An emergency measure just passed that will require San Francisco to rent 7,000 hotel rooms to house its entire homeless population

·5 min read
san francisco homeless
People on the street near the MSC South homeless shelter, where at least 70 people have now tested positive for COVID-19, on Monday, April 13, 2020, in San Francisco.

Ben Margot/AP

  • An emergency measure just passed in San Francisco that will require the city to find and rent 7,000 hotel rooms to house and protect the city's homeless population during the COVID-19 public health crisis.

  • The city's Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to pass the ordinance, which gives San Francisco until April 26 to procure the rooms.

  • Now, Mayor London Breed will decide whether to sign or veto the measure.

  • The estimated cost to find and rent the 7,000 hotel rooms for unhoused residents for 90 days is $105 million.

  • Doing so would give the city's homeless community space to shelter in place alongside the rest of the city.

  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

An emergency ordinance was just passed in San Francisco requiring the city to procure and rent 7,000 hotel rooms for its entire homeless population.

In a virtual meeting on Tuesday, San Francisco's Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to pass the emergency proposal that gives the city until April 26 — the projected date for the number of confirmed cases to hit its peak in the state of California — to find the hotel rooms.

Now that the board has approved the ordinance, Mayor London Breed has 10 days to decide whether to sign or veto it, though the board could override that ruling as the San Francisco Examiner reports.

The measure requires the city to find 7,000 hotel rooms for its unhoused residents. But in total, 8,250 rooms are included in the ordinance that would also house first-responders and healthcare workers who require self-isolation. 

The purpose of the ordinance was in part to give the city's homeless population space to shelter in place alongside the rest of the city as the coronavirus, which causes the disease known as COVID-19, continues to spread. When the regionwide shelter-in-place order went into effect on March 17, those who are homeless were exempt and instead instructed to wait until officials could find ways to house them during the public health crisis.

In addition to housing and protecting the city's most vulnerable residents, doing so would also help mitigate an outbreak, which would prevent the healthcare system from potentially being overwhelmed.

But an outbreak has already hit the homeless community.

On April 2, the first positive case in a San Francisco homeless shelter was found at the city's Division Circle Navigation Center. And on April 6, two more cases were confirmed at MSC South, the city's largest homeless shelter. Then on April 10, 70 people at that shelter were reported to have tested positive, a number that has since swelled to at least 100.

At least 23 residents living in SRO hotels have also tested positive.

For weeks, San Francisco has been pushing forward with a mission to identify temporary housing and treatment sites that would prioritize isolation housing for those on the frontlines of the coronavirus pandemic, as well as the estimated 8,000 who are unhoused.

Since the city's travel and tourism industries have been hit hard amid the coronavirus pandemic, the thousands of empty hotel rooms have become a viable solution. 

The five supervisors — Matt Haney, Hillary Ronen, Aaron Peskin, Dean Presto, and Shamann Walton— that cosponsored the proposal have been advocating for the housing of all of the city's homeless individuals as a preventive measure, regardless of exposure to the virus or having been tested positive for it. 


As the plan previously stood, those who are homeless in San Francisco who would be moved to the hotel rooms are those who have tested positive for COVID-19 or who have been tested and are waiting for results to return. The most vulnerable within the homeless community, people over the age of 60 with underlying health issues, also qualify to be housed in a hotel room designated for this purpose.

But Mayor London Breed said despite the pandemic, there are limits to how officials can house people. "We are not going to be able to solve our homeless problem in San Francisco with this crisis," Breed said on April 3.

The city had previously toyed with housing its homeless community in mega shelters with congregate living conditions in an effort to increase social distancing in existing shelters. San Francisco's Moscone Center and Palace of Fine Arts were involved in those plans, which have since been scaled back.

At a Board of Supervisor's budget meeting last Wednesday, City Controller Ben Rosenfield said the estimated cost to rent the estimated 7,000 units for 90 days is $105 million, much of which could be refundable according to Supervisor Haney during the Tuesday meeting.

Rosenfield previously said that more than half of the estimated $105 million will likely be covered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, but the rest of the $50 million is "part of the puzzle we're trying to get put together," as Curbed SF reports. Human Services Agency Director Trent Rhorer said that the city may also be able to use some of the $150 million in emergency funds allocated to counties throughout the state of California. 

The estimated costs include the cost of security, cleaning services, and other resources for the homeless.

During the Tuesday meeting, Supervisor Aaron Peskin — one of the co-sponsors of the measure — said he would rather invest in this at the front end than pay for it at the back end. 

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