Privatization of public housing - Page 2

Many residents feel they're moving from the frying pan of Housing Authority control into the fire of developer and nonprofit management

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Sabrina Carter (foreground) ascends the City Hall staircase with activists who came to implore city officials to help rescind he
GUARDIAN PHOTO BY LUCAS GUILKEY

MOHCD Director Olson Lee has described RAD in a report as "a game-changer for San Francisco's public-housing residents and for [Mayor] Lee's re-envisioning plan for public housing." Later, Lee told us, "We have 10,000 residents in these buildings and they deserve better housing. It's putting nearly $200 million in repairs into these buildings, which the housing authority doesn't have. They have $5 million a year to make repairs."

Funding is sorely needed, and this won't be enough to address problems like the perpetually broken elevators at the 13-story Clementina Towers senior housing high-rises or SFHA's $270 million backlog in deferred maintenance costs.

But RAD is more than a new source of cash. It will "transform public housing properties into financially sustainable real estate assets," as SFHA literature puts it.

RAD changes the type of funding that supports public housing. Nationally, federal dollars for public housing have been drying up since the late '70s. But a different federal subsidy, the housing choice voucher program that includes Section 8 rent subsidies, has been better funded by Congress.

Under RAD, the majority of the city's public housing will be sustained through these voucher funds. In the process, the Housing Authority will also hand over responsibility for managing, maintaining, and effectively owning public housing to teams of developers and nonprofits. Technically, the Housing Authority will still own the public housing. But it will transfer the property through 99-year ground leases to limited partnerships established by the developers.

The RAD plan comes on the heels of an era marked by turmoil and mismanagement at the Housing Authority. The agency's last director, Henry Alvarez, was at the center of a scandal involving alleged racial discrimination. He was fired in April 2013.

In December 2012, HUD declared SFHA "troubled," the lowest possible classification before being placed under federal receivership. A performance audit of the agency, first submitted in April 2013 by the city's Budget and Legislative Analyst, determined that "SFHA is expecting to have no remaining cash to pay its bills sometime between May and July of 2013."

Six of the seven members of the Housing Authority Commission were asked to resign in February 2013, and were replaced with mayoral appointees.

Joyce Armstrong is not a member of this commission, but she sits on the dais with them at meetings, and gives official statements and comments alongside the commissioners. Armstrong is the president of the citywide Public Housing Tenants Association, and she talked about RAD at a March 27 meeting, conveying tenants' apprehension toward the expansion of private managers in public housing.

"Staff in HOPE VI developments are very condescending," Armstrong said. "We're not pleased. We're being demeaned, beat up on, and talked to in a way I don't feel is appropriate."

 

NONPROFITIZATION

When RAD is implemented, it won't just be development companies interacting with public housing residents. San Francisco's approach to RAD is unique in that it will rely heavily on nonprofit involvement. Each "development team" that is taking over at public housing projects includes a nonprofit organization. Contracts haven't been signed yet, but the Housing Authority has announced the teams they're negotiating with.

"We call it the nonprofitization of public housing," said Sara Shortt, executive director of the Housing Rights Committee.

The developers are a list of the usual players in San Francisco's affordable housing market, including the John Stewart Company, Bridge Housing Corporation, and Tenderloin Neighborhood Development Corporation.

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