Nonprofits to Take On Public Housing Troubles in SF Mission

1855 15th Street. Photo by Laura Wenus

When the Mission Economic Development Agency and BRIDGE Housing take over the management of two local buildings from the Housing Authority next fall, they will face a laundry list of problems, residents said at a meeting Tuesday night. The switch comes as part of a citywide transfer of public housing from city hands to nonprofits.

“I have a question about ventilation in the building,” said one resident of 1855 15th St, a concrete tower that houses seniors and people with disabilities. “It is horrible. I have bronchitis, I can’t breathe. I don’t know how seniors actually live here.”

The resident was one of about seven who attended the meeting held by MEDA and BRIDGE.

“How long is the rehab going to take? They said two years!” a second resident chimed in later.

“It is almost impossible to get a package delivered,” said Michael Schweitzer, a third resident, toward the end of the meeting.

MEDA and BRIDGE representatives at the meeting said the problems would be addressed in time. The ventilation system and heating system will be overhauled, electrical systems will be upgraded, interiors opened up and updated, and flimsy single-glazed windows will be replaced with sturdier and better insulating double-glazed windows, they promised.

“This is the product of a lot of deferred maintenance,” said Richard Caldwell, the principal of HKIT Architects, which will manage the rehabilitation of the building. For years the Housing Authority, the city agency in charge of public housing, has been underfunded by federal, state, and city actors, resulting in poor maintenance and unsafe conditions in many of its buildings.

As a remedy, all public housing citywide is being transferred to nonprofit control in a program known as a Rental Assistance Demonstration. The RAD conversions will allow nonprofits to invest more money in neglected public housing buildings, and MEDA and BRIDGE — which will be taking over 441 units in the Mission and Castro — are starting a conversation with residents about the repairs they’d like incorporated.

“We’d like for this building to be elegant, be inviting,” Caldwell said. Though the repairs will affect mostly the interior, Caldwell said the drab 1960s exterior may also get a colorful facelift.“We would like for it to be a building that anyone would want to live in.”

Repairs and renovations will take about two years, said MEDA’s Elaine Yee, but individual residents will only be relocated for several months at a time while their unit is updated. Relocations will take place within the building, shuffling residents around among unoccupied units, as much as possible, Yee said.

“The rehab is going to take care of 99 percent of [concerns]” said James Valva of BRIDGE.

Security was a particularly pervasive concern and part of what prompted the meeting.

Clair Bright, president of a homeowner’s association at a nearby building, said drug dealing and disruptive behavior have plagued residents in and around 1855 15th St. for the past year or so.

“It’s completely open to the street, there’s no gate that prevents people who have no business being there…from being there,” Bright said. “I think if you’re going to do any kind of redesign, you need to start at the front door.”

That front gate, she and residents said, rarely stays closed. Security presence is minimal to nonexistent. One resident, Richard Fong, said he had been threatened by someone wielding a piece of wood on his own doorstep.

Helen Hale, Director of Residential and Community Services at the Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development, said she had seen significant improvements in security at buildings that changed hands away from the Housing Authority within a month of the switch.

“[The Housing Authority’s] budget has been sorely lacking for a long time,” she explained. “We’re very aware that this happens… There are numerous buildings that have similar situations.”

Once BRIDGE and MEDA take over, Hunt said, they will provide a set of house rules similar to those that already exist. This set, however, will be signed by tenants and actively enforced, by a staff dedicated to a single site rather than the Housing Authority’s staff members, who each see to multiple buildings.

BRIDGE representatives also said the nonprofit is working on getting cameras installed now.

“How soon is now?” a resident probed.

That’s the rub – neither BRIDGE nor MEDA can begin work on the building until they take it over from the Housing Authority in August or September of next year. Until then, residents were told, the best approach is to keep contacting the Housing Authority about their concerns.

Disclosure: Mission Local rents a commercial office from a MEDA-owned building.

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