'Flex Pool' Program Matches Homeless San Franciscans to Vacant Apartments

Throughout the pandemic San Francisco has seen an increase in vacant apartments, now people experiencing homelessness are being placed into those empty units. Susie Steimle reports. (3-26-21)

Video Transcript

KEN BASTIDA: We have been reporting on a growing number of vacant apartments out there.

ELIZABETH COOK: Now people experiencing homelessness are being placed into those empty units. Tonight, in our original series Project Home, Susie Steimle has a firsthand look at this unique solution.

DONALD BOOTH: Sometimes I think that, well, I'm going to wake up from this dream because it's too good to be true. SUSIE STEIMLE: the first time in more than 50 years, Donald Booth has keys to his very own apartment.

DONALD BOOTH: I went from absolutely nothing to a one bedroom in Nob Hill.

SUSIE STEIMLE: He's one of 75 people to be rehoused since July through San Francisco's pilot program called The Flexible Housing Subsidy Pool. It matches homeless people with vacant apartments.

ANDREA EVANS: There is this somewhat unique opportunity with the market right now.

SUSIE STEIMLE: Andrea Evans is with Tipping Point Community, the nonprofit that runs the program and helps identify property owners like Wayne Huey.

WAYNE HUEY: And so for me, it's trying to make a change, one person, one unit at a time.

SUSIE STEIMLE: As an early adopter of the program, Wayne has already helped--

WAYNE HUEY: I would say, close to 30, 40 people that are given a second chance.

SUSIE STEIMLE: Tenants are required to pay 30% of their income. Tipping Point, through Brilliant Corners, another nonprofit, covers the rest. So property owners like Wayne still receive market rate rent.

ANDREA EVANS: So this is pretty easy, and it's guaranteed rent. So, you know, from the landlord perspective, why not?

SUSIE STEIMLE: It's also faster than other housing programs because it deals with existing spaces and private dollars.

DONALD BOOTH: --interviewed me on a Thursday, and the following Monday I get a call, and she says, I found a match.

SUSIE STEIMLE: The Flexible program also ends up randomly scattering people throughout the community, which organizers say makes it more successful because, like anyone else, people experiencing homelessness like having a choice over what neighborhood they end up living in. And this also helps avoid cramming all formerly homeless people into the same building with very strict rules.

ANDREA EVANS: You can have people over to your place at whatever time of day or night that you'd like. That's often not the case in many of our supportive housing buildings.

SUSIE STEIMLE: Up until May of 2019 Donald was in prison. When he was first released, he ended up on the street.

If you hadn't found this program or been connected to this program, where would you be?

DONALD BOOTH: I have no idea, probably in jail.

SUSIE STEIMLE: Donald says that scared him about being out. At least in prison, he was housed and fed. Now, he lights up talking about his Nob Hill home. It's a chance, one he's determined to take advantage of.

DONALD BOOTH: They gave me a chance, and I proved myself. I haven't even had a hiccup. And man, I don't care what it takes. I'm going to do good.

SUSIE STEIMLE: Tenants of the Flex Pool Program will continue to receive subsidy funding through 2022, then the city will pick up the tab. Mayor Breed's goal is to have 200 people housed through this program this year, and eventually expand it to 2000. Susie Steimle, KPIX 5.