What it does
This declaration of policy regarding senior housing calls on San Francisco to acknowledge the particular housing needs of people with limited financial means who are 60 years of age or older and/or are disabled, and to explore ways of addressing these housing needs. The policy statement defines "limited financial means" as when a person spends more than 30 percent of his or her monthly income on rent.
The measure is a pure policy declaration without any specific public policy or program impact. It is non-binding and does not have the force of law. This measure requires only a simple majority for passage.
Why it is on the ballot
The policy statement was placed on the ballot with the signatures of four supervisors. In response to the growing impact of Ellis Act evictions and homelessness among low-income seniors, organizers initially proposed to their city supervisor a piece of legislation that would have prevented any senior or disabled person from being evicted through the state's Ellis Act. That proposal would have violated state law and thus would not have stood up to judicial review. The proposal was then modified to the present "declaration of policy," which is a response to ongoing concerns about the challenges facing low-income seniors.
Those who support this declaration of policy claim:
- The declaration of policy can provide higher public visibility to the issue of low-income senior housing needs, possibly setting in motion further deliberations and actions.
- The housing plight of low-income seniors and the disabled is real, and constructive solutions are needed.
- This is part of an organizing campaign among low-income seniors and will help them recognize their collective power. If this passes, it may provide encouragement for them to push for tangible improvements to their housing conditions.
Those who oppose this declaration of policy claim:
- Non-binding policy statements that lack any programmatic or policy implication do not belong on the ballot. Other than possibly giving some visibility to the issue of homeless and disabled seniors, it is unlikely that this ballot measure will do anything constructive toward developing effective policies or programs addressing low-income senior or disabled housing.
- A more useful path for the development of public policy is to hold public hearings, conduct analysis of the issues, and then develop policies or new programs. This approach could have yielded potential solutions to the housing issues facing low-income seniors and the disabled.
- There are countless non-controversial statements of policy that a majority of San Franciscans would support. While each statement might very well reflect the values of our current populace, it is not an appropriate use of the ballot box to restate the obvious. Instead, legislation and voter-approved ordinances should be about resolving conflicting values in such a way as to provide the greatest positive impact.
The high cost of rental housing and home homeownership in San Francisco is a financial hardship for many individuals and families of all ages. The burden may fall heavily on seniors because many of them are on fixed incomes with little opportunity to earn additional income due to health conditions and advanced age. The burden is especially heavy on homeless seniors.
Recent news articles indicate that the homeless population over age 50 is growing rapidly. In addition to the challenges of homelessness, this population cohort frequently has severe alcohol and drug problems, along with mental illness. Under the city's Care Not Cash program homeless seniors have been accommodated in some shelters and permanent supportive housing projects but existing resources are inadequate for the growing demand.
San Francisco also has a wide range of senior programs such as services for food, housing, health, social, recreation. Many of these services have an emphasis on seniors with limited financial resources. Senior advocates think that as the city's population "grays," additional resources should be devoted to senior services.11 While this policy statement does not dedicate any specific funds to seniors, it does recognize the need for seniors and could be used as political support for such programs in the future.
While it is worthwhile for San Francisco to recognize the impact of rising housing costs on homeless and low-income seniors, this measure by itself does not solve any of the problems facing this population. Further, this measure gives the appearance of giving one portion of the homeless population a privilege not afforded the others. If we are acknowledging the housing issues facing low-income and disabled people older than 60, why are we not also acknowledging the issues facing homeless families with young children? This measure is an ineffectual statement of policy whose content reflects worthy policy goals. But SPUR does not believe that it is a legitimate use of the ballot box to support or affirm nonbinding policy statements lacking in any implementation.
SPUR recommends a "No" vote on Proposition K.
11Note: A portion of the current parking tax has historically been allocated to senior programs. While this dedication was declared illegal, the practice continues de facto by the Board of Supervisors)