Few local government bodies will be more closely scrutinized in the months to come than San Francisco’s newly created Homelessness Oversight Commission.
At last count, the city had roughly 7,700 people sleeping on city streets, with little visible progress when it comes to sheltering the city’s most vulnerable residents despite spending hundreds of millions dollars. That’s why voters signed off on Proposition C last fall to create the new commission, which will oversee the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing (HSH) by approving budgets, reviewing contracts and providing policy oversight.
Mayor London Breed, who opposed Prop. C and the creation of the commission, announced four nominees Tuesday, and the selections include: a doctor whose work focuses on the Black community, which suffers from homelessness at a disproportional rate; a longtime nonprofit leader who focused on child abuse prevention; and a politically connected small business owner.
However, one nominee’s history has raised serious concerns.
Vikrum Aiyer is a tech executive whose resume includes stops with Postmates, the American Civil Liberties Union and a stint as a senior adviser on technology in the Obama White House. He lives in the South of Market area and played a role in helping small businesses during the city’s pandemic response. He now serves as a commissioner on San Francisco’s workforce investment board.
Aiyer is also someone who repeatedly lied about his misuse of government funds over the course of two years, according to a Washington Post report published in 2018.
During his time as chief of staff at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office from 2014 to 2017, Aiyer reportedly lied on more than 130 occasions about commuting and personal expenses, including charges at bars, restaurants, coffee shops and dry cleaners. He also impersonated current and former high-level agency officials on receipts and vouchers to avoid being caught, according to a report by the Office of Inspector General.
Last but not least, Aiyer reportedly pulled a George Santos by lying on his resume about receiving a postgraduate degree.
So why would the mayor nominate someone with a checkered past—especially in light of a City Hall corruption scandal and rock-bottom confidence in city government?
“In speaking with Vikrum about these issues raised in the Washington Post article, he explained that he didn’t properly file the expense reports due to a grave misunderstanding of the proper procedures,” the Mayor’s Office said in a statement. “He has acknowledged his errors and he previously paid the government back for his mistakes, and he has learned from them.”
That’s certainly one narrative of events. The Post found that Aiyer knew he was lying when filing his taxi receipts and he told investigators he was simply doing as he was told.
In the newspaper’s review of the federal government probe, Aiyer apparently told investigators “he thought it was permissible to provide incorrect trip origin or destination information because this was the ‘protocol that was imparted to [him] by [his] bosses at the time.’” Officials told the Post that he was never instructed to lie about his expenses.
Aiyer acknowledged the report’s findings in an emailed statement Wednesday
“There is no better teacher than lived experience, and as one of the youngest chiefs of staff of a federal agency in my 20s, I made a grave mistake, took full responsibility, learned from it, and ensured it would never happen again,” he said. “While my lesson was certainly public & humbling, it also gave me first hand appreciation for the importance of government oversight.”
The Mayor’s Office told The Standard that Breed and Aiyer had a direct discussion about the falsified reports, and enough time has passed since the 2018 story that Breed felt comfortable nominating him.
“[Breed] accepted that he owned his mistakes and has learned from them,” the Mayor’s Office said. “She believes people who are dedicated to San Francisco should be allowed to serve their communities and bring their experiences to that service. She also had conversations with community leaders who strongly advocated for him and his dedication to communities that are too often ignored in conversations around homelessness in San Francisco.”
One of those individuals is Randy Shaw, executive director of the Tenderloin Housing Clinic, a low-income tenant advocacy organization. Shaw emailed The Standard an unsolicited statement in support of Aiyer before the Mayor’s Office offered its own defense.
“We need a commissioner who can look at a multi-million dollar HSH budget and make independent assessments of whether HSH funds are being most efficiently and wisely spent,” Shaw said. “We also need a commissioner who understands program accountability and who will not be a mere rubber stamp for the staff. Vikrum Aiyer is an ideal fit for both needs.”
Aiyer’s appointment still requires confirmation, and multiple members of the Board of Supervisors told The Standard they were not pleased to see him selected by the mayor.
“The reason Proposition C requires all appointments to be reviewed and approved in a public hearing at the Board of Supervisors is so we can ensure they have the proper qualifications and are the right fit,” said Supervisor Ahsha Safaí, who sponsored Prop. C. “As a member of the Rules Committee, I look forward to finding out more about each of the candidates prior to making a decision on whether to confirm.”
The Board of Supervisors appoints the three remaining seats on the commission. Individuals will need two out of three votes in favor by the Rules Committee, and then a majority vote in support by all supervisors. The mayor’s nominations must be approved by the board within 60 days, or they are approved if no action is taken in that time.
Josh Koehn can be reached at [email protected]