Public housing

Battle erupts over future of SF public housing where Mayor Breed grew up: ‘We’re going to fight’

A battle has erupted over the future of the dilapidated Western Addition public housing project which the city wants to redevelop with 755 new homes – a mix of public, affordable and market-priced housing.

Plaza East, where the mayor of London Breed grew up, is set to be reinvented just 20 years after the city rebuilt it, but after years of complaints about substandard conditions. The plan calls for the reconstruction of all 193 social housing units while adding 292 affordable and 270 market-priced units to create a mixed-income community.

A group of residents, backed by supervisor Dean Preston, opposes the plan, including adding units at the market rate, and the developers behind it. Residents learned in May that owner McCormack Baron Salazar had asked property developer Strada Investment Group to partner to develop the units at market rates. On Tuesday, tenants presented petitions they said had been signed by 110 residents out of 140 occupied units to the board of supervisors calling for a halt to redevelopment until they could give more information.

A small crowd of about 15 residents, along with a housing organizer and Preston, gathered outside the low-rise buildings on Tuesday, demanding more transparency and seeking greater involvement from the majority black community in the process. They said they feared being relocated, which happened during the last redevelopment, although a municipal law later passed guaranteed their right to return.

“We want to make sure gentrification doesn’t happen,” tenant Yolanda Marshall said at the rally. “We’re going to fight for our community… We’re going to make sure they don’t take it.”

Marshall and others have also slammed McCormack Baron Salazar, who helped secure funding to redevelop the site in 2001 and managed the property for two decades as it fell into disrepair.

“For them to get away with it for 20 years and still be rewarded at the end of it all, that’s crazy to me,” she said.

Despite protests, the President of the Plaza East Residents’ Council supports the redevelopment and said many other tenants are doing so. The debate reflects the ongoing conflict in San Francisco between moderates and progressives over how to solve the city’s affordable housing crisis in a state where it can cost $1 million to build affordable housing. The city has moved toward revamping underfunded public housing into mixed-income sites to help pay for and desegregate them, but some elected officials want to see more affordability. Preston drafted a resolution, which council passed on Tuesday, urging the city to assess alternative plans to redevelop Plaza East into 100% affordable housing.

“People who can afford brand new units at market price are not like the people with me,” Preston said, waving at people of color behind him.

But Plaza East developers said building mixed-income units is the best way to ensure a steady stream of income to avoid the problems of the past. They said the federal government’s chronic underfunding of public housing has led to the rapid decline of Plaza East which last year led to a lawsuit and a $2.5 million loan from the city for repairs to the city. ’emergency.

“HUD will not and never has given enough money to this project or any of the other housing projects to provide the ongoing maintenance that people deserve to live in,” said Reverend Arnold Townsend, founder of community development organization WOW, or Without Walls and a partner in redevelopment plans.

Preston said the city and the developer did not respond to his inquiries about the funding shortfall. He urged them to take advantage of a new federal program that would allow San Francisco to build and convert up to 2,471 units into Section 8 housing, in which the federal government subsidizes market-price apartment rents. .

Adhi Nagraj, senior vice president of McCormack Baron Salazar, said his organization had used the program in Austin, Texas, but faced the same underfunding challenge. Nagraj said rebuilding just 100% social housing on the site would not generate the financial resources needed to provide “the safety and security that residents seek” at Plaza East. He said limited funding had led to cuts in services – such as security guards – in the past.

The redesign of the Plaza East aims to “reimagine the traditionally segregated and stigmatized social housing”, where people point and tell their children that this is where “the poor live” and “where the problems come from”, Townsend said.

“If you can remove that stigma and people are treated differently, they start acting differently,” he said.

Martha Hollins, the president of the Residents’ Council, supports the redevelopment, which “has been a long time coming”, and believes it will resolve years of complaints.

Developers will submit their design to the planning department in early August, but it could take up to 24 months to be approved.

Preston and protesters said Tuesday they wanted a chance to participate more. Tonia Lediju, CEO of the San Francisco Housing Authority, which oversees the site, said developers have worked with residents for 18 months and shared the design at monthly community meetings since January 2022.

Resident mistrust runs deep for legitimate reasons. In 2001, the city demolished and rebuilt the high-rise complex, dubbed “Outta Control” due to rampant crime and dilapidation, with 83 fewer public housing units than before. Some residents did not return.

Preston and others blamed McCormack Baron Salazar for the “shoddy” rebuild and move. Nagraj said his group was not involved in the design of the past reconstruction, but only stepped in to help secure funding when the city failed to do so, then became the property manager until in 2021.

Under McCormack Baron Salazar’s watch, the Building Inspection Department has issued 90 property trespass notices over the past nine years. Several tenants who spoke at Tuesday’s rally said they were still struggling with flooding and vermin despite emergency repairs last year.

Other tenants believe that the redevelopment will resolve these complaints.

“You’re always going to have people who don’t want to have this, but it has to happen,” LaRonda Anderson said. “My house alone has been flooded five times in 14 years. We can’t put a bandage on it. We have to uproot it.

But for rally attendees, including Rashad Owens, who has lived in the property for 16 years and would like to return, the current plan, including adding market-priced housing, is not the right solution.

“I would like to see residents lead a redevelopment that centers our needs and provides more homes for people than they can afford,” he said.

Mallory Moench (her) is a staff writer for the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: [email protected] Twitter:@mallorymoench