer. This investment from the City, combined with philanthropic support championed by Mayor London Breed, will ensure that all 50,000 public school students in San Francisco will have access to some type of summer program through the Summer Together initiative.
To maximize access to these summer programs, I also introduced legislation that waives fees for these programs to further reduce barriers for working families.
This legislation also calls for the City to produce a report on the impact and effectiveness of these programs. It is my hope that this report will help inform the work of the Students and Families Recovery and Inclusive Successful Enrichment (RISE) Working Group, and that it also lays the groundwork for us to continue this collaboration and explore whether we can make free summer camp a permanent program offered to our families.
Last but not least, I want to offer my sincere gratitude to the city agencies that have pulled together this incredible collaboration in record time, including San Francisco Unified School District, the Department of Children, Youth and their Families, Recreation and Park Department, and all of their staff, to offer the school sites and space necessary to make Summer Together a reality for our working families.
Please know your feedback is always welcome, and I look forward to connecting with you directly.
This article was published in the Richmond Review in May 2021.