A rat infestation, dilapidated plumbing and broken heating systems are among the top concerns that residents at the Robert B. Pitts apartments in San Francisco's Western Addition neighborhood are waiting to have addressed by a new federal program that funnels private funds into public housing.
U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi and San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee, along with residents and other local officials, stood in a courtyard at the housing complex on Wednesday to highlight the implementation of a $1.69 billion transformation plan for San Francisco's public housing system.
The plan is part of the federal Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD) program, which was unveiled nationwide in 2012. The program shifts units from the public housing program to the private market. A housing subsidy is paid directly to the landlord by the public housing agency and the family pays the remaining amount, according to HUD officials.
While the Robert B. Pitts complex has only 203 units, citywide 3,475 public housing units will be rehabilitated in the coming years. The mayor's office said 1,000 new units will also be constructed.
Barbara Smith, acting executive director of the San Francisco Housing Authority, said that residents at Robert B. Pitts have been waiting for the rehabilitation work to begin. Smith said the start date has been postponed three times already, but said she is confident that work will begin on units starting in mid-November. She said the repairs and renovations to the complex will be complete by November 2016.
However, residents at the complex on Wednesday aren't as convinced that the timeline is realistic. Some of the residents, including Robert B. Pitts' Tenant Association council member Angie Coleman, said she has been living in the complex since 1990 and that some of the repairs she requested 25 years ago still have not been addressed.
Coleman said since the RAD program was announced last year, she said even less has been done to respond to tenants' requests for repairs. Coleman said that she has been living for almost two years without heat. She said the Housing Authority gave her a space heater, but that she had to stop using it when her 15-year-old granddaughter found the plastic space heater melting in the unit.
Tenant Conswelo Raybon said there are huge rats that come into the units. She said they chewed through wires and cords in her car, causing her $1,200 in repairs.
"We don't let the kids go outside," Raybon said, explaining her fear of exposing them to not only the rats, but also the rat poison placed around the complex. She said she takes them to a nearby park instead.
San Francisco Board of Supervisors president London Breed, who represents the Western Addition, said many of the deplorable conditions she saw growing up in public housing in the neighborhood still exist. She said there are more than $200 million in deferred maintenance costs in San Francisco's public housing units.
"No, it's not a perfect solution," Breed said, "but RAD is what is going to change it for the better."Lee said repairs and renovations are already under way at the Hunters View and Alice Griffith public housing complexes thanks to RAD. He said the Robert B. Pitts complex is the third to be worked on out of 15 complexes.
According to the mayor's office, Bank of America was selected as the construction lender and the equity investor, in partnership with Freddie Mac as the permanent lender, for the first phase of RAD rehabilitation work. Lee said the RAD program means, "not only upgraded, but maintained" units for the most "economically-challenged" residents in the city. He said no residents will be permanently displaced, but that some will be relocated during repairs.
Pelosi applauded the efforts made by the mayor and the federal government for low-income residents. She said that through the public-private partnership, "we are unleashing new resources, protecting tenants' rights, and preserving a strong voice for our families in the housing policy decisions that affect their communities."
Castro said the conversion of Robert B. Pitts apartments alone "will allow the San Francisco Housing Authority and its partners to invest $31 million to rehabilitate over 200 family units" that will be modern and safe. He said the RAD program is designed to help the country's most needy residents through private partnerships.
"We know that the affordable housing crisis is growing," Castro said.
Nationwide, RAD has leveraged more than $1 billion in private partnerships to preserve affordable housing units, according to HUD.