Henry Alvarez is going on medical leave starting today, the first step toward the embattled Housing Authority director’s exit.
Alvarez’s leave until March 29 was approved by Housing Authority Commission officials in a closed session Friday, according to Rose Dennis, an agency spokeswoman. Barbara Smith, a “20-something- odd-year” veteran of the department who most recently served as the authority’s modernization administrator, will step into Alvarez’s role, Dennis said.
Since Alvarez’s arrival in 2007, the Housing Authority, which manages 6,746 units of public housing at 45 sites citywide, has taken a turn for the worse. The agency recently scored 54 out of 100 on a federal audit, earning the label “troubled”—making it, along with Richmond, one of only two public housing agencies in California to receive such a low grade.
Alvarez also has been sued by former and current employees who allege a bullying, vindictive management style and racial discrimination. Alvarez is black; the litigants are white.
Alvarez asked to go on leave in a letter mailed to the commission last week. His contract expires June 13, and he has indicated he will not seek a renewal. The seven-member commission will decide how to proceed, such as seeking a replacement, when Alvarez returns from leave.
The Housing Authority is a federally funded agency but has some local control. The director serves at the pleasure of the commission, whose members are appointed by Mayor Ed Lee.
Despite the authority’s situation, Alvarez has staunch defenders within The City’s black community.
“There’s no need to comment,” said the Rev. Amos Brown, a former city supervisor and president of the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People who serves as president of the housing commission. “The situation speaks for itself.”