Needing ways to trim an already-taxed budget further impacted by federal funding cuts, the Housing Authority Commission voted Thursday to cut its budget for private security guards by 25 percent.
Decades removed from fielding its own police force, the Housing Authority relies on a combination of San Francisco police officers and private security guards at its more than 40 sites. While police respond to emergencies at no charge, the Housing Authority pays $1.225 million annually for additional patrols at select areas known for violence or high crime.
In the past fiscal year, another $2 million paid for security guards. That contract was reduced to $1.5 million for the next fiscal year.
The guards, both armed and unarmed, back up the desk workers already posted at select Housing Authority buildings, according to Rose Dennis, an agency spokeswoman. Exactly how many guards are on patrol and where they patrol is confidential, she said. Their main job is to call police if a problem arises.
The security cuts are the latest blow to a reeling department.
Fiscal woes landed the Housing Authority on the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development’s “troubled” list. The local agency’s ex-director, Henry Alvarez, has been sued by current and former employees who allege a bullying management style, and Mayor Ed Lee has cleaned house at the agency commission by replacing political appointees with city employees.
Sequestration, the automatic federal cuts that went into effect due to the budget standstill in Washington, D.C., will create a $6.4 million deficit at the Housing Authority by September, according to financial reports.
The agency is at risk of running out of money and operating on a negative balance next month.
Other options beyond armed guards provide safety at The City’s public housing. A network of cameras aid desk workers and others in sniffing out mischief, and the agency recently received a $356,000 grant from HUD to pay for more cameras at the Sunnydale and Alice Griffith sites, which are both known for high crime rates.
The security guards, some of whom live in public housing themselves, are not well-paid and do not necessarily have the highest profile among tenants.
“I thought we didn’t have security guards for a time,” said Commissioner Patricia Thomas, a resident of the Ping Yuen projects in Chinatown, where guards — some making minimum wage, she added — are posted 16 hours a day.
Housing Authority officials admitted that budget constraints pose a problem.
“Our residents would like 24-hour security,” said Twima Earley, a director in the operations division, “but we just can’t provide that.”