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SF tenants' rights groups protest proposed city budget

SAN FRANCISCO - A multiracial coalition of tenants, childcare providers, and outreach workers staged a balloon blockage at City Hall on Thursday to protest Mayor London Breed's proposed budget plan that would cut spending for a city department dedicated to early childcare as well as a tenants' rights program. The coalition said these proposed cuts threaten life-saving services, including housing, childcare, and food aid. On the steps of City Hall, the alliance released an arc of balloons, calling Breed to prioritize working families.

"These cuts are devastating for the essential workers who make our city what it is, are still struggling to recover and deserve the city's support in ensuring they can provide for their families," said Ahmed Waheed of the Budget Justice Coalition, a collaboration of 30 community-based and labor organizations that advocate for an inclusive city budget for poor communities. "Working-class San Franciscans love this city and are committed to keeping it running since the pandemic."

Breed's proposed $14.6 billion budget includes a change to a commercial rent tax -- approved by San Francisco's voters as Proposition C in 2018 to fund childcare and early education -- that would allow tax deductions for businesses sub-leasing commercial real estate. 

A city controller's office report on the proposal said it would lead to an annual loss in revenue of about $17 million but noted that Prop C was held up by litigation that has resulted in an existing surplus of $400 million in revenue from the tax that has not been spent on childcare and early education programs.

The proposed budget also aims to cut $5 million in funding for the SRO Collaborative and Code Enforcement Outreach Program, initiatives supporting culturally and linguistically competent outreach workers to help low-income or welfare tenants get critical repairs. 

Waving colored balloons with inscriptions "Stop Cuts to Tenants Rights" and "Tenants Love SF, SF love us back!", the coalition said the cuts would affect tens of thousands of San Francisco tenants.

"Frontline outreach workers are the difference between a tenant getting a fire hazard repaired and an apartment building burning down," said Fred Sherburn-Zimmer, executive director of Housing Rights Committee of San Francisco, a tenant advocacy organization for housing justice in the city. "These cuts make our city less safe for working San Franciscans."

Ramon Bonifacio, a tenant counselor and resident of San Francisco, knows firsthand the challenges tenants face in finding affordable housing. He emphasized the importance of funding assistance programs for tenants, as they are often the only source of help for those struggling to afford housing in the city.

"It's tough to keep assisting residents in San Francisco if we are not funded," Bonifacio said. "We are taking away the only source they have to stay here in San Francisco."

Jennifer Friedenbach, executive director of the Coalition on Homelessness -- a nonprofit organizing homeless people and front-line service providers to create permanent solutions to homelessness in San Francisco -- said, "In a $14 billion budget, the city has choices. It should choose to protect those without homes, the seniors, the people with disabilities, the children and the youth, and the unemployed, so all have the safety and stability of a home to thrive in. Instead, we have a proposed budget that pits the most vulnerable against each other under the red herring of public safety."

Friedenbach said, "The people must reclaim this budget to ensure more investing and less arresting, ensuring we are all safe in San Francisco."

The city's Board of Supervisors will have to pass the budget for Breed to sign by Aug. 1.

"It isn't over until it's over," Sherburn-Zimmer said, hinting at continued protests until a reviewed budget is approved. "We're putting pressure on politicians to do what they need to do for their communities."

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