Editor's notes

Think of it as a managerial tool: the guy who runs public housing should live in it


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.



7 weeks paid vacation? That is ridiculous. And people wonder why we have deficits.

Posted by The Commish on Jan. 16, 2013 @ 11:00 am


Posted by Granny Gear on Jan. 16, 2013 @ 1:37 pm

Great editorial Tim!! Yes, let him live in public housing, not just for one day a week, but for one consecutive month!

Posted by Granny Gear on Jan. 16, 2013 @ 1:36 pm

I will be glad to to house swap with the head of SFHA ( I live in public housing ) and would LOVE t see this as a regular program for SFHA administration! What a great idea! LEt them see what its like to have the closet door fall off every time you open it - or make do with one or two working burners on the stove - or have to look at dirty windows ! I know these are minor annoyances - but they are constant and never get fixed - despite endless requests for maintenance - nothing gets done - or done properly. Very frustrating.

Posted by Guest miki pryor on Jan. 16, 2013 @ 4:49 pm

You appear to have a vast array of experiences that would serve you well as the head of the SFHA. And a big plus is that you are a resident.

In any event, thanks for sharing your experience as a SFHA tenant.

Posted by Eddie on Jan. 16, 2013 @ 5:06 pm

disperse the tenants with vouchers and sell the land underneath to people who will make good use of it. Public housing concentrates poverty and breeds shiftlessness and crime. There's absolutely nothing good about it.

Posted by Lucretia Snapples on Jan. 16, 2013 @ 5:57 pm

it a valuable part of the neighborhood. Eliminating public housing will lead to increased homelessness. Vouchers are an inadequate replacement for actual affordable apartments.

I'm no public housing idealist--there are problems. The above comment from a SFHA resident points out one of the most common: inadequate maintenence.

Posted by Eddie on Jan. 16, 2013 @ 6:20 pm

Is generational unemployment and violence. Deferred maintenance is clearly a problem as well (look at Potrero Terrace if you want to see how bad it is). Concentrating poverty is the surest way of continuing poverty. It represents a major failure on the behalf of the public towards our less fortunate.

Posted by Lucretia Snapples on Jan. 16, 2013 @ 6:59 pm

in the United States. And the problem is getting worse during the current depression caused by the financial crisis resulting from the bursting of the housing bubble. This quote sums up the problem quite nicely:

"With no let up since the financial crisis of 2008, communities across the country are in free fall. Official poverty is hovering at close to a staggering 50 million Americans. Last year, 20.5 million individuals were living in extreme poverty—at less than half of the poverty line. Older Americans are among the most vulnerable. In 2010, 8.3 million Americans over 60 faced the threat of hunger — up 78 percent from a decade earlier. In what is truly a national disgrace, our children are also hurting badly. Between 2007 and 2011, U.S. school-age children living in poor households grew by 22%. The Agriculture Department reports that nearly 1 in 4 young children lived with insufficient food last year. Overall, U.S. government estimates indicate that one in three Americans lives at or near poverty—that’s 100 million Americans."

Sorry for the long quotation, but it is chock full of good information. Here's a link to the whole article:

However, eliminating public housing is not going to help fix poverty, the major failure you cite in your comment.

Posted by Eddie on Jan. 16, 2013 @ 11:01 pm

Inadequate Maintenance is correct. Employee's of the Housing were the victims to some less interested leaders in the Mayor-Executive offices. The director of Housing Authority, and the SFHA commission board agreed to cut the Maintenance Department. Why? To cause Housing to collapse on itself. Make no mistake about it the Mayor Ed Lee knew about, and made some crooked deal with the director and commission board so that SFHope could possibly take over. Why? Ed Lee plan with Gavin Newsom before he left to push poor families out of San Francisco that they consider not of best interest for the city. Nonsense? Look at the diagram since Gavin Newsom was mayor, than look at what Ed Lee was trying not to do will the Housing was having these problems addressed to his staff. The same staff that were in fact informing him of what Henry Alvarez was doing to the agency. Ed Lee plays dumb to the notion that he sticks by his man-Ed Lee's funny when trying to tell a joke. Not Funny dude.

Posted by Sfha Plumber on Jan. 19, 2013 @ 11:24 pm

First off disperse of the Housing authority and giving vouchers won't solve anything. If that were the case why not give each tenant $100,000.00 to use for a down payment for a home. Here is the fact, corporate america see a 'goldmine' property that poor families happen to be living on. It's the same o same o move 'em out and they'll crumble on their own. Who ever you are your a smuck just like the rest who say Housing Authority needs to be dispersed. What you tend to forget the same criminals, problem starters, and no good folks you trying to move out maybe the same ones who could be moving next door to you in another city where you possibly live with that voucher.

Posted by Sfha Plumber on Jan. 19, 2013 @ 11:10 pm

It is very hard to contact employees at the Housing Authority. They don't answer their phones, nor respond to voice-mail or e-mail

Posted by Guest Sammi on Jan. 25, 2013 @ 1:31 am