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Project Home: 'Flex Pool' Program Matches Homeless San Franciscans to Vacant Apartments

SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX) -- Throughout the pandemic San Francisco has seen an increase in vacant apartments, now people experiencing homelessness are being placed into those empty units.

It's called the Flexible Housing Subsidy Pool, it launched in July and has already rehoused 75 people, like Donald Booth.

"Sometimes I think that I'm going to wake up from this dream because it's too good to be true," Booth said.

For the first time in more than 50 years, he has keys to his very own apartment.

"I went from absolutely nothing to a one room bedroom in Nob Hill," Booth said.

"There is this somewhat unique opportunity with the market right now," Andrea Evans, Campaign Manager and Senior Planner for Tipping Point Community said.

Tipping Point is the nonprofit that runs the program and helps identify property owners like Wayne Huey.

"For me, it's trying to make a change, one person, one unit at a time," Huey said.

As an early adopter of the program Huey has already helped house, "close to 30, 40 people that are given a second chance," he said.

Tenants are required to pay 30% of their income, Tipping Point, with funding from Brilliant Corners, another nonprofit, covers the rest, so property owners still receive market rate rent.

"This is pretty easy and it's guaranteed rent, so, you know, from the landlord perspective, why not?" Evans said.

It's also faster than other rehousing programs because it deals with existing spaces and private dollars.

"They interviewed me on Thursday and the following Monday, I get a call and she says, 'I found a match'," Booth said.

The Flex Pool also ends up randomly scattering tenants around the city as units become available, organizers say this adds to the success of the program, because like anyone else, people experiencing homelessness prefer to have a choice in what neighborhood they get to live in. This model also avoids placing every formerly homeless person in the same building with strict rules.

"You can have people over to your place at whatever time of day or night that you'd like, that's often not the case in many supportive housing buildings," Evans said.

Up until May of 2019 Booth was in prison, when he was first released, he ended up on the street. He says without this program he'd probably end up back in jail and that at least in prison he was housed and fed.

Now he lights up talking about his Nob Hill home, it's a chance, one he's determined to take advantage of.

"They gave me a chance and I proved myself. I haven't even had a hiccup and man, I don't care what it takes. I'm going to do good," Booth said.

Tenants in the Flex Pool program will continue to receive financial support from Brilliant Corners through 2022, then the city will take over payments. Mayor Breed's goal is to expand this program to 200 units within the year and 2,000 units down the line.

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