Residents gripe about heat and leaks in brand new Hunters Point public housing 

click to enlarge Hunters View tenants gather Thursday at an event marking the first units’ completion. Though City Hall touted the milestone, some tenants questioned the timing. - MIKE KOOZMIN/THE S.F. EXAMINER
  • Mike Koozmin/The S.F. Examiner
  • Hunters View tenants gather Thursday at an event marking the first units’ completion. Though City Hall touted the milestone, some tenants questioned the timing.

Leaky doors and nonfunctional heaters greeted some incoming tenants at a public housing project rebuilt under an ambitious citywide program, but the company responsible promised that such “hiccups” will be immediately fixed.

“There’s no heat, unless they fixed it today,” said Tessie Ester, a Hunters Point resident since 1959, vice president of the Hunters View tenants’ association and frequent critic of the John Stewart Companies.

Ester personally delivered some of her gripes to Mayor Ed Lee, who visited Hunters View on Thursday to mark the first new units’ completion.

The townhome stairs in the first 25 units to be inhabited are difficult for elderly or disabled people to navigate, she griped, and issues with weather stripping around the front door sent rainwater inside one tenant’s unit after she moved in last month.

Still, Ester admitted that the new units are nicer than their predecessors, though smaller.

“But if they weren’t ready, people shouldn’t have been moved in there,” she said.

Company President John Stewart acknowledged that the building’s high-tech hydronic heat system had a “shaking-out process” that took some time to work through, but said all units had heat as of Thursday. Air bubbles in water pipes kept heat from circulating properly for a short time, but any unit suffering from such issues was given an electric space heater.

“That’s the price you pay for a green system,” Gardner said. “It takes a while for it to get up and running.”

John Stewart built and will manage the new Hunters View, the first of The City’s most troubled public housing projects to be rebuilt under a $250 million rebuild dubbed the HOPE SF project.

Alice Gutiérrez and her five sons, whose five-bedroom apartment was open for viewing Thursday by the mayor and media, had nothing but nice things to say about their new home.

The new “urban modern” buildings feature a gated central courtyard and multiple-story units in stark contrast to the long, low, 1950s-era public housing they are  replacing.

“These units are a thousand times better than the old units,” Gardner said.

Issues such as the fussy heat, leaky door, and bubbles on the laminated plastic covering floors and countertops were prioritized for the project contractors to fix, Gardner said.

Ester also complained that the units don’t have washers and driers. Gardner said space and cost limitations ruled laundry facilities out for the new units. All buildings have an on-site laundry room, he noted.

Two more Hunters View buildings with another 107 units should be completed by May, he said. The final rebuild will include 315 market-rate units as well as 267 “market-rate quality” units of public housing.

Squabbling over public housing is nothing new in San Francisco. Subpar housing and a lack of related construction opportunities long ago soured some relationships between City Hall and many of the black families who inhabit The City’s southeast.

Gardner boasted that more than half of the work on Hunters View has gone to San Francisco residents, with 24 percent of the total going to residents of the Bayview and Hunters Point. But that’s not good enough for some more militant activists.

“We’ll shut the next one down,” said James Richardson, lead organizer with the Aboriginal Blackmen United, a group of residents who protest construction sites that don’t hire enough locals for their tastes. “Phase 2 ain’t gonna happen.”

Designation as “troubled” agency adds to San Francisco Housing Authority’s woes

As Mayor Ed Lee toured the San Francisco Housing Authority’s new units of “model” housing in Hunters Point on Thursday, its embattled director, Henry Alvarez, met with federal authorities to hash out a plan to rescue his agency from its “troubled” status.

While the brand-new units at Hunters View built by a private developer are billed as market-rate quality, the Housing Authority is now rated among the very worst in California, according to a December letter from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Issues with the Housing Authority’s finances and its management earned it a “troubled” rating from HUD. The only other public housing authority in California to receive such a rating is Richmond’s.

Out of possible top scores of 25, the agency received a score of 5 for its finances and 12 for its management, toward a total score of 54 out of 100. Anything under 60 is considered “troubled.”

Huge payouts for lawsuits stemming from fatal fires in Housing Authority properties hampered the agency’s credit rating, Lee said Thursday. “We had to pay for that, and we’re still trying to recover,” he said.

Alvarez himself also is the subject of lawsuits alleging discrimination and a bullying, vindictive management style. Several current and former Housing Authority employees have sued The City and Alvarez alleging racial discrimination. Alvarez is black; the litigants are white. That litigation is ongoing.

Alvarez joined The City in 2007 under Lee’s stewardship as city administrator. At a news event to mark the opening of 25 new units in Hunters Point, Lee declined to discuss Alvarez’s legal woes and said The City would wait to hear HUD’s recommendations before addressing any possible improvements. The City could receive an action plan from HUD sometime over the next few weeks, according to HUD spokeswoman Gene Gibson.

About The Author

Chris Roberts

Chris Roberts

Chris Roberts has worked as a reporter in San Francisco since 2008, with an emphasis on city governance and politics, The City’s neighborhoods, race, poverty and the drug war.
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