Privatization of public housing - Page 3

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

Community-based organizations that are involved include the Mission Economic Development Agency, the Japanese American Religious Federation, Ridgepoint Nonprofit Corporation, Glide Community Housing, Bernal Heights Housing Corporation, and the Chinatown Community Development Center.

On March 13, when the Housing Authority Commission announced who would be on these teams, the meeting was packed with concerned members of the public. Two overflow rooms were set up. One group with a strong turnout was SEIU Local 1021, which represents public housing staff.

Alysabeth Alexander, vice president of politics for SEIU 1021, said that 120 workers represented by the union could be laid off as management transfers to development teams, and 80 other unionized jobs are also on the line.

"They're talking about eliminating 200 middle-class jobs," Alexander said.

She also noted that SEIU 1021 wasn't made aware of the possible layoffs — it only found out because of public records requests. (Another downside of privatization is that certain information may no longer be publicly accessible.)

"We're concerned about these jobs," Alexander said. "But we're also concerned about the residents."

 

RESIDENTS' RIGHTS

HUD protects some residents' rights in its 200-page RAD notice. These include the right to return for residents displaced by renovations and other key protections, but rights not covered in the document — some of which were secured under the current system only after lengthy campaigns — are less clear. In particular, rights relating to house rules or screening criteria for new tenants aren't included.

Negotiations with development teams are just beginning. Lee said tenants' rights not included in the RAD language would be discussed as part of that process.

"It will be a function of what is best practice," Lee said.

But developers have already expressed some ideas about public housing policies they want to tweak when they take over. At one point, the city was considering developers' requests to divide the citywide public housing wait-list into a series of site-specific lists. Lee says that this option is no longer on the table.

But as developers' interests interact with local, state, and federal tenant regulations, things could get messy. James Grow, deputy director of the National Housing Law Project, says that whatever standard is the most protective of residents' rights should apply.

Still, Grow said, "There's going to be inconsistencies and gray areas."

Grow said that inevitably some residents' rights will be decided "on a case-by-case basis, in litigations between the tenant and the landlord...They'll be duking it out in court."

This will be true nationwide, as each RAD rollout will be different. But at least in San Francisco, "Most of the tenant protections in public housing will remain," said Shortt. "We are trying to tie up any holes locally to make sure that there is no weakening of rights."

Grow's and Shortt's organizations are also involved in San Francisco's RAD plan. The National Housing Law Project, along with the Housing Rights Committee and Enterprise Community Partners, have contracts to perform education and outreach to public housing residents and development teams.

 

UNCERTAIN FUTURE

Just how much money will go to RAD is still under negotiation. The RAD funding itself, derived from the voucher program, will surpass the $32 million the city collected last year in HUD operating subsidies. But its big bucks promise is the $180 million in tax credit equity that the privatization model is expected to bring in.

The city will also be contributing money to the program, but how much is unclear.

"The only budget I have right now is the $8 million," Lee said, money that is going to the development teams for "pre-development."

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