San Francisco Chronicle
Breed has picks for homeless oversight board
Mayor London Breed announced her nominees Tuesday to San Francisco’s new commission to oversee the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing, an agency with a $600 million budget that has for years operated without any formal oversight or accountability.
Voters approved a November ballot measure to create the homelessness oversight commission, proposed by Supervisor Ahsha Safaí in direct response to a yearlong Chronicle probe that exposed squalid conditions within HSH’s housing for the city’s most vulnerable residents.
San Francisco experienced a 15 percent decrease in unsheltered homelessness over the last three years, but the crisis still remains a top concern for city residents. Despite a massive budget that has swelled from $200 million to $1.1 billion at its peak, HSH has been understaffed and overwhelmed since it was created in 2016. The Chronicle’s investigation also put into stark terms how the lack of oversight has allowed some parts of the city’s massive supportive housing program to deteriorate in dangerous and unhealthy ways.
It is unclear if the homelessness oversight commission will lead to better results in the city’s homelessness crisis, but those who pushed for the board are optimistic that it will at least create a central forum where the public can provide input and raise concerns. It will also create another layer of oversight to the department, which was previously controlled by the mayor.
Breed, who opposed the creation of an oversight commission because she worried it would add more bureaucracy to the city’s homelessness response, must appoint four people to the board. The Board of Supervisors will approve or veto her picks in the coming weeks, and also choose three members of its own. Breed’s nominees are:
• Vikrum Aiyer, a deputy director in the ACLU’s political advocacy department and a commissioner on San Francisco’s Workforce Investment Board. He also spent several years working in the Obama administration. After leaving the White House, Aiyer helped build delivery app Postmates and is now the head of global public policy and external affairs at Heirloom, a startup focused on carbon capture.
• Katie Albright, the CEO of nonprofit Safe and Sound, a childhood advocacy organization that is focused on preventing child abuse. Albright was also a deputy city attorney in San Francisco for seven years, representing its public schools.
• Dr. Jonathan Butler, a research faculty member in the Department of Family and Community Medicine and the Center for the Study of Adversity and Cardiovascular Disease at UCSF. He is also a social epidemiologist and associate director of UCSF’s Black Health Initiative, and serves on the city’s Sugary Drinks Distributor Tax Advisory Committee.
• Sharky Laguana, an entrepreneur and musician, was appointed by Breed to the city’s Small Business Commission, where he served as president. Laguana experienced homelessness in his youth and later lived in a single-room-occupancy hotel on Market Street.
The commissioners will serve a four-year term beginning May 1. The oversight board will have the ability to approve or reject most homelessness and supportive housing contracts before sending them to the Board of Supervisors for a final vote. It will also have input on HSH’s budget and have the ability to investigate the department’s activities.
HSH has several advisory bodies, but they are limited to making policy suggestions. Some of these committees will be streamlined under the commission.
The Board of Supervisors also has a new homelessness subcommittee, chaired by Supervisor Hillary Ronen, which will focus on legislation related to homelessness and mental health policies. The board will hold a hearing to consider the applicants for its three open seats at Monday’s Rules Committee meeting.