The Housing Authority mess

Photo by Rose Dennis, SFHA

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.






The SFHA is corrupt because for at least 30 years the Feinstein/Brown/Newsom/Lee/Pak machine wants it corrupt. The MTA and DPW are corrupt for the same reasons.

All three agencies have been treated by Brown as reparation reservations for some African Americans instead of as agencies designed to deliver services to the taxpaying public. All three agencies are corrupt as hell.

The only reason why Alvarez is being raked over the coals now is because his 5 years are probably up and it is Bevan Dufty's turn to gorge on the pie as thanks for his taking $1.5m in public funding to not run for Mayor last year.

The HRC is a poverty maintenance organization where organizers are paid to not organize and most tenants are left unorganized to fend for themselves. That is why they get city money.

Posted by marcos on Dec. 10, 2012 @ 12:13 pm

think that Brown nailed it too. In theory, this is an agency that "helps" the poor. In practice it is an agency that co-dependently enables the poor to stay poor, while enriching themselves in the process.

I'm sorry, Tim, but "uppity" (cute word to use when paraphrasing a black man) tenants and entitled city workers are a big problem. But then again, is what Randy Shaw does any better?

There's money in poverty, and nobody does it better than the San Francisco poverty pimp elite. Why would you expect the guy on top to be any better than everyone beneath him?

Posted by Guest on Dec. 10, 2012 @ 1:08 pm

It is not like all poor can magically pull themselves up by their bootstraps, the poverty pimps will point out a few mentally ill and/or substance abusers and attempt to generalize that to all poor to prove that.

No, there are enough non-substance abusers who are mentally fit who with some assistance can pull themselves up and out of poverty. But that would put the social services agencies out of business which was their goal once upon a time and eliminate one other political toehold that corruption has to make sure that the cash keeps on-a'flowin.

Posted by marcos on Dec. 10, 2012 @ 1:51 pm

But then some of the people who live in public housing and take advantage of the system.

I know someone who did HVAC for some city housing. He gets called in because the furnace is out. He goes over there and sees that the furnace had been running overdrive, nonstop keeping the place going at 80+ degrees. He says "Simple fix. Just run it a little lower and we won't have this problem anymore." The lady who was living there began cussing him out saying that she doesn't care, she likes it at that temperature, and it's her RIGHT to have it at that temp and to just fix it. He tells her that he can fix it but he'll have to come back in a few months when it inevitably breaks down again. She told him to mind his f-ing business and just fix it. His supervisor shook his head and just told him to fix it.

I know this story is anecdotal and you can believe it or not, but don't make it seem as if it's the evil HA management that is keeping the places in disrepair.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 10, 2012 @ 3:38 pm

Brown was absolutely right:

Housing Authority employees: We got the sinecures through connections, so now we don't have to work very hard.

Project residents: Thanks to connections with current residents, we got to cut into the line of people waiting for housing. So we can bitch because the employees above dont' work, but we know we got into housing by cheating.

The director: He's angry!!! But he can never fix anything.


Posted by Guest on Dec. 10, 2012 @ 9:11 pm

How is the HA any different than the MTA, DPW etc.??

I guess because this guy is an ally of the Brown\Lee\Pak.

Posted by CJRoses on Dec. 10, 2012 @ 11:46 pm

The "city family" rocks!

Great jobs with little work, great pensions once you can get your foot in the door.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 11, 2012 @ 6:33 am

years in the job.

I know people who tell me their one ambition is to land a job with the city because, as they express it, then they can then just put their feet up.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 11, 2012 @ 7:46 am

Down with health care, let them all die of preventable illness!

The provision for free health care past age 50 after working for the City for "just five years on the job" was amended by voters to be after ten years on the job.

You all won't be happy until we live in a contemporary version of a Dickensian dystopia.

Posted by marcos on Dec. 11, 2012 @ 7:59 am

getting free healthcare forever on the taxpayers' dime.

Most people would kill for a deal that good and even highly-skilled private-sector workers only get health insurance while they work, and often for hundreds a month.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 11, 2012 @ 9:30 am

would solve this easily solvable problem. For-profit healthcare--the shame of the nation. Pay or die.

Posted by Eddie on Dec. 11, 2012 @ 9:49 am

What else would you expect from nihilistic misanthropic conservatives who channel all of their frustrations into hatred against anyone whom they think is getting something over on them, when they want others to cover for their inability to cover for themselves?

First they go off against city employees getting health care as deferred compensation, then they would cut off younger folks from access to Medicare while taking it for themselves at age 65.

Posted by marcos on Dec. 11, 2012 @ 10:23 am

Yes, healthcare should be free for everybody

All problems solved.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 11, 2012 @ 12:45 pm

Health care should be financed in bulk so that the provision of health care is not burdened by the politics and economics of health care finance.

Posted by marcos on Dec. 11, 2012 @ 1:04 pm

Naivity writ on a massive scale. Nothing ever costs anything in EddieWorld

Posted by Guest on Dec. 11, 2012 @ 2:15 pm

system doesn't work in the many countries that use it. I suppose you'd rather waste tax dollars on military spending and propping up the insolvent financial system.

I'm not going to claim that the single payer system is perfect, but experience elsewhere clearly proves it vastly superior to the US's for-profit pay or die system.

Posted by Eddie on Dec. 11, 2012 @ 2:51 pm

Health care is a social service, especially if it goes to people who've worked for it.

Posted by marcos on Dec. 11, 2012 @ 10:20 am

Gawd it's entertaining reading people lauding an employee benefit the City cannot even remotely afford. But it sounds good!

In the end, people don't have a clue. Carry on.

Posted by CJ Roses on Dec. 11, 2012 @ 1:42 pm

Yeah, yeah, yeah, the sky is falling, the billionaires want it all and there is nothing left for anyone else. Time to call that goddamn question.

Posted by marcos on Dec. 11, 2012 @ 1:53 pm

city workers, nor their insane pensions. Burying your head in the sand won't help pay for it either.

Detroit is not hitting the fan and that will be the first of many. Oakland is getting close. Eventually even the affluent places willl fail.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 11, 2012 @ 2:17 pm

I am sure that there is a fine office waiting for you in the Peterson institute.

Posted by marcos on Dec. 11, 2012 @ 2:41 pm

Evidence mounts of the inability of "One-Term Lee" to be anything more than a ribbon-cutter as Mayor. When the going gets tough he ducks out, a la the Cheshire Cat, leaving behind a mere mustache.

Posted by Barry Eisenberg on Dec. 11, 2012 @ 10:24 am