Housing Authority

Racing for solutions



Although there are five seats on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors up for reelection this fall, incumbents face few contenders with the requisite cash and political juice needed to mount a serious challenge. The one race that has stirred interest among local politicos is the bid to represent District 10, the rapidly changing southeastern corner of San Francisco that spans the Bayview, Hunters Point, Visitacion Valley, Dogpatch, and Potrero Hill neighborhoods.

Sup. Malia Cohen, who narrowly beat an array of more than a dozen candidates in 2010, has raised way more money than her best-funded opponent, progressive neighborhood activist Tony Kelly, who garnered 2,095 first-place votes in the last D10 race, slightly more than Cohen’s, before the final outcome was determined by ranked-choice voting tallies.

For the upcoming Nov. 4 election, Cohen has received $242,225 in contributions, compared with Kelly’s $42,135, campaign finance records show. But Kelly, who collected the 1,000 signatures needed to qualify for the November ballot and qualified for public financing, has secured key progressive endorsements, including former Mayor Art Agnos, Assemblymember Tom Ammiano, Sups. David Campos and John Avalos, and the Potrero Hill Democratic Club.

Others who’ve filed to run for this office include Marlene Tran, a retired educator who has strong ties to families in the district, especially in Visitacion Valley, through her teaching and language-access programs (she’s known by kids as “Teacher Tran”); Shawn Richard, the founder of a nonprofit organization that offers workshops for youth to prevent gun violence; and Ed Donaldson, who was born and raised in Bayview Hunters Point and works on economic development issues. DeBray Carptenter, an activist who has weighed in on police violence, is running as a write-in candidate.

But the outcome in this dynamic district could be determined by more than campaign cash or political endorsements. That’s because the D10 supervisor faces the unique, unenviable challenge of taking on some of the city’s most intractable problems, which have disproportionately plagued this rapidly changing district.

Longstanding challenges, such as a high unemployment and crime rates, public health concerns, social displacement, and poor air quality, have plagued D10 for years. But now, fast-growing D10 is becoming a microcosm for how San Francisco resolves its growing pains and balances the interests of capital and community.



While candidate forums and questionnaires tend to gauge political hopefuls on where they draw the line on citywide policy debates, such as Google bus stops or fees for Sunday parking meters, neighborhood issues facing D10 have particularly high stakes for area residents.

While other supervisors represent neighborhoods where multiple transit lines crisscross through in a rainbow of route markers on Muni maps, D10 is notoriously underserved by public transit. The high concentration of industrial land uses created major public health concerns. A Department of Public Health study from 2006 determined that Bayview Hunters Point residents were making more hospital visits on average than people residing in other San Francisco neighborhoods, especially for asthma and congestive heart failure.

Unemployment in D-10 hovers near 12 percent, triple the citywide average of 4 percent. Cohen told us efforts are being made on this front, noting that $3 million had been invested in the Third Street corridor to assist merchants with loans and façade improvements, and that programs were underway to connect residents with health care and hospitality jobs, as well as service industry jobs.

“The mantra is that the needle hasn’t moved at all,” Cohen noted, but she said things are getting better. “We are moving in the same downward trend with regard to unemployment.”

Nevertheless, the high unemployment is also linked with health problems, food insecurity — and violence. In recent months, D10 has come into the spotlight due to tragic incidents of gun violence. From the start of this year to Sept. 8, there were 13 homicides in D10.

Fourth of July weekend was particularly deadly in the Bayview and D10 public housing complexes, with four fatal shootings. Cohen responded with a press conference to announce her plan to convene a task force addressing the problem, telling us it will be “focused on preventing gun violence rather than reacting to it.”

The idea, she said, is to bring in expert stakeholders who hadn’t met about this topic before, including mental-health experts and those working with at-risk youth.

“I think we need to go deeper” than in previous efforts, Cohen said, dismissing past attempts as superficial fixes.

But Cohen’s task force plan quickly drew criticism from political opponents and other critics, including Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi, who dismissed it as empty rhetoric.

“How many people are cool with yet another task force?” Kelly said in a press statement challenging the move. “We can’t wait any longer to stem the deadly tide of violence in District 10. Supervisor Cohen’s task force won’t even propose solutions till 2017. We can’t wait that long.”

Kelly told us he’s formulated a five-point plan to tackle gun violence, explaining that it involved calling for a $10 million budget supplemental to bolster family services, reentry programs, job placement, and summer activities aimed at addressing poverty and service gaps. Kelly also said he’d push for a greater emphasis on community policing, with officers walking a beat instead of remaining inside a vehicle.

“How do you know $10 million is enough?” Cohen responded. “When you hear critics say $10 million, there is no way to indicate whether we’d need more or less.” She also took issue with the contention that her task force wouldn’t reach a solution soon enough, saying, “I never put a timeline on the task force.”

Cohen also said she wanted to get a better sense of where all of the past funding had gone that was supposed to have alleviated gun violence. “We’ve spent a lot of money — millions — and one of the things I am interested in doing is to do an audit about the finances,” she said.

She also wants to explore a partnership with the Guardian Angels, community volunteers who conduct safety patrols, to supplement policing. Cohen was dismissive of her critics. “Tony was not talking about black issues before this,” she said. “He hasn’t done one [gun] buyback. There’s no depth to what any of these critics are saying.”

Tran, who spoke with the Guardian at length, said she’d started trying to address rampant crime in Visitacion Valley 25 years ago and said more needs to be done to respond to recent shootings.

“There was no real method for the sizable non-English speaking victims to make reports then,” Tran wrote in a blog post, going on to say that she’d ensured materials were translated to Chinese languages to facilitate communication with the Police Department. “When more and more residents became ‘eyes and ears’ of law enforcement, community safety improved,” she said.

Richard, whose Brothers Against Guns has been working with youth for 20 years and organizing events such as midnight basketball games, said he opposed Cohen’s task force because it won’t arrive at a solution quickly enough. He said he thought a plan should be crafted along with youth advocates, law enforcement, juvenile and adult probation officers, and clergy members to come up with a solution that would bolster youth employment opportunities.

“I’ve talked with all 13 families” that lost young people to shootings this year, Richard said, and that he attended each of the funerals.



Standing outside the Potrero Terrace public housing complex at 25th and Connecticut streets on a recent sunny afternoon, Kelly was flanked by affordable housing advocates clutching red-and-yellow “Tony Kelly for District Supervisor” campaign signs. The press conference had been called to unveil his campaign plan to bolster affordable housing in D10.

Pointing out that Cohen had voted “no endorsement” at the Democratic County Central Committee on Proposition G — the measure that would tax property-flipping to discourage real estate speculation and evictions — Kelly said, “This is not a time to be silent.”

While Cohen had accepted checks from landlords who appeared on the Anti-Eviction Mapping Project’s list of worst offenders for carrying out Ellis Act evictions, Kelly said he’s pledged not to accept any funding from developers or Ellis Act evictors. Asked if any had offered, Kelly responded, “Some. They’re not knocking down my door.”

Cohen told us that she hadn’t supported Prop. G, a top priority for affordable housing advocates, because she objected to certain technical provisions that could harm small property owners in her district. As for the contributions from Ellis Act evictors, she said the checks had been returned once the error was discovered. Her formal policy, she said, is not to intentionally take money from anyone involved in an Ellis Act eviction.

Speaking outside Potrero Terrace, Kelly said he thought all housing projects built on public land should make at least one-third of their units affordable to most San Franciscans. He also said renovation of public housing projects could be accelerated if the city loaned out money from its $19 billion employee retirement fund. Under the current system, funding for those improvements is leveraged by private capital.

Mold, pests, and even leaking sewage are well-documented problems in public housing. Dorothy Minkins, a public housing resident who joined Kelly and the others, told us that she’s been waiting for years for rotting sheetrock to be replaced by the Housing Authority, adding that water damage from her second-floor bathroom has left a hole in the ceiling of her living room. She related a joke she’d heard from a neighbor awaiting similar repairs: “He said, Christ will come before they come to fix my place.”

Lack of affordable housing is a sweeping trend throughout San Francisco, but it presents a unique challenge in D10, where incomes are lower on average (the notable exceptions are in Potrero Hill, dotted with fine residential properties overlooking the city that would easily fetch millions, and Dogpatch, where sleek new condominium dwellings often house commuters working at tech and biotech firms in the South Bay).

Home sale prices in the Bayview shot up 59 percent in two years, prompting the San Francisco Business Times to deem it “a hot real estate market adorned with bidding wars and offers way above asking prices.”

One single-family home even sold for $1.3 million. Historically, the Bayview has been an economically depressed, working-class area with a high rate of home ownership due to the affordability of housing — but that’s been impacted by foreclosures in recent years, fueling displacement.

Although statistics from the Eviction Defense Collaborative show that evictions did occur in the Bayview in 2013, particularly impacting African Americans and single-parent households, Cohen noted that evictions aren’t happening in D10 with the same frequency as in the Tenderloin or the Mission.

“When it comes to communities of color in the southeast, it’s about foreclosure or mismanagement of funds,” explained Cohen.

She said that a financial counseling services center had opened on Evans Street to assist people who are facing foreclosure, and added that she thought more should be done to market newly constructed affordable units to communities in need.

“There’s an error in how they’re marketing,” she said, because the opportunities are too often missed.

But critics say more is needed to prevent the neighborhood from undergoing a major transformation without input from residents.

“This district is being transformed,” Richard said. “A lot of folks are moving out — they’re moving to Vallejo, Antioch, Pittsburg. They don’t want to deal with the issues, and the violence, and the cost.”

At the same time, he noted, developers are flocking to the area, which has a great deal more undeveloped land than in other parts of the city.

“The community has no one they can turn to who will hold these developers accountable,” he said. “If the community doesn’t have a stake in it, then who’s winning?”


SFBG Wrap, April 16-23



The California Occupational Safety and Health Administration has fined Bay Area Rapid Transit for three “willful/serious” safety violations in connection with the death of two transit workers last October, saying BART is at fault due to a lack of safety measures.

“Safety standards are designed to save lives,” acting Cal/OSHA chief Juliann Sum said in a statement, “and they were not followed.”

The transit workers were killed in the final days of the BART strike. The accident claimed the lives of Christopher Sheppard, a BART manager and member of the AFSCME union, and Larry Daniels, a contractor, who had been inspecting a “dip in the rail” before they were hit by an oncoming train.

The workers were required to go through what’s called a Simple Approval process to get permission to work on the track, but the OSHA citation seized on that process as a dangerous underlying factor in the fatal accident.

“Employer’s control method, namely the ‘Simple Approval’ procedure, does not safeguard personnel working on tracks during railcar movement,” the citation reads. “The employer allowed workers to conduct work on the railway tracks where trains were traveling. The employees had no warning that a train moving at more than 65 miles-per-hour was … approaching the location where they were working.”

BART General Manager Grace Crunican quickly issued a statement. “Passenger and employee safety is our top priority at BART,” Crunican said. “BART has fundamentally upgraded its safety procedures with the implementation of an enhanced wayside safety program and a proposed budget investment of over $5 million.” She added that Cal/OSHA considered the safety violations to be “abated” in light of these changes, “meaning that none … pose continuing safety hazards.”

Simple Approval has since been terminated, BART spokesperson Alicia Trost told the Guardian. “BART permanently eliminated Simple Approval immediately following the tragic deaths,” she said. “We are also implementing the extra layers of protection for track workers.”

Notably, the two workers were killed during BART management’s attempt to train managers to operate trains during the strike, according to the National Transportation Safety Board, which continues to investigate the incident. (Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez)


Sup. London Breed has proposed setting aside city funding to renovate vacant and dilapidated public housing units, in an effort to quickly make housing available for homeless families in the face of a dire shortage.

At the April 15 Board of Supervisor’s meeting, Breed cited an anticipated budget surplus and called for the Controller and City Attorney to begin drafting a supplemental budgetary appropriation of $2.6 million, for renovating 172 San Francisco Housing Authority units sitting vacant.

“There are over 40 public housing developments in San Francisco, and given the decades of mismanagement and financial neglect that public housing has endured, many units are currently not available for San Franciscans to live in,” Breed said. “As we grapple with an unprecedented affordability crisis and an acute shortage of housing, particularly affordable housing, these fallow public housing units represent one of our best and cheapest opportunities to make housing available now.” Breed, who represents District 5, previously lived in San Francisco public housing.

The Housing Authority receives its funding through the federal government, but spokesperson Rose Marie Dennis said those federal dollars don’t stretch far enough for the agency to perform routine restoration of vacant units. “We have to work with the resources that we have,” she said.

According to an analysis by Budget & Legislative Analyst Harvey Rose, the city has lost $6.3 million in rent that could have been collected had its empty public housing units been occupied.

The day after Breed floated her proposal for a budgetary supplemental, tragedy struck at Sunnydale, the Housing Authority’s largest housing development, when a deadly fire claimed the lives of a 32-year-old resident and her 3-year-old son. The cause of the fire is under investigation, but a San Francisco Chronicle report noted that the Housing Authority had planned to rebuild Sunnydale for years due to its poor condition.

The following day, April 17, Mayor Ed Lee announced that emergency funding of $5.4 million had been identified through the Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development, to address serious deferred maintenance needs — such as busted elevators in apartment complexes where disabled seniors rely on wheelchairs and canes to get around. (Rebecca Bowe)


When the San Francisco Board of Supervisors gave final approval April 15 for legislation to substantially increase landlord payments to tenants in the case of Ellis Act evictions, it reflected a key change designed to counter a recent eviction push by landlords.

Winning approval on a 9-2 vote, with Sups. Mark Farrell and Katy Tang opposed, the legislation increases the current required relocation payments of $5,265 per person or $15,795 per unit (plus an additional $3,510 for those with disabilities or over age 62) up to the equivalent of two years’ rent for a comparable unit. That translates to tens of thousands of dollars.

For example, the Controller’s Office calculates that a family evicted from a two-bedroom apartment in the Mission District rented at $909 per month would be entitled to $44,833 in relocation payment.

The legislation was originally scheduled to go into effect 120 days after passage, in order to give city officials enough time to implement it. But when sponsoring Sup. David Campos heard landlords were rushing to evict tenants prior to the fee increase, he checked in with the City Attorney’s Office and other departments to see whether they could be ready sooner. After getting the green light, Campos amended the measure to go into effect 30 days after it’s enacted into law.

The question now is whether Mayor Ed Lee, who has not taken a position on the legislation, will act quickly to sign it. He was initially given 10 days to decide. Since a veto-proof majority approved the legislation, the mayor’s decision is to either grant approval or stall the inevitable, triggering more evictions at lower levels of relocation assistance. (Steven T. Jones)


Police radio dispatch records from March 21, the night 28-year-old Alejandro Nieto was gunned down in Bernal Heights Park by San Francisco Police Department officers, had been impossible to obtain despite requests from journalists, attorneys, and community members who had ties to Nieto.

Then, incredibly — thanks to a combination of tenacious reporting and the website Broadcastify.com — the radio dispatch audio popped up in a news report on KQED’s website.

Originally captured in real-time by a website works like an automatic police scanner and preserves all files, the recordings offer a rare, behind-the-scenes glimpse of what occurred in the moments leading up to the highly controversial officer-involved shooting.

The SFPD’s account of the incident is that officers opened fire in defense of their own lives because Nieto pointed a Taser at them, causing them to believe he was tracking them with a firearm.

But the audio files that have now surfaced reflect no mention of a suspect brandishing a weapon.

The first mention of a “221” — police code for person with a gun — is to relate a 911 caller’s description of a Latino male suspect, who has “got a gun on his hip, and is pacing back and forth on the north side of the park near a chain-linked fence.” Just before the shooting, a voice can be heard saying over the radio, “There’s a guy in a red shirt, way up the hill, walking toward you guys.” Several seconds later, another voice calmly states, “I got a guy right here.”

Twenty-six seconds after that, a person can be heard shouting, “Shots fired! Shots fired!”

“What’s very telling is that none of the people are saying, the guy had a gun, he pointed it at us,” said attorney Adante Pointer of the law office of John Burris, which is preparing to file a complaint on behalf of Nieto’s family against the SFPD. “It begs the question, did [Nieto] do what they said he did?”

“If this was a righteous shooting,” Pointer added, “then [SFPD] … shouldn’t have any fear of public scrutiny.”

Friends and supporters of Nieto have led marches to protest the shooting and set up a website for ongoing events, justice4alexnieto.org. (Rebecca Bowe)


Plan would renovate vacant public housing units for homeless people

Sup. London Breed has proposed setting aside city funding to renovate vacant and dilapidated San Francisco Public Housing units, in an effort to quickly make housing available for homeless families in the face of a dire shortage.

At the San Francisco Board of Supervisor’s meeting on April 15, Breed called for the city controller and city attorney to begin drafting a supplemental appropriation of $2.6 million, to be put toward renovating 172 public housing units that are currently sitting vacant and in disrepair. 

Tragedy struck at Sunnydale, the Housing Authority’s largest housing development, today [Wed/16] when a 32-year-old woman and her 3-year-old son were killed in a blaze that started early this morning. The cause of the fire is under investigation, but a report in SFGate noted that the Housing Authority has planned on rebuilding Sunnydale for years due to its poor condition.

“There are over 40 public housing developments in San Francisco, and given the decades of mismanagement and financial neglect that public housing has endured, many units are currently not available for San Franciscans to live in,” Breed said. “As we grapple with an unprecedented affordability crisis and an acute shortage of housing, particularly affordable housing, these fallow public housing units represent one of our best and cheapest opportunities to make housing available now.”

Breed, who represents District 5, previously lived in San Francisco public housing. “Living in public housing for over half of my life has given me a perspective unlike, I think, anybody else that I know, to understand exactly what we need to do as a city to make a difference in the lives of those constituents,” she said.

She mentioned that between 25 and 50 homeless families stay in a church every night that has been converted to a shelter in her district – but there are no showers there, “only a few toilets and sinks that those families can use.” 

As the Guardian has previously reported, homeless people enrolled in public services frequently discover that very little permanent housing is available – even though the Department of Public Health, the Human Services Agency, and the San Francisco Housing Authority all oversee programs that were created to assist individuals who are in need of housing.

As things stand, about 175 homeless families remain on a wait-list for housing, homeless czar Bevan Dufty told the Bay Guardian in a recent interview. And more than 300 other homeless individuals have applied for housing assistance through the Department of Public Health’s Direct Access to Housing program, which provides subsidized housing in SROs and apartments.

The San Francisco Housing Authority receives its funding not through the city, but through U.S. Housing and Urban Development, a federal agency. However, Housing Authority spokesperson Rose Marie Dennis said federal funding doesn’t stretch far enough for the agency to perform routine restoration of vacant units that have fallen into disrepair. “We have to work with the resources that we have,” she said.

According to an analysis by Budget & Legislative Analyst Harvey Rose, the city has lost $6.3 million in rent that could have been collected had empty Housing Authority units been occupied.

“From our perspective, we share the supervisor’s commitment to prioritizing the housing of the homeless,” Dennis said, adding that the Housing Authority would be “very grateful” for any support the city would lend toward renovation.

Gene Gibson, a HUD spokesperson, said that it was too early to comment specifically on Breed’s proposal since it was still in the early stages of being drafted. But in general, “If a community comes up with an innovative approach … I don’t think HUD would have any problem with it.”

Privatization of public housing



Like so many San Franciscans, Sabrina Carter is getting evicted.

The mother of three says that if she loses her home in the Western Addition, she’ll have nowhere to go. It’s been a tough, four-year battle against her landlord — a St. Louis-based development company called McCormack Baron — and its law firm, Bornstein & Bornstein. That’s the same law firm that gained notoriety for holding an “eviction boot camp” last November to teach landlords how to do Ellis Act evictions and sweep tenants out of rent-controlled housing.

But Carter’s story isn’t your typical Ellis eviction. Plaza East, where she lives, is a public housing project. Public housing residents throughout the country are subject to the “one-strike and you’re out” rule. If residents get one strike — any misdemeanor or felony arrest — they get an eviction notice. In Carter’s case, her 16-year-old was arrested. He was cleared of all charges — but Carter says McCormack Baron still wouldn’t accept her rent payment and wouldn’t respond to her questions.

“I was never informed of my status,” she said.

That is, until her son was arrested again, and Carter found herself going up against Bornstein & Bornstein. She agreed to sign a document stipulating that her eviction would be called off unless her son entered Plaza East property (he did). It was that or homelessness, said Carter, who also has two younger sons.

“They criminalized my son so they could evict my family,” Carter said.

McCormack Baron and Bornstein & Bornstein both declined to comment.

On March 12, Carter and a band of supporters were singing as they ascended City Hall’s grand staircase to Mayor Ed Lee’s office.

“We’re asking the mayor to call this eviction off. Another black family cannot be forced out of this city,” Lisa “Tiny” Gray-Garcia, co-founder of Poor Magazine, said at the protest.

Nearly half of San Francisco’s public housing residents are African American, according to a 2009 census from the city’s African American Out-Migration Task Force. These public housing residents represent a significant portion of San Francisco’s remaining African American population, roughly 65 percent.

Carter’s eviction was postponed, but it raises an important question: Why is a public housing resident facing off with private real estate developers and lawyers in the first place?



Plaza East is one of five San Francisco public housing properties that was privatized under HOPE VI, a federal program that administers grants to demolish and rebuild physically distressed public housing.

The modernized buildings often have fewer public housing units than the ones they replaced, with private developers becoming their managers. San Francisco’s take on HOPE VI, called HOPE SF, is demolishing, rebuilding, and privatizing eight public housing sites with a similar process.

US Department Housing and Urban Development is rolling out a new program to privatize public housing. The San Francisco Housing Authority is one of 340 housing projects in the nation to be chosen for the competitive program. The city is now starting to implement the Rental Assistance Demonstration program. When it’s done, 75 percent of the city’s public housing properties will be privatized.

Under RAD, developers will team up with nonprofits and architectural firms to take over managing public housing from the Housing Authority. RAD is a federal program meant to address a nationwide crisis in public housing funding. Locally, the effort to implement the program has been spurred by the Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development.

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.”



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.

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.”



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.



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.”

Lee added that funding requests would also be considered; those requests could total $30-50 million per year from the city’s housing trust fund, according to Shortt.

To access that $180 million in low-income housing tax credits, development teams will need to create limited partnerships and work with private investors. The city wants to set up an “investor pool,” a central source which would loan to every development team.

It’s a complicated patchwork of money involving many private interests, some of whom don’t have the best reputations.

Jackson Consultancy was named as a potential partner in the application for the development team that will take over management at Westbrook Apartments and Hunters Point East-West. That firm is headed by Keith Jackson, the consultant arrested in a FBI string in late March on charges of murder-for-hire in connection with the scandal that ensnared Sen. Leland Yee and Chinatown crime figure Raymond “Shrimp Boy” Chow.

Presumably, Jackson is no longer in the running, although the entire transformation is rife with uncertainties.

Residents often feel blindsided when management or rules change at public housing properties. And RAD will be one of the biggest changes in San Francisco’s public housing in at least a decade.

“People are concerned about their homes. When they take over the Housing Authority property, what’s going to happen? They keep telling us that it’s going to stay the same, nothing is going to change,” said Martha Hollins, president of the Plaza East Tenants Association.

Hollins has been part of Carter’s support network in her eviction case.

“They’re always talking about self-sufficient, be self-sufficient,” Hollins said. “How can we be self-sufficient when our children are growing up and being criminalized?”

Public housing has many complex problems that need radical solutions. But some say RAD isn’t the right one. After seeing developers gain from public housing while generational poverty persists within them, Gray-Garcia says that her organization is working with public housing residents to look into ways to give people power over their homes. They are considering suing for equity for public housing residents.

“‘These people can’t manage their own stuff and we need to do it for them.’ It’s that lie, that narrative, that is the excuse to eradicate communities of color,” Gray-Garcia said. “We want to change the conversation.”

Port of Oakland rejects deceptive contract bid by Black Muslim security firm


Editor’s Note: This report, which appears in today’s Oakland Tribune, is part of the continuing efforts of the Chauncey Bailey Project, a joint investigation by various media outlets (including the Bay Guardian) into the 2007 murder of Oakland journalist Chauncey Bailey by members of Your Black Muslim Bakery.

By Thomas Peele and Matt O’Brien, Bay Area News Group

OAKLAND — Admitting they nearly entered into a deal with a questionable security company now under investigation, Port of Oakland commissioners on yesterday [Thu/27] Thursday vowed to revamp their contracting process.

“We came very close to approving a bad contract,” Commissioner Michael Colbruno said. “The whole procurement process” should be reviewed.

The commissioners voted 6-0 to back out of a contract with BMT International Security Services, which had submitted bogus references and credentials to win a $450,000 deal to patrol two shoreline parks.

The port has extended its existing contract with ABC Security to guard a 42-acre shoreline through the end of the year. Colbruno added that the port needs to have a better screening process.

Commission President Cestra Butner agreed.

“This commission will take our lumps if we did anything wrong,” he said. “We want to make sure we get things right. … I don’t want anything slipped under the rug.”

BMT, which is linked to Oakland’s defunct Your Black Muslim Bakery, had been in final negotiations with the port when this newspaper reported that its proposal contained references to work at other government agencies that had no record of ever doing business with it. The firm also appears to have inflated the credentials of its managers.

The company is now being investigated by the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office and the state Department of Consumer Affairs. A former Oakland police officer also said in court papers that he believes the company stole a security company license number from him that he let lapse in 2008 when he retired.

BMT told the port that it had worked for BART, the San Joaquin County Housing Authority and the Riverside Transit Agency, but those agencies had no record of hiring the company. The firm also lost contracts with Alameda County and the Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles when staff at those agencies discovered the Oakland company submitted apparently false insurance certification.

At least one Bay Area government noticed before awarding a contract that something appeared wrong with BMT’s credentials.

In 2011, the Vallejo City Council rejected a BMT proposal after city staff reported that the listed references were not calling back and one claimed to not know the company. BMT unsuccessfully appealed and some of its employees spoke out at a public meeting.

BMT sought another Vallejo contract in 2012 but again failed to win it. BMT owner Rory Parker sued the North Bay city in December, claiming she and her company experienced disparate treatment “because of their race, which is Black, and because of their religion, which is of the Islamic faith.”

The firm is run out of a Black Muslim temple in West Oakland whose minister, Dahood Sharieff Bey, was an associate of Your Black Muslim Bakery and a disciple of its founder, Yusuf Bey. Yusuf Bey touted his business enterprise as empowering African Americans, but prosecutors have described it as a wide-ranging criminal organization involved in violent crimes, real estate fraud and identity theft.

The bakery collapsed in 2007 when its members, led by Yusuf Bey IV, killed three men, including Oakland journalist Chauncey Bailey. Bey IV is now serving a life prison term without parole. Prosecutors and police have linked five unsolved homicides to the bakery.

Dahood Bey, the minister who identified himself at a recent Oakland council meeting as “Mr. Pasha,” was tried for torture in 2010 but pleaded guilty to lesser charges when the jury could not reach a verdict. His co-defendant in that case, Basheer Fard Muhammad, has been the public face of BMT at port and other government meetings, urging officials to give it contracts.

BMT owner Rory Parker is Dahood Bey’s mother. The company also claimed in its port proposal to have a retired, Harvard-educated FBI agent serving as its chief financial officer and that its guards include former Secret Service agents.

Law enforcement records show San Francisco police officers arrested Muhammad in Oakland on Feb. 25 on suspicion of receiving stolen property, which was described as a “refrigerated sandwich table.” He was jailed for two days and released after the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office declined to prosecute him. San Francisco police spokesman Sgt. Eric O’Neal has refused to release details about the case despite repeated requests.

BMT is also seeking a contract to work for the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, but transit officials there would not disclose any information about the bid until they finish evaluating all the proposals in May.

– See more at: http://www.chaunceybaileyproject.org/2014/03/28/port-of-oakland-unanimously-rejects-black-muslim-security-firms-bid-to-guard-shoreline-parks/#sthash.u7PagzEY.dpuf




San Francisco’s untouchables



In one sense, San Francisco’s homeless residents have never been more visible than they are in this moment in the city’s history, marked by rapid construction, accelerated gentrification, and rising income inequality. But being seen doesn’t mean they’re getting the help they need.

Not long ago, Lydia Bransten, who heads security at the St. Anthony’s Foundation on 150 Golden Gate, happened upon a group of teenagers clustered on the street near the entrance of her soup kitchen. They had video cameras, and were filming a homeless man lying on the sidewalk.

“They were putting themselves in the shot,” she said.

Giggling, the kids had decided to cast this unconscious man as a prop in a film, starring them. She told them it was time to leave. Bransten read it as yet another example of widespread dehumanization of the homeless.

“I feel like we’re creating a society of untouchables,” she said. “People are lying on the street, and nobody cares whether they’re dead or breathing.”

Condominium dwellers and other District 6 residents of SoMa and the Tenderloin are constantly bombarding Sup. Jane Kim about homelessness via email — not to express concern about the health or condition of street dwellers, but to vent their deep disgust.

“This encampment has been here almost every night for several weeks running. Each night the structure is more elaborate. Why is it allowed to remain up?” one resident wrote in an email addressed to Kim. “Another man can be found mid block, sprawled across the sidewalk … He should be removed ASAP.”

In a different email, a resident wrote: “The police non-emergency number is on my quick dial because we have to call so often to have homeless camps removed.”

It’s within this fractious context that the city is embarking on the most comprehensive policy discussions to take place on homelessness in a decade.

In 2004, city officials and community advocates released a 10-Year Plan to Abolish Chronic Homelessness. One only needs to walk down the street to understand that this lofty objective ultimately failed; people suffering from mental illness, addiction, and poverty continue to live on the streets.

Most everyone agrees that something should be done. But while some want to see homelessness tackled because they wish undesirable people would vanish from view, others perceive a tragic byproduct of economic inequality and a dismantled social safety net, and believe the main goal should be helping homeless people recover.

“The people living in poverty are a byproduct of the system,” said Karl Robillard, a spokesperson for St. Anthony’s. “We will always have to help the less fortunate. That’s not going to go away. But we’re now blaming those very same people for being in that situation.”


Sabrina: “The streets can be mean.”

Guardian photo by Rebecca Bowe



A common framing of San Francisco’s “homeless problem” might be called the magnet theory.

The city has allocated $165 million to homeless services. Over time, it has succeeded in offering 6,355 permanent supportive housing units to the formerly homeless. Nevertheless, the number of homeless people accounted for on the streets has remained stubbornly flat. The city estimates there are about 7,350 homeless people now living in San Francisco.

Since the city has invested so much with such disappointing results, the story goes, there can only be one explanation: Offering robust services has drawn homeless people from elsewhere, like a magnet. By demonstrating kindness, the city has unwittingly converted itself into a Mecca for the homeless, spoiling an otherwise lovely place for all the hardworking, law-abiding citizens who contribute and pay taxes.

That theory was thoroughly debunked in a Board of Supervisors committee hearing on Feb. 5.

“The idea of services as a magnet, … we haven’t seen any empirical data to support that,” noted Peter Connery of Applied Survey Research, a consultant that conducted the city’s most recent homeless count. “The numbers in San Francisco are very consistent with the other communities.”

He went on to address the question on everyone’s mind: Why haven’t the numbers decreased? “Even in this environment where there have obviously been a tremendous number of successes in various departments and programs,” Connery said, “this has been a very tough economic period. Just to stay flat represents a huge success in this environment.”

As former President Bill Clinton’s campaign team used to say: It’s the economy, stupid.



For Sabrina, it started with mental health problems and drug addiction. She grew up in Oakland, the daughter of a single mom who worked as a housecleaner.

“Drugs led me the wrong way, and eventually caught up with me,” she explained at the soup kitchen while cradling Lily, her Chihuahua-terrier mix.

“I had nothing, at first. You have to learn to pick things up. Eventually, I got some blankets,” she said. But she was vulnerable. “It can get kind of mean. The streets can be mean — especially to the ladies.”

She found her way to A Woman’s Place, a shelter. Then she completed a five-month drug rehab program and now she has housing at a single room occupancy hotel on Sixth Street.

“You don’t realize how important those places are,” she said, crediting entry into the shelter and the drug-rehab program with her recovery.

Since the 10-year plan went into effect, Coalition on Homelessness Director Jennifer Friedenbach told us, emergency services for homeless people have been dramatically scaled back. Since 2004, “We lost about a third of our shelter beds,” she explained. About half of the city’s drop-in center capacity was also slashed.

“Between 2007 to 2011, we had about $40 million in direct cuts to behavioral health,” she said at the Feb. 5 hearing, seizing on the lack of mental health care, one of the key challenges to reducing homelessness.

“The result of all three of these things, I can’t really put into words. It’s been very dramatically negative. The increase in acuity, impact on health,” she said, “those cannot be overstated.”

The need for shelters is pressing. The city has provided funding for a new shelter for LGBT homeless people and a second one in the Bayview, but it hasn’t kept up with demand. And for those who lack shelter, life is about navigating one dilemma after another, trying to prevent little problems from snowballing into something heinous.

Consider recent skirmishes that have arisen around the criminalization of homelessness. Department of Public Works street cleaning crews have sprayed homeless people trying to rest on Market Street. Sitting or lying on the sidewalk can result in a ticket. There are few public restrooms, but urinating on the street can result in a ticket. There are no showers, but anyone caught washing up in the library bathroom could be banned from the premises. Sleeping in a park overnight is illegal.

“The bad things that happen are when people don’t see homeless people as people,” said Bevan Dufty, the mayor’s point person on homelessness. “That’s the core of it — to be moved away, to be pushed away, citing people, arresting people.”

Friedenbach said the tickets and criminalization can ultimately amount to a barrier to ending homelessness: “You’re homeless, so you get a ticket, so they won’t give you housing, because you wouldn’t pay the ticket. And so, you’re stuck on the streets.”



A man slumped over his lunch tray and fell to the floor. Within minutes, a medical crew had arrived on the scene, set up a powder-blue privacy screen, and cleared away a table and chairs to administer emergency care.

Throughout the dining hall, most continued lifting forkfuls of mashed potatoes, broccoli, and shredded meat to their mouths, unfazed. Volunteers clad in aprons continued to set down heaping lunch trays in front of diners who held up laminated food tickets. At St. Anthony’s, where between 2,500 and 3,000 hot meals are served daily to needy San Franciscans, this sort of thing happens all the time.

“A lot of our guests are subject to seizures, for one reason or another,” Robillard told me by way of explanation. Behind him, a pair of medics hovered over the man’s outstretched body, his face invisible behind the screen. “In almost all cases, they’re fine.”

Seizures are just one common ailment plaguing the St. Anthony’s clientele, a mix of homeless people, folks living on the economic margins, and tenants housed in nearby single room occupancy hotels.

Jack, an elderly gentleman with a gray beard and stubs on one hand where fingers used to be, told me he’d spent years in prison, battled a heroin addiction, and sustained his hand injury while serving in the military. He previously held jobs as a rigger and a train operator, and said he became homeless after his mother passed away.

St. Anthony’s staff members mentioned that Jack had recently awoken to being beaten in the head by a random attacker after he’d fallen asleep on the sidewalk near a transit station.

A petite woman with a warm demeanor, who introduced herself as Kookie, said she’d been homeless last August when she faced her own medical emergency. “I was in the street,” she said. “I didn’t know I was having a stroke.”

She’d been spending nights on the sidewalk on Turk Street, curled up in a sleeping bag. When she had the stroke, someone called an ambulance. Her emergency had brought her unwittingly into the system. At first, “They couldn’t find out who I was.”

She said she’d stayed in the hospital for six months. Once she’d regained some strength, care providers connected her with homeless services. Now Kookie stays at a shelter on a night-by-night basis, crossing her fingers she’ll get a 90-day bed. She’s on a wait-list to be placed in supportive housing.

Kookie unzipped a tiny pouch and withdrew her late husband’s driver’s license as she talked about him. Originally from Buffalo, NY, she lived in Richmond while in her early 20s and took the train to San Francisco, where she worked as a bartender. She’s now 60.

“When I was not homeless, I used to see people on the ground, and I never knew I would live like that,” she said. “Now I know how it is.”


Kookie: “I used to see people on the ground, and I never know I would live like that.”

Guardian photo by Rebecca Bowe


Way back in 2003, DPH issued an in-depth report, firing off a list of policy recommendations to end homelessness in San Francisco once and for all. The product of extensive research, the agency identified the most important policy fix: “Expand housing options.”

“Ultimately, people will continue to be threatened with instability until the supply of affordable housing is adequate, incomes of the poor are sufficient to pay for basic necessities, and disadvantaged people can receive the services they need,” DPH wrote. “Attempts to change the homeless assistance system must take place within the context of larger efforts to help the very poor.”

Fast forward more than a decade, and many who work within the city’s homeless services system echo this refrain. The pervasive lack of access to permanent, affordable housing is the city’s toughest nut to crack, but it doesn’t need to be this way.

At the committee hearing, Friedenbach, who has been working as a homeless advocate for 19 years, spelled out the myriad funding losses that have eviscerated affordable housing programs over time.

“We’ve had really huge losses over the last 10 years in housing,” she said. “We’ve lost construction for senior and disability housing. Section 8 [federal housing vouchers] has been seriously cut away at. We’ve lost federal funding for public housing. There were funding losses in redevelopment.”

A comprehensive analysis by Budget and Legislative Analyst Harvey Rose found the city — with some outside funding help — has spent $81.5 million on permanent supportive housing for the formerly homeless.

That money has placed thousands of people in housing. Nevertheless, a massive unmet need persists.



Following the hard-hitting economic downturn of 2008 and 2009, San Francisco saw a spike in families becoming homeless for the first time. Although a new Bayview development is expected to bring 70 homeless families indoors, Dufty said 175 homeless families remain on a wait-list for housing.

Yet the wait-list for Housing Authority units has long since been closed. And many public housing units continue to sit vacant, boarded up. Sup. London Breed said at a March 19 committee hearing that fixing those units and opening them to homeless residents should be a priority.

DPH’s Direct Access to Housing program, which provides subsidized housing in SROs and apartments, was also too overwhelmed to accept new enrollees until just recently. Since the applicant pool opened up again in January, 342 homeless people have already signed up in search of units, according to DPH. But only about a third of them will be placed, the results of our public records request showed.

Meanwhile, the city lacks a pathway for moving those initially placed in SROs into more permanent digs, which would free up space for new waves of homeless people brought in off the street.

City officials have conceptualized the need for a “housing ladder” — but if one applies that analogy to San Francisco’s current housing market, it’s a ladder with rungs missing from the very bottom all the way to the very top.

In the last fiscal year, HSA allocated $25 million toward subsidized housing for people enrolled in the SRO master-lease program. “It’s often talked about as supportive housing,” Friedenbach notes. “But supportive housing under a federal definition is affordable, permanent, and supportive.”

In SROs, which are notoriously rundown — sometimes with busted elevators in buildings where residents use canes and wheelchairs to get around — people can fork over 80 percent of their fixed incomes on rent.

“An individual entering our housing system should have an opportunity to move into other different types of housing,” Dufty told the supervisors. “It’s really important that people not feel that they’re stuck.”

Amanda Fried, who works in Dufty’s office, echoed this idea. “Our focus has to be on this ladder,” she told us. “If people move in, then they have options to move on. What happens now is, we build the housing, people move in, and they stay.”



Homelessness does begin somewhere. For Joseph, a third-generation San Franciscan who grew up in the Mission and once lived in an apartment a block from the Pacific Ocean, the downward spiral began with an Ellis Act eviction.

After losing his place, he stayed with friends and family members, sometimes on the streets, and occasionally using the shelter system (he hated that, telling us, “I felt safer in Vietnam”). He now receives Social Security benefits and lives in an SRO.

Homelessness is often a direct consequence of eviction. Last year, the city allocated an additional $1 million for eviction defense services. Advocates hope to increase this support in the current round of budget talks. The boost in funding yielded measurable results, Friedenbach pointed out, doubling the number of tenants who managed to stave off eviction once they sought legal defense.

There’s also a trend of formerly homeless residents getting evicted from publicly subsidized housing. Since 2009, the Eviction Defense Collaborative has counted 1,128 evictions from housing provided through HSA programs. Since most came from being homeless, they are likely returning to homelessness.

Dufty said more could be done to help people stay housed. “Yes, we’re housing incredibly challenged individuals. And we have to recognize that allowing those individuals to be evicted, without the city using all of our resources to intervene to help that person, that’s not productive,” he said. “It’s debilitating to the person. It’s just not good.”

Fried said the city could do more to provide financial services to people who were newly housed. “You were homeless on the street — you know you didn’t pay some bill for a long time. Really that’s the time, once you’re housed and stable, to say, ‘let’s go back and pull your credit.’ Once we have people in housing, how are we increasing their income?”


Gary: “If I knew how to fix it, I would.”

Guardian photo by Mike Koozmin


The reopening of [freespace], a community space at Sixth and Market temporarily funded by a city-administered grant, attracted a young, hip crowd, including many tech workers. A girl in a short white dress played DJ on her laptop, against a backdrop where people had scrawled their visions for positive improvements in the city. Some of the same organizers are helping to organize HACKtivation for the Homeless, an event that will be held at the tech headquarters of Yammer on March 28. The event will bring together software developers and homeless service providers to talk about how to more effectively address homelessness.

“The approach we’re talking about is working with organizations and helping them build capacity,” organizer Ilana Lipsett told us. The idea is to help providers boost their tech capacity to become more effective. And according to Kyle Stewart of ReAllocate, an organization that is partnering on the initiative, “The hope is that it’s an opportunity to bridge these communities.”

Other out-of-the box ideas have come from City Hall. Sup. Kim, who stayed at a homeless shelter in 2012 during a brief stint as acting mayor, said she was partially struck by how boring that experience was — once a person is locked into a shelter, there is nothing to do, for 12 hours.

She wondered: Why aren’t there services in the shelters? Why isn’t there access to job training, counseling, or medical care in those facilities? Why are the staffers all paid minimum wage, ill-equipped to deal with the stressful scenarios they are routinely placed in? Her office has allocated some discretionary funding to facilitate a yoga program at Next Door shelter, in hopes of providing a restorative activity for clients and staff.

More recently, Sup. Mark Farrell has focused on expanding the Homeless Outreach Team as an attempt to address homelessness. Farrell recently initiated a citywide dialogue on addressing homelessness with a series of intensive hearings on the issue. He proposed a budgetary supplemental of $1.3 million to double the staff of the HOT team, and to add more staff members with medical and psychiatric certification to the mix.

But the debate at the March 19 Budget and Finance Committee hearing grew heated, because Sup. John Avalos wanted to see a more comprehensive plan for addressing homelessness. “I’m interested in people exiting homelessness,” he said. “I’d like there to be a plan that’s more baked that has a sense of where we’re going.”

Farrell was adamant that the vote was not about addressing homelessness in the broader sense, but expanding outreach. “We have to vote on: do we believe, as supervisors, that we need more outreach on our streets to the homeless population or do we not?” he said.

Sup. Scott Wiener defined it as an issue affecting neighborhoods. “When we’re actually looking at what is happening on our streets, it is an emergency right now,” he said. “It’s not enough just to rely on police officers.”

When other members of the board said homeless advocates should be integrated into the solution, Wiener said, “The stakeholders here are not just the organizations that are doing work around homelessness, they are the 830,000 residents of San Francisco … It impacts their neighborhoods every day.”

Asked what she thought about it, Kim told us she believed sending more nurses and mental-health service providers into the city’s streets was a good plan — but she emphasized that it had to be part of a larger effort.

“If you’re just going to increase the HOT team, but not services,” she said, “then you’re just sending people out to harass homeless people.”



Mike is 53, and he’s lived on the streets of San Francisco for five years. He was born in Massachusetts, and his brothers and sisters live in Napa. We encountered him sitting on the sidewalk in the Tenderloin. “I don’t like shelters,” he explained. “I got beat up a couple times, there were arguments.” So he sleeps under a blanket outside. “It’s rough,” he said. “I do it how I can.”

A few blocks away we encountered Gary, who said he’s been homeless in San Francisco for 17 years. He was homeless when he arrived from Los Angeles. He said he’d overdosed “a bunch of times,” he’s gone through detox five times, and he’s been hospitalized time and again. “Call 911, and they’ll take care of you pretty good.”

Gary is an addict. “If I knew how to fix it, I would,” he said. “Do yourself a favor, and lose everything. It’s like acting like you’re blind.”

Gary and Mike, chronically homeless people who have been on the streets for years, are HOT’s target clientele. “My slice of the pie is the sickest, the high-mortality, they’re often the ones that are laid out in the street,” said Maria Martinez, a senior staff member at DPH who started the HOT program.

“I went through years of the 10-Year plan,” she added. “Do I feel like I could take this money [the HOT team supplemental] and do something effective with it? Yes. Do I think there’s a lot of other things that we could address? Yes.”

Pressed on what broader solutions would look like, she said, “There has to be an exit into permanent housing. I’ve seen that we’ve been creative around that. We can make lives better. I say that vehemently. And permanent housing is critical to exiting out of homelessness.”


Guardian photo by Mike Koozmin

Celebrating independence, embracing wage slavery


On the eve of Independence Day, too many San Franciscans seem eager to give up on the very idea of independence, instead willingly buying into the divide and conquer strategies of those who seek to control and exploit us. Just consider the big news of the day.

On Day Three of the BART strike, mainstream and social media are once again awash with angry anti-union diatribes by people who are resentful of the fact that some workers in this society still manage to earn the pensions and decent salaries that most of us wage slaves are being denied.

Pensions are the one thing that allows the working class some degree of independence during its twilight years. And the average BART salary of $72,000 annually shouldn’t be considered excessive in an expensive city that will chew up at least a third of that in housing costs.

But they are each more than most of us are getting, so it’s easy to turn many people against their fellow workers, even though the real targets of our ire should be the bosses and economic system that are denying us our independence and the means to pursue our happiness.

It’s a similar story with the breaking news of the day: City College of San Francisco losing its accreditation and being turned over to state control. While there are some reasons to criticize how this important institution has been managed over the years, it was still being managed by locally elected trustees who made the best decisions they could under bad circumstances.

They made decisions to maintain a broad-based curriculum that this community wanted and needed, and to avoid exploiting the faculty like so many other educational institutions are doing, in the process taking a gamble with lower reserves than may be needed. And the voters of San Francisco stepped up to support CCSF with a parcel tax that was helping to ease it away from the brink, acting as a proud and independent community does during troubled times.

But a commission of unelected bureaucrats on a ideological mission to transform educational institutions into something less than the broad-based community resources that CCSF has strived to be decided to make an example of San Francisco. And they did so with the full support of Mayor Ed Lee, who issued a statement today criticizing local officials for not embracing even harsher austerity measures than they did, and saying “I fully support” the state takeover.

Lee’s hand-picked panel recommending reforms of the Housing Authority is also proposing to sacrifice the independence of poor San Franciscans in favor of ever-more subsidies to real estate developers, according to a story in today’s San Francisco Chronicle.

Among the “reforms” is a proposal to divert federal money from the Section 8 program that offers rent-subsidies to the poor, as Chron reporter John Cote described like this: “A terribly run program that provides low-income residents with vouchers for private housing would be administered by the city, rather than the federally funded public housing agency. The vouchers would be prioritized for certain affordable housing projects, creating dedicated revenue to help secure loans to build them.”

So the vouchers that allow low-income people some independence — rather than living in squalid, chronically mismanaged public housing projects in San Francisco — will instead subsidize development projects. Yes, we do need to subsidize affordable housing development, which this city is underfunding, but we shouldn’t be taking the meager resources of society’s least fortunate families to do so.  

I have no doubts that Lee will jump at this suggestion (although its unlikely to be so eagerly embraced by federal regulators at HUD) given his penchant for shady real estate schemes that line the pockets of the powerful, like the one that the Center for Investigative Reporting uncovered this week.

CIR reported that the San Francisco Bay Area Regional Center — a for-profit company connected to Willie Brown that is arranging immigration visas for Chinese nationals who invest in Lennar’s Hunters Point housing development — is getting key help from Lee and members of his staff.

This project was already looking like a bait-and-switch scam, as we also reported this week, with Lennar being guaranteed profits without even putting up its own money, thanks to Lee’s willingness to use the power of his office to solicit funds on behalf of the country’s biggest residential developer.

If Lennar wasn’t going to build the affordable housing we need on the front end, or put up the money itself, why didn’t the city just administer this project and give the work to local contractors? What exactly is this Florida-based corporation doing in exchange for being handed some of the most valuable real estate in the city, except for helping its powerful local friends who pulled strings on its behalf?

What’s motivating Lee these days? Well, considering that Brown and other power brokers placed him in the Mayor’s Office after a career at City Hall doing their bidding — a role he seems to be still playing today in his powerful new role — I’d say it was a lack of independence.

It’s all pretty depressing, but at least we have a holiday tomorrow to celebrate our independence. Happy Fourth of July, comrades.  

Supervisors pose tough but important questions to Mayor Lee


There’s a full agenda at the San Francisco Board of Supervisors meeting today, from the condo conversion lottery bypass legislation to approval of the term sheet from the massive development project at Pier 70, but some of the most interesting and potentially newsworthy items are at the very beginning of the agenda, when Mayor Ed Lee will answer questions posed by the supervisors.

Unfortunately, if past is prologue, Lee won’t give direct, substantive answers to the vitally important questions that he’s being asked, just as he dodged a question on the condo conversion debate in February and has kept everyone in the dark of which of the rival measures he supports and which he may veto. Mayoral leadership was desperately needed on that protracted debate, just as it’s needed today on some of the questions he’s being asked.

The first question, posed by Sup. Eric Mar, concerns Plan Bay Area and how it plans to pack 280,000 more people into San Francisco by 2040, which was the subject of a May 28 Bay Guardian cover story and panel dicussion that we’re sponsoring at the LGBT Center tomorrow night.

Mar lays out the massive displacement of existing residents and the traffic gridlock that the plan will create in San Francisco and how the approval process from much of this streamlined development may be given waivers from California Environmental Quality Act review.

Mar notes more than 40 regional groups have come together to try to improve the plan and mitigate its damage, and he plans to ask Lee:

“A consensus has formed around the following recommendations for making Plan Bay Area better:

– Provide $3 billion in additional operating revenue for local transit service and commit to a long-range ‘Regional Transit Operating Program’ to boost transit operating subsidies by another $9 billion over the coming years.

– Move 5 percent of the housing growth from low-income communities (mainly San Francisco, Oakland, and San Jose) to transit-connected suburban job centers.

– Incorporate strong anti-displacement policies for community stabilization measures, such as land banking and preservation of affordable housing in at-risk neighborhoods.

– Director the Planning Department to analyze the impacts of potential CEQA streamling as soon as possible and create strong mitigation measures.

Do you support these measure, and are you committed to a plan with lower displacement level than the current proposal? If you do not support these ideas, why not?”

Excellent  question, and definitely an appropriate one for our chief executive officer, who would have more clout to push for these changes than any of the supervisors.

The second question comes from Board President David Chiu, who makes news by noting that Mayor Lee has continued his predecessor’s underhanded practice of refusing to fill city positions to provide services that the supervisors have decided to fund in the budget, undermining the city’s balance of power and Lee’s rhetoric on collaboration.

“In recent months, Controller data indicates that positions allocated by the Board for librarians, recreation and park staff, building inspection, health and labor enforcement, urban agriculture and other Board priorities were either not filled or only recently hired. Will you commit to ensuring that when the FY 13-14 budget is approved, our Board of Supervisors’ priorities are treated equally to your Administration’s, with positions filled as soon as possible?”

Again, great question about an important current issue, the kind of thing that voters created this question time for, to ensure that there was communication and collaboration between these two branches of government.

The last two questions concern San Francisco’s housing crisis. Sup. David Campos cites the scatching report that he commissioned from the Budget and Legislative Analyst on the dysfunctional and mordibund Housing Authority, which Lee controls, asking “what is your long term vision to save public housing — a significant public asset to San Francisco?”

Sup. John Avalos cites data on the skyrocketing rents in San Francisco and asks, “Are you concerned that your administration’s policies to stimulate economic activity, especially supporting the tech industry, have created one-sided development and only job for high-income ‘appsters,’ and have exacerbated the already extremely limited housing market? Do you have any plans to address the increasing rents, and increasing rate of evictions and displacement of long-time San Francisco renters?”

These are tough questions, but they are central to what kind of city San Francisco is becoming. They were all submitted last week, so the mayor has had time to think about them and he should provide answers and show leadership on these difficult issues. That is his job.

Will he? Check back later and I’ll let you know. The meeting starts at 2pm.

How SF politics (and journalism) really works


The internal report on SF Housing Authority management berates ousted director Henry Alvarez as a jerk and a bully, somone who made racist and homophobic comments and intimidated staff. But the report also shows exactly how the corrupt politics of San Francisco contracting works. You can’t read the whole Chronicle story because of the paywall, but I’ll excerpt the part that matters:

In another instance, Larsen said Alvarez had him resolicit bids three times for a contract to provide security at public housing projects. Alvarez later called Larsen into his office and said he had just returned from lunch with Chronicle columnist and former Mayor Willie Brown where he met Stan Teets, who runs the private security firm Personal Protective Services, which was not poised to win the contract, the report said.

“Larsen said that Alvarez told him, ‘You need to figure this out; you need to figure out a way to get PPS the work,’ ” according to the report. “Larsen said that his belief is that Alvarez saw Brown as an influential person, and that he (Alvarez) therefore needed to get Teets a contract or risk losing his job.”

After PPS failed to win the contract, Larsen said Alvarez told him to start the process over a fourth time, the report said.

Alvarez denied to investigators that ever happened.

Brown, when reached on his cell phone, said: “I can’t talk to you. I’m at a luncheon.”

Check that out: Brown — who works for the Chronicle as a columnist — said he can’t talk to a Chronicle reporter because he’s at a luncheon. BTW, he’s used the exact same excuse with me a bunch of times, including once at 4pm. He has a lot of luncheons. And they seem to last most of the day.

And let’s remember: in his columns, Brown has consistently made excuses for Alvarez and gone out of the way to tell his side of the story.

PPS has had serious problems with its work at the Housing Authority in the past, when Teets was hired by Brown’s hand-picked authority director, Ronnie Davis. Now Brown meets with Alvarez — who he defends in his column — and tries to get a contract for a firm with a shaky history that wasn’t the low bidder.

Is PPS one of Brown’s private law clients? We don’t know — the Chron doesn’t require him to disclose that information.

But we know this is fucking sleazy shit, and it’s exactly how the city worked every day when Brown was mayor — and apparently, it’s how things are working again, now that Brown’s pal Ed Lee is mayor. I give Lee credit for ousting Alvarez and shaking up the Housing Authority Commission, but by the time he did that, he really had no choice — the evidence and the mounting media pressure was overwhelming. And Willie clearly still has his hands in the operations of the city.

All this is happening at the same time that the Columbia Journalism Review has taken up the issue of Brown’s column and the truly shady ethics involved.

I had a lot of gripes with Mayor Gavin Newsom, as all of you know, but when he was mayor, this kind of pay-to-play overwhelming sleaze wasn’t the order of the day at City Hall. Now it’s back.

That’s how it works in San Francisco in 2013. How lovely.




Family of teen shot in Alice Griffith still waiting for Housing Authority help


Aireez Taylor, a 15-year-old Mission High School student and a resident of the Alice Griffith public housing project in Bayview, was shot seven times on Dec. 29.

It happened around 6:30 p.m. She was with several friends at a house just a few blocks from her home in Alice Griffith, also known as Double Rock. They were standing on the porch talking, her mother, Marissa, told the Guardian. Then two men armed with guns hopped out of a parked car. One of Aireez’s friends, a 17-year-old boy who lived at the house with his family, saw them coming. He ran for the door and was shot once in the foot. Aireez, fleeing after him, was shot seven times.

Residents of Alice Griffith interviewed by the Guardian described an intensification in the violent crime at and around their community in recent months. Several attributed the violence to a conflict between African American and Samoan gang members. Whatever the cause, the shooting of a 15-year-old girl stands as evidence of the ongoing danger in San Francisco’s public housing developments. Aireez’s father, Roger Blalark, said that his daughter wasn’t the intended target of the shooting. She was in the wrong place at the wrong time, he said.

But for Aireez, who survived the attack, the wrong place at the wrong time is her home in Alice Griffith. Her parents have applied for emergency relocation with the San Francisco Housing Authority, but after two months—and amid the recent scandal surrounding Director Henry Alvarez and federal reports that have rated the agency as one of the worst in California—they are still waiting for the agency to locate and repair a unit in a new housing development. In the meantime, Roger and Marissa continue to fear for their daughter’s life. “What if they find the guy and ask her to testify?” asked Roger.

Aireez made a steady recovery from the gunshot wounds inflicted upon her in the December attack. But the trauma of the event has not been as easily healed. She spent three weeks at San Francisco General Hospital. During that time, an unknown intruder tried to snap a photo of her as she lay in her hospital bed, Roger said. Later, a man claiming to be her father came to inquire about her, while Roger himself was at her bedside.

A police officer met with Roger and Marissa on the Monday following the attack. Aireez reportedly had not seen the shooters. An investigation is underway, though no arrests have been made and the police have no suspects, according to SFPD spokesperson Gordon Shyy.

The journey home from the hospital was a return to the place where she had nearly been killed, a community where the shooters presumably were still at large. “She gets shakes, every time she comes home,” said Roger. “She has to come by the corner where she got shot.”

SFPD Bayview District Captain Robert O’Sullivan said that relocation is an important part of protecting the victims of violent crimes. Ultimately, the choice to relocate a tenant rests with the Housing Authority. “There needs to be an assessment done when something like a shooting occurs in public housing,” said O’Sullivan. Alice Griffith, he pointed out, has a significant number of people in a relatively small space.

“It’s always something that is in the front of people’s mind, anyone that has a stake in this, in investigating or assisting—is this going to be a risk for this person or their family in continuing to stay here?” O’Sullivan said.

Marissa and Roger applied for an emergency transfer on Jan. 2. There was paperwork to fill out, then the Housing Authority had to search for a vacant unit that could accommodate a family of their size. Housing Authority spokesperson Rose Marie Dennis said that she could not give out confidential information regarding specific tenants, but confirmed that the majority of the Housing Authority’s holdings are studios, one-, or two-bedroom apartments.

Roger and Marissa needed something bigger. A unit that could accommodate their family was finally located in another housing development by the third week of January. Marissa was initially told that the unit would be ready in two weeks. But two weeks turned into five, and now six, and Marissa still doesn’t know the status of the unit or when it will be ready for move in.

Dennis told us the Housing Authority tries to accommodate all requests for relocation, and prioritizes tenants with emergencies. Victims of a violent crime that request a transfer are moved as soon as possible, she said. But the process of relocating a victim is often hindered by a variety of factors, including Housing Authority’s ability to allocate resources toward fixing up vacant units. The length of the wait is a matter of resources and cooperation between all the parties involved in preparing the new unit. Once a suitable place has been found, teams of custodians and craftsmen and women must work to clear, clean, and repair the unit. Preparing a unit for move in costs on average $12,000, she said.

The problem is not that there aren’t empty units. According to Dennis, vacant housing stock is in a constant state of flux, with the current occupancy rate estimated to be 96.3 percent. Since the Housing Authority manages a total of 6,476 units over 45 development projects, that would indicate that as many as 240 units now lie empty. Dennis said that some units are kept vacant by the Housing Authority for a variety of reasons, while many others are only made available as the agency finishes the repairs and renovations necessary to make the units livable by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) strict standards.

Roger and Marissa’s experiences would appear to dovetail with recent media scrutiny that suggests the Housing Authority has reached a critical state of dysfunction. The agency made the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s list of troubled agencies after it received a 54 out of 100 on their latest evaluation. Scandal has dogged the agency’s leadership—three lawsuits alleging discrimination and retaliation were recently filed against Alvarez, who was also accused in a lawsuit of steering contracts to political allies. And it’s long-term capital outlook is looking increasingly bleak, as buildings accumulate decades of wear and tear and infrastructure becomes obsolescent. Stuck with a federal budget that remains constant, the Housing Authority is put in the position of maintaining outdated infrastructure that would, in the long run, be more cost effective to replace, said Dennis.

But Dennis nevertheless assured the Guardian that the agency addresses emergencies as quickly as possible—irrespective of larger, structural financial deficits. “We get bogged down in anecdotes that aren’t reflective of what’s ahead of us,” said Dennis. “We don’t have time for politics, that really doesn’t add up to positive change.”

So what is positive change for the residents of San Francisco’s public housing? With Alvarez on leave, Mayor Ed Lee has stated his intention to revamp the agency’s leadership and has appointed five new commissioners to oversee the city’s public housing.  “Being on a constant treadmill of troubled lists and repair backlogs that are structurally underfunded is not working for our residents or our City,” Lee said in a press release.

Lee spoke of a “better model” through HOPE SF, a massive redevelopment plan that began under former Mayor Gavin Newsom and which hinges on public-private partnerships. Alice Griffith is one among several sites that is being rebuilt as part of HOPE SF, with construction scheduled to begin in 2014. The plan is to create mixed-income neighborhoods where 256 new affordable rental units are interspersed in a larger community of market-rate homes.

But in the meantime, the day-to-day reality of the violence and dysfunction faced by tenants continues. “It’s not about tearing down the projects, you got to revitalize what’s already here,” said Roger.  

Roger knows that a relocation won’t necessarily solve their problems. He worries about the persisting presence of gang members at the new housing development, about the fact that he will be trying to protect his family in a community that he is much less familiar with. At Alice Griffith, Roger has connections within the community. He helps direct the Run, Ball & Learn Program, which provides basketball and tutoring programs for community youth. So they wait.

“They’re gonna have their own process,” says Marissa. “In the meantime we’re still sitting here.”

Should city employees be commissioners?


Mayor Ed Lee had to do something radical with the Housing Authority, and I’m glad he did. The commissioners who oversee this mess, particularly the chair, Rev. Amos Brown, were nothing but syncophants for Director Henry Alvarez, who clearly has to go. Firing all but one of the commissioners was the right way to go.

(Although technically, the mayor must have gotten them all to resign. The City Charter says a Housing Authority Commission member can only be removed “for inefficiency, neglect of duty, or misconduct in office, after serving written charges and providing an opportunity for a hearing.”)

That said, his replacement commissioners raise an interesting question. Every one of them is a city employee. Four of the five are either department heads or senior staffers, all of whom work for the mayor or one of his appointees. The other is a deputy district attorney.

Commissions are set up to provide a degree of indepedent oversight over city agencies; there’s a reason the mayor doesn’t directly hire and fire the police chief, the fire chief, the planning director, etc.; there are commissions to give members of the public some role in monitoring those departments. Obviously, the mayor appoints most of the commissioners, and most mayors expect a degree of loyalty, but there’s a least  a chance that appointees will speak up when the mayor is doing the wrong thing. (Planning Commissioner Dennis Antennore used to defy Mayor Willie Brown routinely; he ultimately got fired for it, but at least the public got a chance to hear another point of view.)

Now we have people whose day job — and income — depends directly on the mayor’s will (these are not civil servants; they’re all high-level workers who can be fired any time) running a commission. The idea that any of them will ever cross the mayor is now out of the question.

Oh — and do you think there might ever be a time when the District Attorney’s Office has to investigate the Housing Authority for criminal conduct? Maybe? Could that ever happen? And how would Deputy D.A. and Commissioner Eric Fleming handle that?

It’s perfectly legal for city employees to be commissioners, according to a detailed 2010 memo from the City Attorney’s Office. Former Sup. Aaron Peskin tried before he left the board to change that, but he fell short (in part because labor didn’t like the idea; why should city workers be deprived of the ability to participate in the public process?) But we’re not talking about rank-and-file workers who have union protections and can speak their minds and engage in political action freely; we’re talking about direct appointees of the mayor and the city administrator who have no choice but to do the bidding of their bosses.

This just doesn’t seem like a good idea.




Editor’s notes


EDITOR’S NOTES The guy who runs the San Francisco Housing Authority is in pretty serious doo-doo: His agency has just been placed on the federal government’s “troubled” list, and he’s getting sued by his own lawyer, and he’s hiding from the press while tenants complain that they can’t get basic repairs.

Although Mayor Ed Lee has so far officially stuck by Henry Alvarez, he’s already backing off a bit, and it’s pretty likely Alvarez will be gone when his contract expires this summer. He may be gone even sooner than that; there’s a growing chorus of voices calling on the mayor to fire him.

So at some point we’ll get a new director, who will make a handsome salary (Alvarez gets $210,000 a year plus a car and seven weeks paid vacation) and live in a nice house and go into work every day to deal with problems that are pretty damn far from his or her life.

That’s always the case to some extent with the heads of agencies who deal with the poor, but it’s particularly dramatic when you talk about the Housing Authority. Public housing is never luxurious, but in San Francisco, it’s been riddled with problems for many years. And frankly, I’m much more concerned about the tenants than about Alvarez or his management style.

I get that the Housing Authority has financial problems. The federal government long ago abandoned any serious commitment to funding housing in American cities, and the authority only recently managed to pay off a multimillion-dollar judgment from a lawsuit filed by the families of a grandmother and five children killed in a fire on Housing Authority property.

Yet, tenant advocate continue to complain that it can be hard, even impossible to get a response from the agency. When critics complain, the agency goes after them: The Housing Rights Committee went after the Housing Authority over evictions, and wound up getting investigated by SFHA employees who wanted to gut their city funding. And while some say Alvarez is a hard-charging person who demands results (and thus pisses some people off), nobody has used the words open, accessible or compassionate to describe him.

I’ve got an idea for the next director (or for Alvarez, if he wants to stick around). Why not live in public housing?

Seriously: Why shouldn’t the person who controls the safety and welfare of tenants in more than 6,000 units spend a little time understanding what their lives are like? Why not spend, say, one night a week in one of those apartments?

In the old days, judges used to sentence slumlords to live in their own decrepit buildings, which seemed to work pretty well: Once the guy in charge has to deal with the rats and roaches and broken windows, he’s much more likely to expedite repairs.

But it wouldn’t have to be punitive — just a chance to get a first-hand look at how the agency policies are working on the ground. The city employee unions have had a lot of success asking members of the Board of Supervisors to do a union worker’s job for a day; the director of the San Francisco Housing Authority could certainly live like one of his tenants every now and then.

Think of it as a management tool: What better way to figure out whether his staff is doing the job than to look at the end product? Or figure it as a way to stop being an asshole and see what people who live on less than ten percent of his salary really think of his administration.


Feds downgrade troubled Housing Authority


The federal government has declared the San Francisco Housing Authority a “troubled” agency and dispatched agents to review the agency’s finances and management failures.

The team of experts from the Department of Housing and Urban Development arrived Jan. 7 and has begun poring over the SFHA’s books.

The federal decision came in an October 31 letter to the city’s Housing Authority Board, with a copy to Mayor Ed Lee.

“The Board of Commissioners of the San Francisco Housing Authority should take immediate action to identify the sources of the performance deficiencies and develop and implement a plan to recover” at an “acceptable level of performance,” wrote HUD in its letter.

The troubled ranking is further bad news for Executive Director Henry Alvarez, who was hired in 2008 to help steady the agency’s management. He has since faced allegations of mistreatment and discrimination by some of his top staff, including the agency’s lawyer. He is the target of three lawsuits by his staff.

In addition to the “troubled” status for public housing, SFHA already faced stepped up monitoring if its Section 8 program that provides rental assistance for program participants in privately owned units. The agency scored zero points in its section 8 program because it failed to submit its report.

San Francisco’s “troubled” status was due to low scores for management of the agency and its finances. On financials, SFHA scored five points out of a possible 30, and on management it scored 12 points out of a possible 25. On physical conditions, SFHA squeaked above the cut-off with 27 out of 40 points. The agency’s total score was 54 out of a possible 100.

The score was a drop from score of 75 the prior year. The SFHA explains the change as new scoring criteria by HUD. The looming issue is the lack of effective management at the agency’s top level.

The arrival of a HUD team this week for a week-long examination of the Housing Authority will produce a plan for the agency to correct its management and financial practices with a set of deadlines and specific actions. Failure to implement the plan can bring new consequences with even tighter oversight.

“HUD is at SFHA offices starting today,” said Bill Ford, SFHA attorney speaking for the agency on Monday. “They are reviewing the situation related to the Troubled status. That’s why they are here. They will help develop a plan to pull the agency out of Troubled status.”

The agency had managed to stay off the troubled list — a designation for those scoring under 60 out of 100 points–for the previous two years. A troubled status can make San Francisco ineligible to compete for special funding beyond what it receives by formula.

HUD scoring lags by several months after the agency’s year-end as local officials and federal officials go through appeals and responses before settling on a final outcome. The current troubled status is for the SFHA year that ended September 30, 2011.

SFHA scores for the year ending September 30, 2012 are tentatively estimated also to be in the troubled category or possibly a point or two higher to earn it a “substandard” ranking. Those results are expected shortly to be followed by additional appeals and reviews.

Some one out of 10 San Francisco households receive some form of federal housing aid, not including those who benefit from lower mortgage interest rates under FHA and other federal homeownership mortgage programs.

SFHA earned high marks in the credit market for its HOPESF program that aims to replace decrepit public housing and expand the number if units. That process involves to outside managers to develop and operate and does not rely on SFHA management.

Disappearing poles



Political dynamics on the Board of Supervisors moved into uncertain new territory this week with the inauguration of two new members -– London Breed and Norman Yee –- who break the mold in representing districts that have long been predictable embodiments of opposite ideological poles.

Breed and Yee are both native San Franciscans with deep roots in their respective districts, which they tapped to win hotly contested races against challengers who seemed more closely aligned with the progressive politics of Dist. 5 and the fiscally conservative bent of Dist. 7. Both tell the Guardian that they represent a new approach to politics that is less about ideology and more about compromise and representing the varied concerns of their diverse constituencies.

“I don’t see everything as a compromise, but I want to be sure we find compromises where we can and don’t let personalities get in the way,” said Yee, whose background working in education and facilitating deals as a school board member belies District 7’s history of being represented by firebrand opponents of the progressive movement.

Some of the strongest champions of the pro-tenant, anti-corporate progressive agenda have come from the Haight and Dist. 5, a role that Breed has no intention of playing. “When you talk about the progressives of San Francisco, I don’t know that I fit in that category,” Breed told us. “I’m a consensus builder. I want to get along with people to get what I want.”

Yet what Breed says she wants are housing policies that protect renters and prevent the exodus of African-Americans, and development standards that preserve the traditional character of neighborhoods against corporate homogenization. “I don’t see the difference between my causes and progressive causes,” she said, claiming a strong independence from some of the monied interests that supported her campaign.

We spoke a few days before the Jan. 8 vote for board president (which was scheduled after Guardian press time, and which you can read about at the SFBG.com Politics blog). Neither Yee nor Breed would tip their hands about who they planned to support -– the first potential indication of their willingness to buck their districts’ ideological leanings.

Breed had raised some progressive eyebrows by telling the Guardian and others that she admired moderate Sup. Scott Wiener and would support him for president, but she had backtracked on that by the time we spoke on Jan. 5, telling us, “I’m going into this with an open mind.

“I’m waiting on my colleagues to decide who has the most votes,” Breed said, ing a candid take on valuing compromise over conflict. “I really would like to see us walk into this all together.”

Yee had similar comments. “They’re all competent people and can be leaders, it just depends on where they want to lead us,” he said. “I value people who can work with anyone and see themselves as facilitators more than as dictators.”

Both Breed and Yee come from humble roots that they say give them a good understanding of the needs of the city’s have-nots. Breed was raised in the public housing projects of the Western Addition, an experience that makes her want to solve the current dysfunction in the San Francisco Housing Authority.

“I can’t tell you what needs to be done, but I can tell you something is wrong,” Breed told us. “My goal is to get to the bottom of it and be extremely aggressive about it.”

Yee grew up in Chinatown, his father an immigrant who worked as a janitor, his mother a garment worker. They later lived in the Sunset and the Richmond, and Yee moved into his district’s Westwood Park neighborhood 26 years ago.

When Yee was eight years old, the family saved enough money to open a grocery store at 15th and Noe, and he said that he basically ran the store in his teen years while his father continued working another job.

That was where Yee developed his deep appreciation for the role that small, neighborhood-serving businesses play in San Francisco. In an era before credit cards, he would offer credit lines to local customers struggling to make ends meet; that experience showed him how stores like his family’s were essential parts of the city’s social and economic fabric.

“That’s why I value small businesses,” Yee said, calling that his top focus as a supervisor. “They’re going to have a bigger voice now.”

Yee draws a clear distinction between the interests of small business and that of the larger corporations that dominate the powerful San Francisco Chamber of Commerce. Asked where he might have placed on the Chamber’s recent scorecard ranking supervisors’ votes — where Yee’s predecessor, Sean Elsbernd, got the highest marks — Yee said, “Probably not on their A list. They are just one entity in San Francisco and I’m not going to be judged just by them.”

At 63 years old, Yee is by far the oldest member of the youngest Board of Supervisors in recent memory, while Breed, at 38, is closer to the current average. Yee hopes his age and experience will help him forge compromises among all the supervisors.

“People draw their lines, but I try to listen to people and see where their lines are,” Yee said. “It’s a balancing act, but at the same time, there’s things I’ve been working on all my life, like education and safety net issues, and this district does care about those things. At the same time, they care about their homes. Are these issues in conflict? I don’t think they have to be.”

Editor’s notes


EDITOR’S NOTES The two prominent lawyers who helped bring same-sex marriage to the US Supreme Court, Theodore Olson and David Boies, started out their case with the notion that it would get to the highest court, and that the Court would find a fundamental Constitutional right to marriage equality.

They’re both brilliant litigators who have argued more than 50 cases before the Supreme Court — and they think they know something. I can’t get into either man’s brain, but what legal scholars around the country are saying is that the fate (for now) of same-sex marriage may come down to one person, Justice Anthony Kennedy. And they figure he’s going to be on the right side.

I wouldn’t be surprised — those two have been here before, parsed this court, and been right enough to give them the benefit of the doubt. In fact, although 30-some states still ban same-sex marriage, I think the members of the Court see the direction that history is going. It’s moving fast, too — in five years, the tide will have fully turned, and the Court doesn’t want to be horribly embarrassed.

Kennedy, of course, is often the swing vote on the divided court — and in two prior cases, he wrote the decision affirming gay rights.

Kennedy was appointed by Ronald Reagan, but what hasn’t been mentioned much in the press was that he was a second choice. Reagan wanted Robert Bork in that position — and if Bork had gotten the job, we wouldn’t be having this discussion. Bork is another Antonin Scalia and would have held down the right wing of the Court and ensured a 5-4 right-wing majority.

This goes back to 1987, ancient history for a lot of political people today. When Reagan, who mostly got his way, nominated Bork, an unheard-of coalition came together to oppose him. It seemed a long shot — it was rare for a Supreme Court nominee to get rejected. Some argued that it wouldn’t matter, anyway — if Bork lost, Reagan would nominate someone else just as bad.

But the opposition came together. The ACLU, which in its history had only opposed one other Supreme Court nominee, helped lead the way. Women’s groups around the country joined in, mostly because of Bork’s open hostility to abortion rights. The Guardian ran a front-page piece called “The case against Judge Bork.” It was a huge national issue.

Sen. Ted Kennedy led the Judiciary Committee opposition to Bork, and all of us were riveted to the proceedings, which aired on KPFA and NPR. Bork gave detailed answers to all the questions, explaining, for example, why he thought Roe v. Wade was “improperly decided.” In the end, his nomination was rejected, 58-42.

Reagan got the message. He nominated Anthony Kennedy — also a conservative, but not a Bork-style nut. And the course of legal history was changed.

So if the Court comes down 5-4 for same-sex marriage, and Kennedy is the fifth vote, we can all thank that massive mobilizing effort a quarter century ago that kept a young, healthy, wingnut who would still be there today from holding that critical seat.

IN OTHER NEWS: The mayor may think the scandal over Housing Authority Director Henry Alvarez is going to blow over, but he’s wrong. There are lots of problems in that agency. Among other things, as Citireport publisher Larry Bush has detailed over the past year, Alvarez used his official position (and city time) to go after a nonprofit, the Housing Rights Committee, that was advocating for public-housing tenants. Lee needs to distance himself from this guy, or he’s going to get dragged down with him.

Lee ducks tough questions about Alvarez and diversifying SF’s economy


For a career bureaucrat who was appointed mayor supposedly as a sort of straight-shooting un-politician, Mayor Ed Lee today once again demonstrated a real talent for addressing tough questions with a whole lot of words that don’t seem to say much at all. First came his non-responsive answers during Question Time at the Board of Supervisors meeting, followed by the hollow filibuster with reporters asking about the Housing Authority scandal as he briskly walked back to his office.

Asked why he continued to stand by Housing Authority Director Henry Alvarez despite the scandals and accusations of mismanagement and unethical conduct on the job that have placed a cloud over the agency, Lee said he’s just waiting for the investigations and lawsuits to play out, dismissing “the so-called cloud that you referred to.”

Given the obvious problems that Alvarez is now having running an agency whose employees and clients have such a problem with his leadership, I asked whether Lee has considered suspending him, to which he responded that Alvarez hasn’t been convicted of any crimes. So, apparently professional misconduct is a personal matter, but personal misconduct unrelated to one’s job warrants suspension. This is all very confusing.

Even more bewildering was Lee’s answer to the question from Sup. John Avalos. He prefaced his question with one from constituent/comedian Nato Green asking what the city is doing to diversify its economy beyond “the highly paid finance or tech jobs and their low wage servants,” noting that City Economist Ted Egan also recently asked that question in a report calling for “a more balanced distribution of job opportunities.”

So Avalos asked, “What is your plan to create living wage jobs in local-serving industries to prevent the City’s working and middle classes from being displaced by people moving to the city for new upper income jobs in the creative (including high tech), financial, and professional services industries?”

It’s a great and important question that has been increasingly raised by those who understand the risks of placing all our eggs in one economic basket, particularly given this city’s experience with the last dot.com bubble bursting.

But even though Lee had plenty of time to think about the issue and develop an answer, he clearly didn’t have a good one, instead singing the praises of the booming tech industry and his Tech.SF program for training new tech workers, just like his main financier, tech mogul Ron Conway, wants.

Now, Lee did cite industry studies that every tech job sustains four other jobs in the city, mostly in restaurants and tourism-related sectors (ie the “low wage servants” Green mentioned). And Lee touted the construction jobs created by his developer buddies, praising Avalos for his local hire ordinance.

But even the much-praised local hire standard of 25 percent means that 75 percent of those workers are living outside the city. It’s a similar story for the restaurant, retail, and bar jobs that the influx of well-heeled new residents are creating demand for, none of which answers Avalos’ questions about how to diversify our economy and create good jobs for most San Franciscans.

“Trickle down economics can only get us so far and without a specific and far-reaching plan to create local living wage jobs for San Francisco’s working and middle classes, we’ll see us falling behind,” Avalos told the Guardian after hearing the mayor’s “answer.”

But instead of a plan or a direct answer, we got political platitudes from Lee such as, “We’ll be investing in the greatest asset of our city and that’s the residents, our people, and ensuring San Francisco stays a city for the 100 percent.”

To which Avalos responded, “His comment about the 100 percent really means that by favoring the 1 percent, the 99 percent benefit. Well, as a country, we’ve been doing that for years and wealth disparities have only widened.”

The Housing Authority mess


Mayor Ed Lee seems to think that the controversy over Housing Authority Director Henry Alvarez is just going to blow over, but he’s wrong. There’s too much here. And it’s not just about the lawsuits employees have filed or the sizable list of unhappy workers.

But before we get into any of that, I have to say: You can’t beat Willie Brown for putting it all in perspective. The former mayor announced in his Chron column Dec. 9 that the Housing Authority (including during his mayoral administration) has always been fundamentally screwed up:

What no one says publicly is that the tenants in public housing are never happy and that the Housing Authority workers usually aren’t all that interested in working. But as long as everyone gets something out of the deal, be it a public-housing unit for a relative or an absence of on-the-job oversight, everyone stays quiet.

So it’s basically structural corruption, all the time. Oh, and what a lovely thing to say about a large group of city employees who have the unenviable job of trying to keep substandard housing units in an underfunded agency somewhat habitable. Guess the problems aren’t at the top; it’s all lazy workers and uppity tenants.

The back story here has been well reported by Larry Bush as Citireport, who over the past year has outlined in detail how Alvarez tried to use his political clout to defund the Housing Rights Commitee, a nonprofit that helps public housing tenants. Turns out the HRC has been a bit of a pain for Alvarez because its staff is agressive about demanding that repairs are made on time and basic maintenance is done.

Alvarez went so far as to contact (presumably on city time) the Tides Foundation, which acts as HRC’s fiscal sponsor, demanding documents that aren’t public record (but that Tides provided anyway). In emails to the mayor’s housing advisor, Doug Shoemaker, Alvarez made clear that he wanted the city to cut of the $90,000 that HRC gets for code-enforcement work.

On April 7, Alvarez sent a rapid-fire series of questions and requests to Shoemaker at the Mayor’s Office of Housing, all apparently intended to uncover problems with the nonprofit and provide grounds for ending city funding. Shoemaker complied with the document requests while trying to cajole Alvarez away from a confrontation with HRC. “I realize that you don’t think I’m doing enough to keep HRC out of your hair,” Shoemaker wrote to Alvarez on April 7, “so I spent part of my evening last night getting the records request (from HRC) rescinded.”

So: The Housing Authority director thinks a widely-respected tenant rights group is “in his hair” and wants to cut off the group’s money because it’s doing its job of helping tenants deal with the HA bureacracy.

Oh, and it’s not as if HRC is making up the problems. Willie Brown can complain all he wants that the tenants are just annoying malcontents, but the record shows there are serious problems with the Housing Authority:

Hundreds of San Francisco families continue to live in tax-payer subsidized housing that fails minimum standards for health, safety, and sanitary conditions, according to recent inspections by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). San Francisco’s response is to defer compliance with housing codes “until replacement housing can be found.”

You want an idea of how serious? Check this out.

I’m glad Sup David Campos as asked for a compliance audit on the agency, because in the end, this is really about the tenants.

Oh, and just in case anyone has forgotten, this was the guy Willie Brown had running the Housing Authority.





What did the mayor know?


So let’s get this straight:

Three lawsuits have been filed against the head of the Housing Authority. Some 30 staffers have complained about Alvarez to senior mayoral staffers. The HA even hired former City Attorney Louise Renne to investigate problems with Alvarez.

And Mayor Lee says he wasn’t aware of the problems?

This is the kind of thing that used to happen under Willie Brown — the mayor would hire cronies for top dollar, and defend them and brush aside charges of misbehavior. And I hate to see the same style happening under Lee.

Clearly, the two are pals, and I understand the urge to stand by your friends in public life, and at this point, we just have allegations — maybe none of it is true, and maybe Renne will find that everything is just grand over at the Housing Authority. But the mayor ought to at least express concern.

And if this was all really happening without his knowledge, then his staff isn’t doing a very good job of keeping him informed.

Either way, not a good scene in Room 200.

Sit-in at Lakeview elementary raided, free classes continue, rally at 5pm


This post has been updated

A sit-in at Oakland’s Lakeview Elementary School ended early this morning as police from the Oakland School Police force entered the school building, making two arrests.

The dispersal was calm by all accounts, although protesters say that officers threatened to use chemical weapons to disperse the crowd, which included young children.

Officers from the Oakland School Police force, the Oakland Housing Authority Police force, Oakland Police Department, and California Highway Patrol were deployed to end the protest, according to a statement from OUSD Superintendent Tony Smith.

“There were children there, parents and teachers and a few occupiers,” said Lola, an organizer with Occupy Oakland who was supporting the sit-in on 4am security duty when police arrived.

There were 20-25 sit-in participants present when police arrived, according to Lola and another Occupy Oakland participant who was on the scene, Alyssa Eisenberg. “There were at least 15 police cars when I drove up,” Eisenberg said.

“The officers were saying, we’ve given you notices now we’re going to give you 15 minutes to leave. Then they gave an official dispersal order and they said, ‘If you do not disperse we’ll use chemical agents against you,’” Lola recounts.

Oakland parents, teachers, elementary school-aged children and supporters had been demonstrating at the school for 17 days. The school is one of five marked for closure by the Oakland School Board, a move that parents and teachers opposed.

The demonstration consisted of a free day camp for children called the People’s School for Public Education, a community garden, and a 24-hour sit-in involving half a dozen tents on the school property.

As protesters left the school, “it was very calm,” Lola said. “All the people that were there left willingly except two,” a parent organizer and an alum of the school who sat in a classroom rather than leave when police arrived. The two were cited for trespassing and released.

Police then erected a new fence outside the public school, and demonstrators went to a park across the street with the goal of continuing to teach free classes to children.

“Officers wouldn’t let [National Lawyers Guild] legal observers or journalists into the building,” said Lola, describing these observers standing on concrete structures outside the gates of the school in order to see what happened.

Organizers have planned a rally in protest of the raid and the ongoing school closures. They plan to meet today at 5pm outside of Lakeview Elementary.

“People who were occupying said this isn’t the end, they have more direct action civil disobedience plans,” Lola said.

Meet the new supervisor


Christina Olague, the newest member of the Board of Supervisors, faces a difficult balancing act. She was appointed by Mayor Ed Lee, whom she supported as co-chair of the controversial “Run Ed Run” campaign, to fill the vacancy in District 5, an ultra-progressive district whose voters rejected Lee in favor of John Avalos by a 2-1 margin.

So now Olague faces the challenge of keeping her district happy while staying on good terms with the Mayor’s Office, all while running in her first campaign for elected office against what could be a large field of challengers scrutinizing her every vote and statement.

Olague has strong progressive activist credentials, from working with the Mission Anti-Displacement Coalition to protect low-income renters during the last dot-com boom to her more recent community organizing for the Senior Action Network. She co-chaired the 2003 campaign that established the city’s minimum wage and has been actively involved in such progressive organizations as the Milk Club, Transit Riders Union, and the short-lived San Francisco People’s Organization.

“One of the reasons many of us are so supportive of Christina is she is grounded in the issues of low-income San Franciscans,” said Gabriel Haaland, who works with SEIU Local 1021 and accompanied Olague to a recent interview at the Guardian office.

She also served two terms on the Planning Commission — appointed by Board of Supervisors then-President Matt Gonzalez in 2004 and reappointed by then-President Aaron Peskin in 2008 — where she was known for doing her homework on complicated land use issues and usually landing on the progressive side of divided votes.

“Coming from the Planning Commission, she can do a lot of good,” said Tom Radulovich, executive director of Livable City and a supporter who has worked with Olague for 15 years. “We lost a lot of collective memory on land use issues,” he said, citing the expertise of Chris Daly and Aaron Peskin. “We do need that on the board. There is so much at stake in land use.”

Olague disappointed many progressives by co-chairing Progress for All, which was created by Chinatown power broker Rose Pak to push the deceptive “Run Ed Run” campaign that was widely criticized for its secrecy and other ethical violations. At the time, Olague told us she appreciated how Lee was willing to consider community input and she thought it was important for progressives to support him to maintain that open door policy.

In announcing his appointment of Olague, Lee said, “This is not about counting votes, it’s about what’s best for San Francisco and her district.” Olague also sounded that post-partisan theme, telling the crowd at her swearing-in, “I think this is an incredible time for our city and a time when we are coming together and moving past old political pigeonholes.”

With some big projects coming to the board and the working class being rapidly driven out of the city, progressives are hoping Olague will be a committed ally. There’s some concern, though, about her connections to Progress For All campaign’s secretive political consultant, Enrique Pearce.

Pearce has become a bit of a pariah in progressive circles for his shady campaign tactics on behalf of powerful players. In 2010, his Left Coast Communications got caught running an independent expenditure campaign partly funded by Willie Brown out of Pearce’s office, even though Sup. Jane Kim was both its beneficiary and his client — and that level of coordination is illegal. Last year, Pearce was hired by Pak to create the “Run Ed Run” campaign and write the hagiographic book, The Ed Lee Story, which also seemed to have some connections with Lee’s campaign. The Ethics Commission hasn’t fined Pearce for either incident, and he didn’t return a Guardian call for comment.

Olague told us not to worry. “He’s a friend…and I think it’s an exaggerated concern,” she said, confirming but minimizing his role so far. Yet she hired one of Pearce’s former employees, Jen Low, as one of her board aide. Olague’s other aides are Chris Durazo from South of Market Community Action Network (SOMCAN) and Dominica Henderson, formerly of the SF Housing Authority.

Debra Walker, a progressive activist who served on the Building Inspection Commission and has worked with Olague for decades, said she’s a reliable ally: “She’s from the progressive community and I have no equivocation about that.”

Olague makes no apologies for her alliances, saying that she is both independent and progressive and that she should be judged by her actions as a supervisor. “People will have to decide who I am based on how I vote,” she said, later adding, “I support the mayor and I’m not going to apologize for that.”



Olague was born in Merced in 1961 to a Mexican immigrant father who fixed farming equipment and a stay-at-home mother. She went to high school in Fresno and moved to the Bay Area in 1982. She attended San Francisco State University but had to drop out to help support her family, working at various stock brokerage firms in the Financial District. She later got a degree in liberal studies from California Institute of Integral Studies.

In 1992, Olague’s mother was in serious car accident that left her a quadriplegic, so Olague spent the next seven years caring for her. After her mother died, Olague left the financial services industry and became a community organizer for the Mission Anti-Displacement Coalition, battling the forces of gentrification and then-Mayor Brown and becoming an active player in the ascendant progressive movement.

But Olague never abided progressive orthodoxy. She backed Mark Leno over the more progressive Harry Britt in their 2002 Assembly race and backed Leno again in 2007 when he ran for state Senate against Carole Migden. She also voted for the Home Depot project on Bayshore Boulevard despite a progressive campaign against the project.

Olague worked with then-Sup. Chris Daly to win more community benefits and other concessions from developers of the Trinity Plaza and Rincon Tower projects, but now she is critical of Daly’s confrontational tactics. “Daly’s style isn’t what I agree with anymore,” Olague said, criticizing the deals that were cut on those projects to approve them with larger than required community benefits packages. “I think we romanticized what we got.”

So how does Olague plan to approach big development proposals, and is she willing to practice the brinksmanship that many progressives believe is necessary to win concessions? While she says her approach will be more conciliatory than Daly’s, she says the answer is still yes. “You push back, you make demands, and if you don’t think it’s going to benefit the city holistically, you just fucking say no,” Olague said.

Walker said Olague has proven she can stand up to pressure. “I think she’ll do as well as she did on the Planning Commission. She served as president and there is an enormous amount of pressure that is applied behind the scenes,” Walker said. “She’s already stood up to mayoral pressure on some issues.”

Yet even some of Olague’s strongest supporters say her dual — and perhaps dueling — loyalties to the Mayor’s Office and her progressive district are likely to be tested this year.

“It’ll be challenging for her to navigate,” Radulovich said. “The Mayor’s Office is going to say I want you to do X and Y, and it won’t always be progressive stuff, so it’ll be interesting to see how that plays out.”

But he said Olague’s land use expertise and progressive background will likely count for more than any bitter pills that she’s asked to swallow. “Sometimes, as a policy maker, you have to push the envelope and say we can get more,” he said. “It helps if you’re willing to say no to things and set boundaries.”

When we asked Olague to lay out her philosophy on dealing with land-use issues, she said that her approach will vary: “I have a very gray approach, project by project and neighborhood by neighborhood.”

Only a couple weeks into her new role, Olague said that she’s still getting a lay of the land: “I’m in information gathering mode, meeting with neighborhood groups to try to figure out what their issues are.”

But Olague said she understands that part of her job is making decisions that will disappoint some groups. For example, after Mayor Lee pledged to install bike lanes on Fell and Oak streets to connect the Panhandle to The Wiggle and lessen the danger to bicyclists, he recently stalled the project after motorists opposed the idea.

“I’m a transit-first person, for sure. I don’t even drive,” Olague said of her approach to that issue, which she has now begun to work on. “We’ll try to craft a solution, but then at some point you have to fall on one side or the other.”



One issue on which Olague’s core loyalities are likely to be tested is on the so-called “jobs” issue, which both Lee and Olague call their top priority. “Jobs and economic revitalization are very important,” she told us.

Progressives have begun to push back on Lee for valuing private sector job creation over all other priorities, such as workers’ rights, environmental safeguards, and public services. That came to a head on Jan. 26 at the Rules Committee hearing on Lee’s proposed charter amendment to delay legislation that might cost private sector jobs and require extra hearings before the Small Business Commission. Progressives and labor leaders slammed the proposal as unfair, divisive, unnecessary, and reminiscent of right-wing political tactics.

But when we interviewed Olague the next day, she was reluctant to criticize the measure on the record, even though it seemed so dead-on-arrival at the Board of Supervisors that Mayor Lee voluntarily withdrew it the next week.

Olague told us job creation is important, but she said it can’t squeeze out other priorities, such as protecting affordable rental housing.

“We always have to look at how the community will benefit from things. So if we want to incentivize for businesses, how do we also make it work for neighborhoods and for people so that we don’t end up with where we were in the Mission District in the ’90s?” she said.

Olague also said that she didn’t share Lee’s focus on jobs in the technology sector. “There’s a lot of talk of technology, and that’s fine and I’m not against that, and we can see how it works in the city. But at the same time, I’m concerned about folks who aren’t interested necessarily in working in technology. We need other types of jobs, so I think we shouldn’t let go of the small scale manufacturing idea.”

Homeless families still waiting for a meeting … and housing

San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee still has not met with homeless parents organized by the Coalition on Homelessness to discuss their proposed solutions to combat the growing problem of youth homelessness. Nor has the mayor’s office responded to multiple Guardian phone calls inquiring why a meeting hasn’t been scheduled.

Homeless parents organized by the Coalition entered City Hall last Wednesday to raise awareness about a growing problem of San Francisco families lacking a permanent home, and to request a meeting with mayor, whom advocates first contacted Oct. 26.

Coalition on Homeless executive director Jennifer Friedenbach said the mayor’s office had offered to schedule a meeting with a mayoral representative, but not with Lee. “Why would we meet with a representative?” she asked. “We want a meeting with the mayor himself. It should be important for the mayor to meet with parents in a crisis.”

As the Guardian reported last week, the number of homeless families on shelter waitlists citywide has risen to an unprecedented high of 267, while the number of homeless students in public schools identified by San Francisco Unified School District stands at a high of 2,167. Both figures suggest homelessness is on the rise in a city where rents are well above average and the recession has given rise to job loss, evictions, and foreclosures. A nationwide Occupy Our Homes day of action scheduled for today, Dec. 6, is meant to draw attention to tenant evictions and homeowners losing their properties to bank foreclosure.

Part of the problem facing newly homeless families in San Francisco is the lack of availability in public housing and other housing assistance programs such as Section 8 rental assistance vouchers. The waitlist for public housing units in San Francisco stands at between 24,000 and 25,000 — enough would-be tenants to fill the roughly 6,500 units in the city’s public housing system nearly four times over. The San Francisco Housing Authority closed its waitlist for public housing several years ago. The waitlist for Section 8, a separate program administered by the federal government, is also closed.

“Why do waiting lists close? The demand for low-income housing so far outweighs the available vacancy,” said San Francisco Housing Authority (SFHA) spokesperson Rose Dennis. “A number of housing authorities have had to close their waitlists, because we cannot serve the people who are not on the waitlist right now. This is not unique to San Francisco.”

Nevertheless, advocates with the Coalition on Homelessness say part of their strategy is to pressure the mayor to revamp units sitting empty in housing authority properties so they can be used for housing.

Asked about this, Dennis responded that there are relatively few vacancies, and that all vacant units are already in the process of being prepared for new tenants — some of whom have already been identified and promised a unit, and others who are part of a pool of applicants undergoing a screening and selection process.

Housing Rights Committee executive director Sara Shortt, however, told the Guardian public housing tenants she’s worked with have long observed boarded-up units on SFHA properties. She added that they’ve raised concerns about the tendency for empty units to attract rodents, graffiti, or squatters engaged in drug sales or use, which can lead to violence.

Friedenbach said she’d heard from multiple people seeking public housing units who said they’d been promised a unit only to experience delay after delay, for weeks on end. Dennis said it takes SFHA between one and 45 days to move a tenant into a unit once the housing has become available, depending on the status of the tenant.

In addition to the conflicting accounts, another complicating factor is that the actual number of vacancies in housing authority property seems difficult to pin down. Dennis told the Guardian that the occupancy rate in SFHA property typically stands at around 93 percent. Since there are roughly 6,500 units total, this would imply that there are about 450 vacant units. Yet Dennis also stressed that the number of vacant units is always around 225, give or take, and has hovered consistently around that level without any dramatic spikes in vacancy.

A SFHA report to its federal parent agency, the Housing and Urban Development (HUD), which housing advocates received as part of a Freedom of Information request, listed a total of 847 vacant public housing units as of May 2011. That’s nearly twice as high as a 7 percent vacancy rate, and almost four times as high as the 225 vacant units Dennis said the authority consistently has in its system.

“That’s not a vacancy rate,” Dennis explained after we sent her a copy of the document. “That’s a cumulative, historic count that HUD has that is different from day-to-day management. These are not numbers that accurately represent what you would go out and see on a site. These numbers have a lot of other aspects to them.” She added, “The numbers that I gave you are accurate and true.”

The Guardian has placed a call to the Human Services Agency, as well, in hopes of sorting out some of these issues. We’ll update this post if we hear back.