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Apartments sit vacant as shutdown delays move-in for San Francisco’s homeless

October 9, 2013 at 12:00 AM EST
A new housing development in San Francisco is ready for its new tenants -- homeless individuals and families -- to move into apartments of their own. But due to the government shutdown, units that are federally subsidized sit empty. Mina Kim of KQED reports on how the standstill in Washington is affecting people in California.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: We turn now to the government shutdown or partial shutdown, as the case may be.

The Defense Department and other agencies have begun recalling some workers for essential tasks. But in communities across the country, many federal programs considered nonessential are now on hold.

Mina Kim of KQED Radio reports on one example, a housing program in San Francisco.

MINA KIM, KQED Radio: Workers are putting the finishing touches on a brand-new, green-certified affordable housing building that opened this week in San Francisco’s Bayview-Hunters Point neighborhood, one of the city’s poorest communities. The $35 million Bayview Hill Gardens property will provide more than 70 permanent housing units and supportive services for homeless families and individuals.

WOMAN: OK, so welcome home, Keisha Brown.

WOMAN: Thank you.

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MINA KIM: Some residents started moving in yesterday and were excited to see their new homes. But 17 out of the 73 new apartments here will remain empty indefinitely until the federal government shutdown is resolved.

That’s because the rents for those apartments, unlike the other units which are funded by the city of San Francisco, nonprofit groups, and private investors, are subsidized by the federal government. They are part of a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, or HUD, program called Shelter Plus Care. It provides rental assistance for long-term homeless adults with certain disabilities, including HIV/AIDS, mental health issues, and drug and alcohol abuse.

And one of those federally subsidized units, number 221, is all set for its new resident who can’t move in, Dior Hall.

DIOR HALL, waiting for housing: There’s no words to describe how it feels to have to get up every day and not have anywhere to go.

MINA KIM: Hall, who is 36 and a part-time cashier at Walgreens, has been sleeping at San Francisco’s Providence Foundation homeless shelter for 17 months. Every morning, she and the other shelter guests pack up their sleeping mats and personal belongings and leave by 7:00 a.m. Hall was supposed to move into her new studio apartment yesterday. But now she doesn’t know when she will be in her new home.

DIOR HALL: I saw that the government shut down, but I didn’t know that it affected me personally. I was really disappointed because I was close to — so ready to get out of here. It’s really — you have no idea how it feels to have — kind of have the rug pulled up from under you like that so quickly and to be so happy at one point and then all of a sudden you just — it’s a down.

MINA KIM: Hall hasn’t seen her new digs yet, but she’s heard good things.

DIOR HALL: I hear that you get a bed, you get sheets and covers and food and, you know, supplies for cleaning your clothes. And you get a microphone and refrigerator. And I heard it’s really big and really nice. This will actually be my first apartment ever. So, yes, it is a really big deal for me. So, it’s — I can’t wait.

MINA KIM: The fact that Hall and other homeless residents have to wait bothers one of the men in charge of the new housing project, Trent Rhorer, executive director of San Francisco’s Human Services Agency.

TRENT RHORER, San Francisco Human Services Agency: We have vacant units furnished ready to go, and because we don’t have a signed contract with HUD under the program, they will not let us move families in.

And so what we have are 17 people who are going to be sleeping on church floors, in our homeless shelter system, taking up a spot of someone else who’s probably on the street, while we have these beautiful vacant units that are unavailable to them.

MINA KIM: Rhorer says he is concerned that if the government shutdown continues into November, social services like Meals on Wheels, food stamps, and Section 8 housing benefits could be impacted.

TRENT RHORER: The concern is that money is going to dry up and that we don’t have, the city and county of San Francisco doesn’t have the resources to — to backfill loss of this amount of money. And my colleagues of the state of California are indicating that they don’t have the money either.

So it’s just absolutely critical for our poorest residents of San Francisco, all of whom are trying to do their best to make it every day and try to improve their lives with — with the help of our dollars, but significantly with the help of federal dollars.

WOMAN: Good morning, everybody. I want to welcome you to Bayview Hills Gardens.

MINA KIM: Meanwhile, a group of new residents went through their orientation yesterday. The still-homeless Dior Hall hopes congressional leaders will end the shutdown soon.

DIOR HALL: I’m frustrated at the people who don’t understand how it’s impacted other people. I think that, whatever the issue, talk about it like adults, no screaming and back-biting and stuff like that. That’s what you’re supposed to do. You’re setting an example for our country, and this example that you’re setting is not a good one, especially when you see how bad of an impact it is having on everybody.

MINA KIM: Hall’s new apartment and a welcome basket complete with new pots and pans and cooking utensils await her arrival, whenever that may be.