Newsom: Champion of hope for public housing 

Mayor Gavin Newsom said he is determined to tear down and rebuild eight of The City’s most decrepit public housing units, despite recent polling that revealed San Francisco voters are not overwhelmingly receptive to a proposed $100 million bond to help pay for the ambitious project.

The idea of creating a local version of the federal Hope VI program — which, since 1993, provided funds to local housing authorities to rebuild dilapidated housing projects — was planted during the tenure of former Mayor Willie Brown. Newsom, however, has become a champion of the idea of rebuilding public housing units within new mixed-income developments, and had vowed to put a measure on the ballot this year to move a "Hope SF" plan forward.

Newsom revealed during a Feb. 15 public policy talk, however, that he was disappointed in a poll that showed the Hope SF idea garnering about 60 percent support, less than the two-thirds approval needed to pass.

"It’s not doing very well," Newsom said at the time. "It’s a shame. You want to deal with crime, you want to deal with poverty, you have got to deal with the Housing Authority sites that were built in the 1940s and ’50s."

On Tuesday, Newsom downplayed the poll results to The Examiner, noting that a task force composed of residents, community group representatives, and members of various city agencies and commissions is about to release recommendations on how to move forward with the program, including funding ideas.

"We may not need to go to the ballot," Newsom said. "Our creative minds are working to address the funding question."

San Francisco Housing Authority Greg Fortner agreed that, bond money or no bond money, rebuilding the 50-year-old housing is "something we have to do."

The current Hope SF plan would rebuild approximately 2,500 units at eight public housing sites at an anticipated cost of $250 million. The public housing sites proposed, according to Fortner, include Alice Griffith, Hunters Point, Hunters View, Oakdale, Potrero Annex, Sunnydale, Westbrook and West Side Courts.

Newsom said the task force was also working to pre-emptively address concerns that the new developments would lead to gentrification that would economically push the existing residents out of their neighborhoods.

"People are not going to be displaced," Newsom promised, adding that all of the units that are torn down will have an equal number rebuilt, with every family that moves out guaranteed a home in the new building.

Longtime Bayview-Hunters Point community activist Sharon Hewitt said that, while she supported rebuilding the public housing, new homes would not be the big solution to eradicating poverty and ending crime.

She noted that a suspect from a recent shooting in the Haight allegedly came from the nearby Hayes Valley public housing, a mixed-income development built with federal Hope VI dollars.

"It’s never been about the [housing] capital. We must invest in the human capital. Housing doesn’t deal with broken people, people who are economically disenfranchised," Hewitt said.

Each day until voters go to the polls Nov. 6, The Examiner lays odds on local figures beating Mayor Gavin Newsom. Check out our exclusive blog: San Francisco's Next Mayor?

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