By Jack Quach
New citywide legislation that will offer low-income veterans living in San Francisco an advantage for affordable housing in the City was recently approved by the SF Board of Supervisors.
District 4 Supervisor Gordon Mar introduced the addition to a housing law that was passed in October 2021 and looks to implement the policy in 2022.
Currently, San Francisco’s affordable housing program operates on a tier-based system, providing priority to qualifying groups ranging from those who were displaced in the 1960s and 1970s to those who live and/or work in the City. While the recent ordinance will not create a new housing tier for current and former U.S. service members, it will offer priority for qualifying veterans over non-veteran affordable housing applicants of the same preference categories.
“Having housing and employment are cornerstones of stability that enable veterans to reintegrate and be a part of society again after their service,” said Alan Wong, a legislative aide in Mar’s office.
The first stage of the housing legislation – which concluded at the end of 2021 – involved analyzing the potential impacts of providing greater priority to veterans. Through this process, the members of the supervisor’s District 4 office collaborated with local veterans’ groups to discover the best ways to support those struggling with homelessness or housing costs within San Francisco.
One such organization is Metropolitan Fresh Start House, a San Francisco- and Sunset District-based program that serves to rehabilitate veterans in the Bay Area and help them find housing. Rod Kearney, an administrator at Fresh Start, said affordable housing continues to be a central tool for stability in the lives of veterans.
Once housing is found, Kearney added, ongoing support systems represent the next step in guiding veterans in their full transition to civilian life. As Kearney and Fresh Start look to provide veterans with necessary housing, they also bring psychological and emotional stability to aid those in need.
Kearney also pinpointed a potentially overlooked reality of the struggles veterans face: mental health struggles can create significant difficulties in finding and retaining stable housing. However, the new availability of affordable housing, paired with the advocacy of groups such as Fresh Start, help veterans to stay connected to a support system beyond the acquisition of a new home, according to Kearney.
Among the various steps taken to achieve approval for the new advancement, Wong said that gaining support from supervisors and “learning how to navigate the complex bureaucracy and political system” represented the most difficult challenges.
“To help move this law forward, there’s some level of inertia and institutional resistance that we have had to push,” he added about the veterans’ housing law that began in mid-2021.
Against the constantly changing backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic, San Francisco experienced increasing numbers of homeless veterans living in shelters from 2019 to 2021 – a number reported by the 2021 San Francisco Sheltered Point-in-Time Count. Wong and his fellow staff members in Mar’s office used similar surveys and studies to research the demographics and living situations of veterans experiencing homelessness in the City.
For Wong, the importance of widening access for veterans to receive affordable housing stems from his personal life and experiences. A 12-year veteran who served in the U.S. Army National Guard, Wong was deployed to address many wildfires and natural disasters across California.
After researching the housing issues among the City’s veteran communities, he said his work within the Board of Supervisors reinforced the need for the new legislation.
“It has been my fondest life commitment to serve this City and to balance being on the National Guard with my full-time role at the supervisor’s office,” Wong said.
The citywide affordable housing change will also eventually impact the developing 2550 Irving St. project, which will create new affordable housing units in the Outer Sunset.
As 2022 brings space for the implementation of the new legislation, Wong said he hopes that the progress made “will help our veterans in the Sunset and across the City to be able to gain stability after serving our country. The new affordable housing is essential for veterans who continue to have wounds – mental and physical – from their service to our country.”