In San Francisco, California, KALW-Radio 91.7 FM
- Eva Castillo* thinks of herself as a strong person. She was raised in the Sunnydale projects in San Francisco, sharing a bedroom with three brothers. Now, she works construction — often as the only woman on the job. But when she was evicted, she says she felt truly helpless for the first time in her life.
“I ain’t never been in this situation before,” she says. “I've been working ever since I've been eight — and it feels like I’m working for nothing.”
Castillo has been in homeless limbo ever since the eviction, a year ago. She and her four teenage daughters are scattered now, crashing at five different places.
“You don't know what tomorrow's going to hold, having to figure out where you're going to sleep at and all those things — it’s stressful.”
Castillo was evicted not through any fault of her own, but because she was using Section 8 vouchers to help pay her rent, and her landlord decided to leave the program. So, after eight years in her home in the Bayview District of San Francisco, Castillo and her daughters moved out.
The way the section 8 program works is voucher-holders pay what they can afford — about 30% of their income — and then the voucher pays the rest. The local housing authority, along with Castillo’s landlord, decided the fair market rate for her three-bedroom spot was $2,800. Castillo makes pretty good money, so she paid $2,500. Then the voucher picks up the difference, in this case, the remaining $300.
But the thing is, anyone who knows San Francisco real estate knows you can find someone willing to pay more than $2,800 for a three bedroom these days — even in a less-fancy neighborhood like The Bayview. Castillo’s landlord knew she could get more from her property, so she quit the program. And because so many other landlords are opting out too, Castillo's having a hard time finding anywhere to go.
“I find myself looking further and further out. I'm looking in Brentwood now,” says Castillo. "My whole life is out here [in San Francisco], my work...”
Because Castillo can’t find anyone to take her voucher in San Francisco, she’s going to have to transfer her registration to wherever she’ll move. It’s called “porting” — it’s a little bureaucratic shuffle that takes about two weeks. But that means that whenever she gets close to landing a place, she has to ask the landlord to wait. She says several houses have slipped through her fingers because the landlords have gone with a tenant that’s ready to move in right now.
In fact, just last night, a place she was hopeful about fell through.
Since I first met Castillo, six months ago, her voucher has expired. So, now she’s looking for a place she can afford without assistance. She thinks it’s doable, since it’s just for her and her youngest. But if this had happened when her daughters were all kids, she doesn’t know what she’d do.
Castillo says she feels like she did everything right and still collapsed into homelessness. And the story is the same all around her.
“Everybody that I grew up with is either on drugs, living in another county or another state,” she says. “Because California is too rich for us poor people to be too poor.”
The Promise of Section 8 reform
The Section 8 program has never been big enough to subsidize everyone that qualifies to be on it. But in the past, if you won that lottery, you were safe. The program was a good deal for landlords with property in low-rent districts. But in today’s Bay Area housing market, low-rent districts are quickly getting bid up.
Eric Johnson, the director of the Oakland Housing Authority, says Section 8 participation in gentrifying neighborhoods has “dropped to nothing.”