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Chinatown public housing complex celebrates makeover

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A view of the public housing development at 990 Pacific Ave. in Chinatown before a grand re-opening ceremony on Thursday, Sept. 6, 2018. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

The conclusion of a year-long effort to rehabilitate 92 affordable housing units in Chinatown for seniors and people with disabilities was celebrated Thursday at 990 Pacific Ave.

The first Chinatown project to be overhauled under the City’s Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD) program, the redevelopment included seismic retrofit work, interior upgrades and enhance common spaces, and called for the temporary relocation of over 100 residents.

The RAD initiative — a program under the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development — has transferred ownership of public housing properties from the San Francisco Housing Authority to private affordable housing developers and nonprofits citywide. The change has allowed the organizations to tap into federal low income tax credits , private mortgages and local funds.

Participation in the program was started by the late Mayor Ed Lee in an attempt to tackle long standing dysfunctions in San Francisco’s public housing. Under RAD, the properties’ new owners must keep the rental cost the same for tenants, at 30 percent of their incomes, and keep the same number of units.

Once rehabilitation is completed, the original tenants retain the right to return.

“I was very scared and fearful about leaving Chinatown and not being able to move back into my home. But CCDC helped us with everything,” said Xiao Ying Zhao Lin, one of the oldest residents of 990 Pacific Ave., who returned this spring along with the buildings other tenants after a year-long relocation.

On Saturday, residents at Holly Courts, a 118-unit public housing project in the Bernal Heights neighborhood, also celebrated the end of a two year, $26 million renovation effort stewarded by the nonprofit Bernal Heights Neighborhood Center, which has worked with the housing project’s residents since the 1980s.

“The RAD project is really not only about the physical rehabilitation of these properties, but the rehabilitation of trust, hope and process,” said Buck Baggot, founder of the Bernal Heights Neighborhood Center. We not only worked on the buildings but worked on the connection to the people that live in the buildings through services.”

At 990 Pacific Ave., the Chinatown Community Development Center assumed ownership and management of the 50 -year-old building ahead of the $65 million renovation project that concluded in the spring.

“The best way to describe [990 Pacific Ave.] is ‘50 years of neglect,’” said Phil Chin, chairman of CCDC’s Board of Directors. “The Housing Authority has not been known as great property managers. I think the city’s bureaucratic process made it that much more challenging to keep up with the needs of the residents as the buildings got older and older.”

At the grand reopening of the the housing development on Thursday, Mayor London Breed said it is her “personal dream” to “rehabilitate all public housing units in San Francisco.”

“I know how it feels to live in public housing where the conditions are absolutely horrible,” said Breed, who was raised in public housing. “The roaches, the pipes that are busted, the bathrooms that are messed up, the mold, the violence, the frustration I experienced — you never forget that.”

Residents at Holly Courts, a 118-unit public housing project in the Bernal Heights neighborhood, celebrated the end of a two year, $26 million renovation effort on Saturday. (Laura Waxmann/S.F. Examiner)


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