20 October 2015, The Tablet

Charities enter Frisco politics in bid to ease housing crisis

San Francisco’s increasingly desperate attempts to deal with a critical housing crisis, which has seen the average monthly rental price surge to more than twice that of New York, have forced Catholics and Christians in the Bay Area to make a very rare incursion into politics.

Both the Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of San Francisco and the San Francisco Interfaith Council, which is made up of Baptists, Mormons, Evangelists and Greek Orthodox, have put the weight of their organisations behind a “yes” vote on a referendum on social housing in a fortnight.

“Catholic Charities rarely takes public positions on ballot measures, however the housing crisis in San Francisco and throughout the Bay Area directly impacts the very people Catholic Charities seeks to serve as well as the staff it relies on to provide these services,” said Jeff Bialik, Catholic Charities executive director.

Michael Pappas, executive director of the SF Interfaith Council, added: “The reason we passed it is because it is so much in keeping with the mission of this task force."

“Housing affordability is not only an economic crisis in our city, but a shared moral and spiritual crisis,” the council added.

The controversial scheme is for a $310m bond to be raised to fund 30,000 new homes in the next five years.  

The scale of the problem in San Francisco is so chronic that the homeless population in the city includes a significant number of people with jobs. Despite pledging $1.5bn over the last ten years to fix the problem of homelessness, the number of homeless rose to more than 7,500 people - a rise of 10 per cent.

A mobile phone app that allows locals to log sightings of homeless people is one of the latest attempts to decrease the number on the streets. Since its launch critics have said the app - dubbed the “snitch line” - criminalises the homeless.

A less draconian attempt recently saw San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee approve a law  that significantly cut the rights of landlords to evict tenants. In a city that has seen eviction rates soar 50 per cent since 2010, landlords must overcome a number of hurdles before regaining control of their property.  

“The [housing] crisis is so acute, and the anxiety and reality of eviction and displacement real for so many, that we must take unprecedented steps to help,” Mayor Lee said earlier this month.

Further plans to force landlords to pay evicted tenants up to $50,000 over two years to relocate have hit legislative buffers, but are still being pushed by City Hall.

The board of directors of Catholic Charities and the Interfaith Council, who both provide emergency shelter and housing for the homeless, voted unanimously to support Proposition A on the 3 November ballot.

Prior to their vote, Catholic Charities board of directors highlighted on Pope Francis’ recent comments in Washington DC last month that: “There is no social or moral justification whatsoever for a lack of housing.”

Rocketing rental costs has seen San Francisco become increasingly unaffordable for low-wage workers and long-term residents. The average rent for a one bedroom apartment is $3,410, $400 more in New York.  

The San Francisco referendum - Proposition A - needs a two-thirds majority to become law.



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