It is widely accepted that homelessness, especially homelessness among veterans, is a problem in the United States. Nowhere has felt the sting of this phenomenon as poignantly as the state of California, where homeless camps are encroaching on neighborhoods around the state.
For that reason, it is surprising that the city of San Francisco would have so viciously interpreted laws that they would go after someone who attempted to help veterans with housing issues. But far-left San Francisco did just that.
The city of San Francisco came down hard upon landlord Xiaoqi Wu (who goes by Judy Wu) for the condition of the homes and for violating housing guidelines. Was Judy Wu a slumlord renting barely-livable properties to veterans? Were the units in such disrepair that they were unlivable?
Nothing of the sort. Judy Wu committed the horrific crime of failing to have properly-zoned properties.
These 49 units were rented by Wu and Zhu mostly to low-income veterans. Many of these veterans suffered from various disabilities, while others had previously been homeless.
In the name of capitalism, Wu and Zhu improved the lives of at least 49 people in a housing market that is shockingly and absurdly overpriced. In San Francisco, where 2-bedroom apartments can easily be thousands, affordable housing for veterans and the homeless is needed.
In 2015, the city of San Francisco became aware of the ‘excess’ units in Wu’s properties. They decided to order Wu and Zhu to pay to attain permits, and then to dismantle the units.
According to San Francisco, however, those properties were only zoned to be as many as 15 units. Because of that, the city of San Francisco decided that they should sue Wu.
They did this based on their claim that the un-zoned and un-permitted units “substantially endanger the health, welfare, and safety of individual tenants, the residents of the City and County of San Francisco.”
In other words, according to San Francisco, the existence of small housing units that kept high-risk individuals (veterans, no less) off the streets somehow posed a threat to the veterans living there.
In fact, most of the tenants of Wu’s property came forward to say that, contrary to the claims of the city, they are happy to have a roof over their head, and that Wu’s units are great for them.
But that didn’t much matter to the city of San Francisco. The homeless issue wasn’t their concern; the idea that people aren’t doing as they’re told was.
Wu’s trial started last week Monday, February 5. It ended on Tuesday when Wu decided to settle.
She didn’t settle because she didn’t have a good case, but rather because she could ill afford the cost of ongoing legal fees and the $8 million in fines the city threatened to levy on her.
Her attorney, Ryan Peterson, said that the settlement was a tactical choice, one designed to make sure that she could focus on legalizing as many units as she could.
Her decision to settle the lawsuit, however, didn’t do much to answer questions about the legal standing of her units, nor does it allow her to maintain them.
That administrative process is still pending.
Throughout this entire process, San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera, who sued Wu on behalf of the city, has attempted to besmirch Wu’s reputation and suggest that she’s little more than a slum lord.
According to the complaint he wrote for the city in 2016, “Defendant’s motive for flagrantly violating the law is simple: profit.”
San Francisco Supervisor Malia Cohen, who represents the district mot of Wu’s housing units are in, didn’t disagree with Herrera, either. She said that Wu “targeted” these people because they were the most “at-risk” and therefore the least likely to complain.
The veterans who rented from Wu, however, tell different stories.
Fred Bryant, a 79-year-old disabled veteran, stated that Wu is offering veterans the chance to rebuild their lives.
Fred also said that Mrs. Wu was always responsive to his needs, including installing a handicap-appropriate shower for him and allowing him to keep his electric scooter in her garage.
Luckily for Fred Bryant, he’s at no risk of eviction, as his unit was brought into compliance with the arbitrary San Francisco zoning codes.
However, out of the 34 unpermitted units that Wu rented out, as many as 12 may still be dismantled at the demands of the government, leaving 12 veterans out on the streets instead of in a small unit with everything they need and four walls.
Federal programs for veterans aid and housing aid paid much of the rent for properties that Mrs. Wu operated, however, and they regularly inspect such properties.
Any failure to be up-to-code, unclean, or not properly cared for would mean that these federal agencies would either cease payments or would cut payments drastically until conditions were up-to-code.
San Francisco has an alleged homeless population of 7,500 people, and as many as 4,350 are ‘unsheltered,’ or living outside.
San Francisco is also the city where a single-bedroom apartment has a median price of $3,200-$3,400 a month.
Perhaps it’s time for San Francisco’s City Attorney and various other government employees to spend less time assailing people trying to offer affordable housing to the ‘at-risk’ populations, and more time trying to work with people so that 4,350 people can find a place to stay that offers some safety.
Or they can continue to cling to outdated and onerous zoning laws that restrict the building of new housing and how many people can live in old housing. It’s worked out so well thus far, after all.