San Francisco Votes to Use Hotels for Homeless During Pandemic

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San Francisco would have to secure 8,250 private hotel rooms by April 26 as temporary quarantine facilities because of rising cases of the coronavirus—including an outbreak at a homeless shelter—under a measure the Board of Supervisors approved Tuesday.

The emergency ordinance would be in effect for three months and cost more than $180 million. It also would give priority to hotels to house homeless people—including those released from the hospital after being treated for the virus and those awaiting virus test results—as well as front-line health-care and homeless-services workers.

The measure would expand on the city’s current plans to lease 7,000 rooms. Tuesday’s unanimous 11-0 vote assures that a veto by Mayor London Breed, who has opposed mass housing in hotels for the homeless during the pandemic, easily could be overridden. San Francisco has an estimated 8,000 people who lack shelter.

Last month, San Francisco began placing in hotels people who were discharged from hospitals and those whose living circumstances—in single-residency occupancy hotels, shelters, or on the street—prevented them from isolating to help stop the spread of the coronavirus. The city has had shifting plans to deal with the pandemic and protect vulnerable people. The ordinance also would help hotels, where incomes have been decimated by shelter-in-place orders, as well as a unionized workforce that has seen 90% of its members lose jobs.

“And let’s be clear—all of these hotels are vacant. Their value, in today’s market, is zero, or less than zero,” Supervisor Aaron Peskin said.

Photo by Getty Images

The monthly cost of the new program would total $60.27 million—$58.6 million for the rooms, food, security, and cleaning—plus an additional $1.67 million a month for on-site management at the hotels, according to a memo from the board’s budget and legislative analyst office. The costs come as San Francisco is projecting a $1.1 billion to $1.7 billion tax loss through the fiscal year that ends June 30, 2022, according to a joint report by the offices of the legislative analyst, mayor, and controller.

The ordinance, which now heads to Breed for her consideration, would require daily reporting to the Board of Supervisors on the city’s progress in procuring and providing needed rooms. An amendment approved during the supervisors’ meeting Tuesday requires the city to report ethnic, racial, gender, and other data of those moved into hotels.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency would pay up to 75% of costs. The California Office of Emergency Services would consider reimbursing an additional 18.75%, for a total of 93.75% reimbursement from state and federal sources, according to the memo.

San Francisco’s shelter-in-place order, effective March 17, was later extended to May 3. The statewide order to stay home that went into effect March 19 is open ended.

Statewide, 456,570 people lost jobs connected to the hotel industry, out of 1,014,600 California workers, the American Hotel & Lodging Association said. The trade association’s members include Marriott International Corp., Hyatt Hotels Corp., and InterContinental Hotels Group. U.S. hotels since the public health issue began escalating in mid-February have lost more than $10 billion in room revenue, the trade group said.

Protecting Hotel Workers

The city in March began negotiating with UNITE HERE Local 2, representing 14,000 hotel and restaurant workers, to clean hotel and motel public areas, work as janitors, cook and perform other food-service work, and wash dishes. About 12,000 of those workers lost their jobs as hotels shut down because there were no more guests, the union said.

The union wants city contracts with a hotel or food-service facility to guaranteebasic worker rights, including health-care coverage from the first day for workersand enforced health-and-safety and wage-and-hour protections, Anand Singh, president of UNITE HERE Local 2, said in comment submitted to the board.

Supervisors want more places to stay for those now housed in shelters. The need is underscored by the fact that, as of Tuesday, 92 residents of the city’s largest shelter and 10 staff members tested positive for Covid-19. The city has turned the shelter into a virus recovery center for those who tested positive and are homeless.

California had more than 25,500 confirmed Covid-19 cases and 783 deaths as of Tuesday, Bloomberg data show.

To contact the reporter on this story: Joyce E. Cutler in San Francisco at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Tina May at

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