SF mayor’s vow to ‘quickly’ repair tower elevators remains unfulfilled 

Alexandra Elvir, right, rides by the elevators at Clementina Towers in her wheelchair. Over a year after Mayor Ed Lee pledged "emergency" funds to "quickly" fix erratic elevators at Clementina Towers, tenants are still waiting. - MIKE KOOZMIN/THE S.F. EXAMINER
  • Mike Koozmin/The S.F. Examiner
  • Alexandra Elvir, right, rides by the elevators at Clementina Towers in her wheelchair. Over a year after Mayor Ed Lee pledged "emergency" funds to "quickly" fix erratic elevators at Clementina Towers, tenants are still waiting.
By now, Kevin Lee can guess when the elevators at Clementina Towers — twin high-rises in South of Market run by the Housing Authority where he has an apartment — will act up or break down: once or twice a month, like they have for years.

He also knows when The City will make good on a promise made by Mayor Ed Lee in April 2014 to “quickly” fix the elevators, on which he and the other disabled and senior tenants of the buildings rely. He hears the same answer with similar regularity.

“We keep asking, and they keep saying the same thing: ‘It’s coming soon, it’s coming soon, it’s coming soon,’” he said Friday.

It’s been over a year since the mayor announced $5.4 million in “emergency” funding to solve the longstanding elevator problem at the 13-story Clementina Towers, where seniors and disabled people who rely on wheelchairs, walkers and canes to reach their apartments have been stuck between floors or stranded in the lobby.

And the tenants are still waiting.

Clementina Towers is just one of nine Housing Authority properties with outmoded or neglected elevators that Lee said would receive “critical ... short term” repairs in an April 17, 2014, announcement.

That work won’t begin until June, Housing Authority officials said Friday — and the elevator upgrades won’t be completed until November. That’s not sitting well with Lee or the 21 tenants who filed suit against the Housing Authority in June over the elevator problems. That lawsuit is still pending.

“Nothing has been done,” said Joseph Tobener, a prominent tenants attorney who filed the lawsuit. “This is a 13-story building with dangerous and unreliable elevators. All of the tenants are disabled. You have to be disabled to live in the building. Is The City going to continue to ignore these tenants?”

Some of the delay may be chalked up to the bureaucratic process. The Housing Authority put out a contract to “modernize” its elevators in August — with the promise that the work would begin in March and be completed by June.

It was not clear Friday why the work will now not begin until June. Rose Dennis, a Housing Authority spokeswoman, did not explain the delay in an email statement provided to The San Francisco Examiner. Lee spokeswoman Christine Falvey did not respond to a message seeking comment on Friday.

Like The City’s other public housing, management of Clementina Towers is being transferred from the Housing Authority to a nonprofit housing provider. The Tenderloin Neighborhood Development Center is scheduled to take over the towers in summer 2016.

In the meantime, the elevators’ state certification has also expired. Permits for the four elevators at the complex expired in August, according to records.

Under state law, elevators with expired permits can be deactivated entirely unless there’s a renewal application in process. The state Department of Industrial Relations, which inspects and certifies elevators, sent the Housing Authority notice Feb. 25 of a pending renewal.

It was not clear on Friday when the Housing Authority applied for recertification.

The elevators last broke down in December, according to Housing Authority repair records, with the most recent maintenance visit from elevator crews coming in March.

However, multiple tenants at Clementina Towers recalled a three-week outage at one of the elevators that was not fixed until early April. They’re waiting on the next one.

“We want our elevators in working condition,” said tenant Terry Bagby, one of the plaintiffs in the suit. “Just because we’re low income doesn’t mean we should be low priority.”

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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