Maurice Terrell Carter, 47, has lived in the Plaza East apartments in the Fillmore his entire life, and recalls his childhood there fondly. But he also remembers when developer McCormack Baron Salazar renovated the units in 2001 and promised his mother that she could return to a fixed-up apartment. She, along with a score of others who moved out of their apartments at the 193-unit housing complex on 1300 Buchanan St. during the renovation, never came back. When the property was rebuilt, it had 83 less units than before.
For years, McCormack Baron Salazar, also the property manager, did little to address the chronic mold and infestation problems confronting Carter and his neighbors, he said. Nevertheless, McCormack Baron Salazar suggested to residents in a meeting that it has the contract to demolish and renovate the property — and tenants like Carter are demanding guarantees of habitability, transparency, and tenants’ rights to return.
On Tuesday, Carter joined a dozen other Plaza East residents and the members of the city’s Housing Rights Committee, who voiced concerns about McCormack Baron Salazar’s proposed redevelopment of Plaza East to replace all 193 units with a “mixed-income” complex, with at least one 16-story building and other six to eight-story buildings to house 680 households total. Plans revealed at the meeting by McCormack suggest hundreds will be market-rate, though it’s unclear exactly how many, advocates said.
Tenants, however, said today that McCormack should not be allowed to proceed without their input and a transparent process.
“We want to make sure that we’re not played,” said resident Yolanda Marshall. “We have to deal with rodents, bedbugs, sewage coming out of the sinks. I don’t understand how HUD is still in business with these people,” she said Tuesday.
Plaza East, built in the 1950s, was once home to Mayor London Breed and her grandmother. McCormack Baron Salazar has not yet responded to Mission Local’s request for comment. In the past, the company blamed the disrepair on the federal government’s severe underfunding of public housing units. The nonprofit Without Walls (WOW) will be a co-developer in the redevelopment. WOW’s founder, Arnold Townsend, was the vice-chair of the controversial 2022 Redistricting Task Force.
A 2021 San Francisco Public Press investigation revealed nearly 100 notices of violations during the past nine years. The 193-unit complex continues to have habitability issues, said resident Dennis Williams at Tuesday’s press conference.
Standing in front of apartments on Larch Way, residents on Tuesday said their stove and sprinkler systems didn’t work and mold was growing in their carpets. Carter, too, said he has mold problems.
The developer acknowledged the complex’s poor conditions, and requested to demolish and replace the apartments with the mayor’s backing, but was denied by the U.S. Housing and Urban Development Department (HUD) in 2021.
This pleased tenants, who prefer apartment renovations to a complete demolition. “It’s faster, it’s less costly, and keeps residents in place,” Plaza East resident Michael Galathe, 51, told Mission Local. Carter agreed. “All the people want is a fair chance at staying in their home,” he said.
It’s unclear if that will happen. At present plans are for a mixed-income housing development, which include hundreds of market-rate units.
Many residents view the market-rate apartments as a route to gentrification and displacement of the historically Black community living in the Fillmore. “Every other race has their own community. Japantown is right there,” Galathe said. “We don’t got an African American town. This is it.”
Supervisor Dean Preston, who oversees the district encompassing Plaza East, agreed that adding market-rate apartments “doesn’t make sense” when more affordable homes could be built.
Preston announced a resolution during Tuesday’s Board of Supervisor meeting urging McCormack Baron Salazar and the San Francisco Housing Authority to transparently come up with development ideas that better reflect tenants’ wishes. One proposed alternative would use federal financing to convert public housing units into Section 8 housing, keeping the units “deeply affordable.”
A resolution usually signals a supervisor’s stance on an issue, but has no direct legislative impact. Still, Preston believes the pressure could move the developers to build more affordable housing instead of market-rate homes.
“We’re not trying to micromanage” the project, Preston told Mission Local. “But there hasn’t been any serious effort to say this is all going to be affordable housing.”
Thanks to Breed’s Right to Return ordinance, which passed in 2020, tenants who are displaced during a public housing renovation are guaranteed the right to return. But Preston said that passing a law doesn’t always mean it’s enforced. “Holding people to that, and making sure temporary relocation doesn’t go on and on … you know, that’s not as simple.”
Case in point is Carter’s mother, who never managed to return.