City loan was supposed to help fix S.F. public housing where London Breed grew up. Has it?

Jul 15, 2021

Two months after San Francisco started emergency repairs on a dilapidated public housing complex, incremental progress has been made, although some tenants who sued over conditions say they’ve seen no improvements yet.

“Conditions at Plaza East and in public housing in San Francisco and across the nation have not been what they should be, and tenants have been the victims of that,” said Preston, a former tenants rights attorney. “There’s been some progress dealing with conditions, but clearly there’s a lot more to do.”

At Plaza East, 183 out of 193 units needed emergency repairs, said Pauline Blackwell, vice president with affordable housing developer McCormack Baron Salazar in the Bay Area, which managed the property until last month. Since late May, repair work started in 96 units and was completed in 27, she said.

Twelve percent of the total work was completed by last Friday, said Lydia Ely with the Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development, which awarded the loan. Only nine of the completed units were occupied last week.

Work is “going really well,” Ely said, despite nationwide delays in getting appliances. The timeline for completion is March 2022.

Problems still persist though: The Department of Building Inspection reported 21 active complaints at the property as of Thursday. Five notices of violation are outstanding, Senior Housing Inspector Luis Barahona said.

The group of tenants — who sued about conditions, including pests, mold, broken appliances and lack of security — said little has changed. Dennis Williams said none of the plaintiffs received repairs except for a woman who had a bed-bug-infested carpet replaced on her stairs, but not in the rest of the apartment.

“Everything is still the same,” said tenant Michael Matlock. That includes sewage backed up in his yard. His wife uses a wheelchair, so the situation is “kind of rough for us,” he said.

Yolanda Marshall said her washer, dryer, heaters and lights are still broken.

“Nothing works in here,” she said. “Nothing is being done.”

Williams and Marshall want a tenant oversight committee to track how the money is being spent, management removed and building ownership given to tenants, many of whom are Black.

Tonia Lediju, executive director of the San Francisco Housing Authority, which oversees the city’s public housing, said Thursday she is “highly committed to ensuring that our families get to a place where they feel safe, secure and they have a community that feels welcome and is livable.”

Adhi Nagraj, senior vice president for development at McCormack Baron Salazar in the Bay Area, couldn’t comment on the lawsuit against the company. He attributed deferred maintenance to federal underfunding and said pandemic lockdown increased costs by $500,000 a year.

Last month, local company John Stewart Management took over, although McCormack Baron Salazar is still overseeing repairs. A majority of the city loan — $2.5 million — will be used to fix fire alarms, sewers, electrical work and replacing appliances. The remaining $198,000 will provide social services.

The money will only make a dent and stabilize the property, but without substantial rehabilitation, problems will reoccur, Preston told The Chronicle. The city is considering rebuilding the property into mixed-income affordable housing, but pulled back an application with the federal government to demolish it earlier this year.

Preston said Thursday the proposal would have entrusted the same company that managed the site as it deteriorated with redeveloping it. Any future decision should be led by tenants, he said.

Nagraj agreed.

“The future of Plaza East is in the tenants’ hands,” he said.

Mallory Moench is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: Twitter: @mallorymoench

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