On Tuesday, the San Francisco Housing Authority Commission voted unanimously to fire its embattled chief, Henry Alvarez. Alvarez faces three employee lawsuits and complaints of bullying, as well as a federal investigation into allegations of illegal contracting. We look at the financial emergency confronting the Housing Authority, and the future and state of public housing in California and across the nation.

Sara Shortt, executive director of the Housing Rights Committee of San Francisco, a tenants rights organization that offers free counseling for San Francisco tenants in all types of housing, including rent-control, public housing and Section 8
Rose Dennis, public information officer for the San Francisco Housing Authority
Matt Schwartz, president and CEO of California Housing Partnership Corporation, which helps nonprofit and government housing agencies create, acquire and preserve housing affordable to lower income households

  • Sanfordia113

    * Racially and ethnically, SFHA seems extremely discriminatory against Hispanics and Whites when you look at the numbers. Why hasn’t there been a civil rights lawsuit against them for this? Also, why does SFHA segregate residents by race? Within SFHA buildings, they separate out residents by racial group.

    According to SFHA and the U.S. Census Bureau, 35% of SFHA beneficiaries are African American, yet this group comprises a mere 8% of Californians in poverty and 6% of San Francisco residents. Non-white Hispanics, meanwhile, constitute 24% of SFHA residents, yet 56 % of Californians in poverty and 15% of San Francisco residents. Whites are only a mere 5% of SFHA beneficiaries, yet are 23% of Californians living in poverty and 42% of SF residents. Asians+Others comprise 37% of SFHA beneficiaries, 13% of CA population in poverty, and 39% of SF population.

    • Reynolds Cameron

      The speaker is out of touch. Visit Potrero Hill and go door to door. Until you have done this, you have no basis to speak on.

  • Guest

    SFHA, SFBOS, Ed Lee, & ReBuildSF are spending over $1 billion plus using a property worth $400 million to house 600 families on Potrero Hill. This is $2.3 million per family! Does anyone really think it costs $2.3 million to build a unit of public housing? Where is all the money going?

    If instead this money was invested in U.S. T-bills at 3% interest, we could earn $42 million per year! If this was used as Section 8 rental subsidy, the residents could have the freedom to live anywhere in the city (or even state) that they wanted – away from crime, low-performance schools and socioeconomic isolation. As SFHA residents are required to pay 30% of their income, which averages $14,400 per year, SFHA ould house 1,750 residents with a $2,000 monthly subsidy. Everyone knows that it is possible to find an apartment for under $2,400 per month in SF (including $400 SFHA mandatory co-pay).

    Or is the reason they oppose this because their buddies are stealing a billion dollars from us?

  • Why is the first move to privatize everything? There are inefficiencies and problems in the military and public school system, yet those inefficiencies and problems aren’t from the fact that they are public, but because they are not accountable to the public. Make public housing more transparent and accountable and people will be able to objectively see and analyze what makes it less efficient. Privatizing them on the other hand could just move the issue from an unaccountable public authority to an equally unaccountable private authority.

    • Reynolds Cameron

      If the focus was on Section 8 subsidies instead of fiefdoms of housing units, individual recipients would be empowered to make decisions for themselves, rather than be discriminated against by inept SFHA employees (or their private contractors). “Power to the people” is the rallying cry behind the establishment of a Section 8 trust fund.

  • I am a retired social worker in San Francisco. Never thought I would say this, but public housing needs to be privatized. Agencies like Lutheran Social Services, and Catholic Charities do a much better job in managing public housing. For starts, tenants can – at least – speak to a live person when they call their offices,

  • jsalinas

    How is it Alvarez fault the financial situation the agency finds itself in? What precisely did he do?

  • Reynolds Cameron

    The section 8 solution is simple. Auction off SFHA properties to the highest bidders in an open manner, like on eBay or a Hambrecht auction. They own multi-billion dollar properties. And Ed Lee wants to give his cronies at ReBuild another $1 billion in cash. If there were $5 billion invested with CalPERS at 7.5% interest rate, there would be $375 million per year available for Section 8 housing subsidies. This is $31.25 million per month, or rent for 15,625 families. This is 5,400 more families than SFHA currently serves.

  • Remy Marathe

    Why does Rose Dennis not answer any of the questions she is asked?

  • Masharika Maddison

    Is anyone addressing the fact that San Francisco’s opportunity gap is directly correlated to residential patterns in our city’s public housing system? How are Commission and Housing Authority leaders going to ensure barriers to receiving an excellent education are no longer present for San Francisco’s youngest residents?

  • Gary Kay

    Should we be at all surprised that a nation that worships the God of Materialism isn’t at all concerned with the plight of the poor?

  • Martin Allen

    For an excellent exploration of public housing, including the option referred to by Michael Krasny of eliminating public housing altogether, watch the documentary “The Pruitt-Igoe Myth.” (available on Netflix) When projects are not maintained, whether by oversight or intention, crime and squalor ensue, providing the justification for their eventual demolition, and thus the eviction of the poorest from the community. Real estate is opened up for new development, which we know is the primary spoils available for many interests in a city. By de-prioritizing the maintenance and functioning of the housing authority, a process is allowed to unfold that ultimately accrues to the benefit of city government, developers, and business interests.

  • Reynolds Cameron

    It is illegal to discriminate. Private parties avoid lawsuits. Government bureaucrats don’t care about lawsuits, because it is not their money. This specious argument from the SFHA chief propaganda officer about accountability only from SFHA and not private apartment owners is misinformed or intentionally misleading.

  • 1PeterDuMont2STARALLIANCE8

    Two important sub-categories here are 1) PRIVATE residence hotel OWNERS who neglect their tenants’ rights. For example, the owners allow bed-bugs and roaches to persist in their buildings and neglect other needs such as broken elevators and no-smoking bans.

    2) Disability “help-agencies” often act as payees for multiple residents, yet neglect their collective bargaining power to ensure decent housing conditions for tenants.

    To explain for the unaware: payees are individuals or often nonprofit agencies who receive money directly from Social Security each month on behalf of disabled clients. They are supposed to help their clients manage their money better. The agency, to operate, typically takes a fee from this income month after month. A bigger agency could have hundreds of payees. Yet I have seen at least two privately-owned, residence hotels in Oakland filled with both guaranteed-income disability clients and roaches and bedbugs over long periods. Meanwhile a prominent payee nonprofit agency is NOT managing to put a stop to it, while continuing to receive fees.

    There needs to be more oversight by Social Security and/or other funded watchdog intermediary agencies to ensure that residence hotel owners and payee agencies are upholding their proper responsibilities.

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