I'm sleeping on my couch facing the door."
The authority's embattled executive director, Gregg Fortner, blames it on the White House and congressional cuts to the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the bureaucracy that controls his bank account. The money available for armed and unarmed patrols at public housing in San Francisco has dropped by half in the last six years, according to figures Fortner furnished at our request.
A contingent of San Francisco Police Department officers is hired for $83,000 a month to patrol the "Big Four" public housing projects Sunnydale, Alice Griffith, Hunters View, and Potrero where many of the city's headline-grabbing violent crimes occur. That approach was recently expanded to the Western Addition.
Fortner was already struggling to stay out of the papers without the most recent security headaches. In a series of stories published in 2005, the Guardian exposed dangerous and unhealthy conditions at the city's public housing projects, sparking promises by city officials to fix the problems. And Fortner has also been threatened with jail time by a judge for refusing to pay out millions of dollars the agency owes on verdicts in civil lawsuits.
In addition, last week the Guardian obtained more than 100 forms filled out by public housing residents detailing chronically deplorable living conditions that apparently continue unabated citywide. Compiled by local organizers of the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (known nationally as ACORN), the reports of maintenance failure betray stubborn structural decay that persists despite frequent promises of reform from City Hall.
"Bathroom tub leaks through ceiling," one of them reads, closely echoing many of the other complaints. "Stove is broken. Roaches. Holes in my walls; some as big as a square foot."
"My kitchen window has been broken for eight months (due to burglary) and it keeps my house cold," another reads. Most of the maintenance failures have persisted for months, even years. Other complaints depict half-assed repairs that did little or nothing to fix the problem.
In response, Fortner told us tenants are charged for repairs if the authority determines they're at fault, which leads some to avoid lodging complaints. He maintains that emergency work orders are handled within 24 hours and all others before 30 to 45 days are up.
"We did 63,000 work orders from Oct. 1, 2005, to Sept. 30, 2006," Fortner said. "That's like 10 work orders per unit, per year. I don't know where you live, but do you have a repairman in your unit once a month to fix something? We have an old stock that's falling apart."
But beyond the indignant outcry and public hearings, no one at City Hall except the mayor is in a position to do anything about public housing unless San Francisco decides to take over the authority completely, which some supervisors have discussed informally. The authority answers mostly to the feds.
Fortner warned that when local governments attempt to babysit their housing authorities, they inevitably get into trouble with HUD. In fact, the Berkeley City Council fired itself last week as the charge of its housing authority because of pressure from HUD.
And the burglar who fell to his death at Clementina Towers? SFPD spokesperson Sgt. Neville Gittens told us he was 19 years old and had been working as a caretaker for his victim. The two quarreled over the money, and a neighbor eventually made a noise complaint to the guard downstairs. When the guard arrived, he managed to block the alleged perp from leaving through the front door but couldn't keep him from making a gruesome exit out the back.
Other residents told the committee shady figures scaled the exteriors of the towers all the time and were doing so with more frequency.