Privatization of public housing

Many residents feel they're moving from the frying pan of Housing Authority control into the fire of developer and nonprofit management

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Sabrina Carter (foreground) ascends the City Hall staircase with activists who came to implore city officials to help rescind he
GUARDIAN PHOTO BY LUCAS GUILKEY

news@sfbg.com

Like so many San Franciscans, Sabrina Carter is getting evicted.

The mother of three says that if she loses her home in the Western Addition, she'll have nowhere to go. It's been a tough, four-year battle against her landlord — a St. Louis-based development company called McCormack Baron — and its law firm, Bornstein & Bornstein. That's the same law firm that gained notoriety for holding an "eviction boot camp" last November to teach landlords how to do Ellis Act evictions and sweep tenants out of rent-controlled housing.

But Carter's story isn't your typical Ellis eviction. Plaza East, where she lives, is a public housing project. Public housing residents throughout the country are subject to the "one-strike and you're out" rule. If residents get one strike — any misdemeanor or felony arrest — they get an eviction notice. In Carter's case, her 16-year-old was arrested. He was cleared of all charges — but Carter says McCormack Baron still wouldn't accept her rent payment and wouldn't respond to her questions.

"I was never informed of my status," she said.

That is, until her son was arrested again, and Carter found herself going up against Bornstein & Bornstein. She agreed to sign a document stipulating that her eviction would be called off unless her son entered Plaza East property (he did). It was that or homelessness, said Carter, who also has two younger sons.

"They criminalized my son so they could evict my family," Carter said.

McCormack Baron and Bornstein & Bornstein both declined to comment.

On March 12, Carter and a band of supporters were singing as they ascended City Hall's grand staircase to Mayor Ed Lee's office.

"We're asking the mayor to call this eviction off. Another black family cannot be forced out of this city," Lisa "Tiny" Gray-Garcia, co-founder of Poor Magazine, said at the protest.

Nearly half of San Francisco's public housing residents are African American, according to a 2009 census from the city's African American Out-Migration Task Force. These public housing residents represent a significant portion of San Francisco's remaining African American population, roughly 65 percent.

Carter's eviction was postponed, but it raises an important question: Why is a public housing resident facing off with private real estate developers and lawyers in the first place?

 

PUBLIC HOUSING, PRIVATE INTERESTS

Plaza East is one of five San Francisco public housing properties that was privatized under HOPE VI, a federal program that administers grants to demolish and rebuild physically distressed public housing.

The modernized buildings often have fewer public housing units than the ones they replaced, with private developers becoming their managers. San Francisco's take on HOPE VI, called HOPE SF, is demolishing, rebuilding, and privatizing eight public housing sites with a similar process.

US Department Housing and Urban Development is rolling out a new program to privatize public housing. The San Francisco Housing Authority is one of 340 housing projects in the nation to be chosen for the competitive program. The city is now starting to implement the Rental Assistance Demonstration program. When it's done, 75 percent of the city's public housing properties will be privatized.

Under RAD, developers will team up with nonprofits and architectural firms to take over managing public housing from the Housing Authority. RAD is a federal program meant to address a nationwide crisis in public housing funding. Locally, the effort to implement the program has been spurred by the Mayor's Office of Housing and Community Development.

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