Public Housing Hearing: “This is not a natural disaster folks, it was manmade”

Residents in San Francisco’s public housing projects and their advocates spoke out today at City Hall, where a hearing was held on a report outlining the mismanagement of the city’s Housing Authority.

The Board of Supervisors’ government audit and oversight committee held the hearing this morning on a report released earlier this month by the city’s budget and legislative analyst about the San Francisco Housing Authority.

The report described “insufficient management of many SFHA functions,” including allowing 276 public housing units in the city to remain vacant despite a waiting list of more than 26,000 families to move into a unit.

There has also been a 40 percent decrease since 2010 in skilled craft positions filled at the agency despite a significant maintenance backlog.

Today’s hearing was requested by Supervisor David Campos, who called the SFHA “an agency that is in crisis.”
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in December declared the SFHA “troubled,” the lowest classification before an agency is placed under federal receivership.

In February, all of the SFHA’s commission resigned except for one commissioner who represents tenants.
Then in April, the newly appointed commission voted unanimously to fire executive director Henry Alvarez, who has been replaced by acting executive director Barbara Smith.

Campos said the agency’s issues “have trickled down to living conditions” and said it was important to hear directly from residents about problems with the public housing and how they could be solved.

Amber Orantes, who has lived in the Sunnydale complex, recounted widespread sanitary issues.

“There was so much mold in the units that you can smell it,” Orantes said.

She said there was also inadequate response to crime in the complex.

“It was so violent, I’ve never experienced anything like that,” she said.

Sweetie Williams, a pastor at the Body of Christ Ministry in the Bayview District, said the city “has given folks a place to live and then we’ve turned our backs on them.”

Williams said, “When people live in broken down homes … then of course that’s how they’re going to feel.”

Karen Huggins, president of the Holly Courts Residents Council, said “nothing is done in a timely manner” and “nothing is going to change without residents being involved in every aspect.”

Campos agreed and said he is fighting to have $1 million set aside in the city’s budget for the next fiscal year to set up a public housing collaborative, similar to the SRO collaboratives that represent residential hotel tenants in the city.

He said the collaborative would be “empowering these individuals so they can advocate for themselves.”

Sara Shortt, executive director of the Housing Rights Committee of San Francisco, said she hoped the city follows through on promises to improve its public housing.

“This is not a natural disaster folks, it was manmade,” Shortt said. “The city must take responsibility for that.”

Smith, the SFHA acting director, told the supervisors that the agency was already beginning to address some of the recommendations made in the report.

“We’re all aware there’s an enormous amount of work that is to be done to right this ship,” she said.

Dan McMenamin, Bay City News

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