"Section 8 evictions in S.F. hit home"
2014-05-13 by Heather Knight from "San Francisco Chronicle" [http://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/Section-8-evictions-in-S-F-hit-home-5472656.php]:
Roman Shatsov, 84, sat at the grand piano in his apartment in San Francisco's Outer Richmond neighborhood. The onetime professional singer's deep, booming voice filled the living room as he sang a song in Russian about how he'd met his love many years ago and knows she's still the one.
His wife, Faina Burovaya, 82, sat on the couch, her cheeks blushing and her eyes twinkling. Struggling with Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases, she is frequently confused - but the familiarity of being in her longtime apartment provides comfort.
That connection could soon be lost as the elderly couple are fighting eviction. Their pro-bono lawyer says their landlord is trying to get low-income Section 8 voucher holders out and new tenants able to pay today's mind-boggling market rates in.
Shatsov and Burovaya, along with three other Section 8 households in the same building on Geary Boulevard, received an eviction notice last month giving them 90 days to move out.
The complex was built after 1979, so rent control doesn't apply, and landlords who house Section 8 tenants can evict them for "business or economic reasons." Now, the elderly couple, like an increasing number of other Section 8 voucher holders, are scrambling to maintain a foothold in this expensive city.
The San Francisco Housing Authority manages the local Section 8 program, which awards federally funded housing vouchers to low-income, disabled or elderly people to use toward rent in private apartments and houses. There are 9,500 households receiving Section 8 vouchers in San Francisco.
2010 market rates -
The vouchers' value - $1,473 for a one-bedroom apartment and $1,858 for two bedrooms - is set by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development using a complicated formula. Last changed in 2011, it is based on fair market rates from 2008 to 2010. Rents in San Francisco have skyrocketed since then, but the voucher values haven't budged.
Gene Gibson, spokeswoman for the regional HUD office, said another calculation will be made in the next year, but until then it's unknown whether there will be an increase in the voucher value or for how much.
Tenants can make up the difference between the voucher value and their rent, but even that is increasingly not enough - and attorneys say some of their clients are paying 70 percent of their small incomes toward rent in an effort to keep their apartments.
The widely accepted rule of thumb is that people should not pay more than 30 percent of their income toward housing or the housing is unaffordable.
Spike in evictions -
Attorneys say that they've seen a spike in evictions of Section 8 tenants in the past year and that once a voucher holder is booted, they have no choice but to leave San Francisco because there are simply no apartments in the city that are vacant and available for those rates.
Just last week, housing-rights advocates staged a protest at a Tenderloin apartment building where several Section 8 households were given 90-day eviction notices in February.
Rose Dennis, spokeswoman for the San Francisco Housing Authority, said the agency works closely with landlords to keep Section 8 tenants housed and is hosting a workshop this summer to educate landlords about the program.
'Not paying enough' -
Irina Naduhovskaya, an attorney with Bay Area Legal Aid, is representing Shatsov and Burovaya pro bono, as well as other Section 8 tenants around the city who find themselves facing evictions.
"You can't blame the landlords for wanting more money for their units," she said. "But the Housing Authority is not paying enough - the vouchers are becoming worthless. And the city could be doing more to protect tenants."
She has asked for an extension for Shatsov and Burovaya because of Burovaya's disabilities, but holds out very little hope of staving off the eviction altogether.
Frank Kim is an attorney with Eviction Assistance, a real estate law firm in the Inner Richmond that helps landlords evict tenants. He represents William McDonagh, who owns the building on Geary and has served eviction notices to his Section 8 tenants.
Kim said that because of potential litigation, he couldn't say much. But he pointed out that McDonagh is "a disabled, private individual who relies on his rental income for his retirement and for the future support of his family."
He added that McDonagh has not raised rent on his units to market value or evicted tenants for at least 20 years, even though he could have because the building isn't subject to rent control.
Shatsov and Burovaya share their two-bedroom unit with their daughter, Alla Shatsova, 57, who works as their in-home care provider. The family has lived there for 11 years. They pay $2,200 in rent every month: the $1,858 voucher value and $342 in their own money.
Russian community -
Their daughter said her parents have become a part of the neighborhood's Russian community and can walk or take short bus rides everywhere they need to go, including doctor's appointments. She said losing that sense of familiarity and safety would be crushing for her mother.
"You look at Craigslist, you look at the prices," Shatsova said, shaking her head. "We have nowhere to go. It's so stressful, and we don't know what to do."
Her family immigrated to the United States in 1999, fleeing anti-Semitism in their native Belarus. Her father recounted Germans bombing his town in World War II and his 2-year-old sister being killed.
Through tears, he said he has been having recurrent nightmares about that time, brought on, he thinks, by the stress of not having anywhere to go.
"When I came here, I felt I was protected," he said, hastily apologizing for his emotions.
Shatsova said that her mother seems to understand the looming eviction despite her illnesses and told her daughter, "I know it's hard - keep moving."
But Shatsova said her parents shouldn't have to worry about this.
"At that age," she said, "you want a lawn, grandkids - and no eviction."