Tenants at a Potrero Hill housing project are divided about whether Eugene Burger Management Company has cleaned up its act and is paying attention to the many tenant complaints.
Mission Local interviewed half a dozen tenants at Potrero Hill projects on Monday, following a hearing last Thursday during which city and company officials said the property manager had made strides since the Housing Authority earlier this year rated it as failing in most measurable criteria.
While some residents accused the management of “passing the buck” and lying about improvements, others were sympathetic to Eugene Burger and confirmed the company was resolving issues the best that it can.
“Are things perfect now? No,” said Uzuri Pease-Greene, a tenant and executive director of Community Awareness Resource Entity, who was present at Thursday’s Government and Audit oversight meeting and lives on Dakota Street, three-tenths of a mile up the hill from the public housing units where a lethal fire took place on Missouri Street in January. “But the bottom line is, EBMC now is working tirelessly to make it better.”
Stella Scott, a Turner Terrace tenant also present at Thursday’s meeting, disagreed. When asked if management had improved, she loudly guffawed. “It’s all bullshit.”
These public housing sites are a part of HOPE SF, an ambitious renovation project of San Francisco’s public housing. The Potrero Hill housing is being demolished and rebuilt section by section, and the buildings on the Terrace, an area of the project near the Potrero Hill Family Resource Center, are the renovation’s fourth and fifth phases. More than a third of the nearly 400 units of the Terrace are vacant, and squatters have, meanwhile, moved in.
District 10 Supervisor Shamann Walton called for the hearing at Thursday’s Board of Supervisors Government Audit and Oversight Committee after Mission Local wrote articles documenting mismanagement and chaotic on-site conditions. In May, Mission Local published the city’s scorecard, which showed Eugene Burger’s site management failed in four out of five rated categories in February — and, in January, failed them all.
San Francisco Housing Authority chief executive officer Tonia Lediju on Thursday told the committee that the public housing properties now pass muster in four out of five categories. The company is still failing to “reconcile” its leases and paperwork.
Scott, one of the few leased tenants on Turner Terrace, the mostly vacant street where the Jan. 25 fire occurred, said she knows of at least six squatters nearby her property.
“Do not tell me it takes time,” Scott said as her chihuahuas yipped in the background, referring to management’s claims their hands are tied when it comes to removing squatters from public housing. “Get them out.”
Kathleen Gilbert, wearing flip-flops outside her unit on Turner Terrace, said that another tenant lit her neighbors’ trash on fire a few days ago. That woman, she and fellow resident Tashanna Watson said, allegedly set the fire in January in which one person was killed. “Is she removed? No,” Gilbert said.
Watson said that the same woman sometimes puts lit cigarette butts through her mail slot. Residents described the same squatters breaking in repeatedly, only for the city to release them.
On Thursday Teresa Pegler, the president of Eugene Burger’s affordable housing division, and Housing Authority chief executive officer Lediju said the management company has been boarding up vacant public housing units, but persistent trespassers have been able to break through. Management has worked with the San Francisco Police Department to remove them, they said, but it has been difficult and there’s little else they can do.
Meanwhile, the new manager hired by Eugene Burger in the past few months has attempted to work with the squatters who say they have nowhere else to go and have been serious about finding work, accepting services and looking for other housing.
Eugene Burger closes a work order — a request for maintenance — within 2.8 days, on average, at Potrero Hill, Pegler said at Thursday’s hearing. Additionally, the management group has addressed “life-threatening issues” within 24 hours, according to the last Housing Authority scorecard.
A prior scorecard from February, which Mission Local obtained through a public records request, listed four categories as below satisfactory. These included failing to abate a life-threatening issue in 24 hours; charging rents with no more than 5 percent error; collecting 98 percent of rents; and preparing a monthly report. The one category deemed acceptable was ensuring that units met Section 8 housing standards.
Work-order resolution, in some cases, has sped up under the manager who started a few months ago, according to the tenants. “His [approach] has been way different, and has been very economical and he has worked on getting things fixed,” Pease-Greene said. When he first started, the man asked her to introduce him to fellow public housing tenants, and hit the ground running his first week.
Does abatement take “as long now? No. People will call me, and I’ll call, and they’ll get right over.”
Lee, another tenant at Turner Terrace, said that in the past few months, interactions with Eugene Burger “has been cool.” Whatever problems previously existed in the interior were fixed; his main complaint was the roaming dogs that pooped in front of the property — and maintenance left it there.
Others said there was room for improvement. One tenant, who asked not to be named, said she reported a leaking kitchen sink on Saturday using the property’s emergency number. After no response, she followed up in person on Monday, when a management staffer inspected the leak and promised to return the next day to fix it.
“It’s already been 48 hours for me,” the tenant said.
And, she said, poor conditions from months ago remain, including damage from a roof leak in her unit. Eugene Burger did not mention fixing the roof.
Watson said her 10-year-old daughter’s bedroom has been covered in mold since at least January or February, which she believes has worsened her daughter’s asthma. “Unfortunately, I had to throw away a lot of stuff, because I don’t know what’s molded and what’s not,” Watson said, sitting in her doorway in a 49ers shirt.
When Watson’s daughter tried to get something from her room two weeks ago, she had an asthma attack. “It’s like she’s coughing as if she’s a smoker.”
Moreover, Gilbert said the locks on her door remain broken, despite reporting it months ago.
She also complained that Eugene Burger “took three to five weeks” to board up the charred public housing property where 40-year-old Richard “Wolf” Gescat died during the Jan. 25 fire.The top level of the property is still not boarded up, she said. This leaves it open to squatters. The back of the building remains completely blackened, with a charred bicycle and scuffed-up shoes peeking out from a burnt unit.
Eugene Burger management said its staff “walks” the site daily, which Pease-Greene and another tenant confirmed. Still, other tenants Mission Local spoke to on Monday said they visited less frequently — from once every few days to “rarely.”
During Mission Local’s visit to Turner Terrace, litter was scattered on the sidewalks, lawns, and streets. Scott complained that bulky items take longer to clear. Watson also said individuals who do not live on the property come by and dump trash, which corroborates accounts mentioned at Thursday’s hearing.
Pegler said Eugene Burger has initiated a “watchtower” to monitor “illegal dumping,” and ordered new bins and an audit from Recology, which handles Potrero Hill and Sunnydale trash.
Others agreed that trash pickup isn’t seamless yet — but, for the most part, the new management has been trying to keep it spotless. Lee also felt maintenance did a good job at picking up. However, at the time of visit Monday, that was not the case.
On Thursday, the Housing Authority said Eugene Burger had four passing categories on its scorecard, and only an issue of incorrect leases remained outstanding.
The Housing Authority did not immediately send a copy of the most recent scorecard to Mission Local.
Many of the tenants Mission Local spoke to did not know about the scorecard.
Scott spoke only regarding Thursday’s hearing; she thought Walton handled it well. “I know he did a good job, because he kept getting on them. Like, what do you mean? You keep saying one thing, and you say another.”
It’ll be a matter of time to see how conditions improve, Pease-Greene said. “They are getting better, at least [management is] not on his ass twiddling his thumbs.”