By replacing the political appointees on the Housing Authority board of commissioners with city employees, Mayor Ed Lee is taking a bold step toward reforming San Francisco’s long-suffering public housing while asserting more control over the troubled quasi-federal agency.
On Thursday, Lee secured the resignations of six of the seven commission members — some of whom had two years left on their terms — and then announced their replacements late Friday.
Gone is the Rev. Amos Brown, the commission president who’s been a member since 2004 and who’s also head of the NAACP’s local chapter and a former city supervisor. Mirian Saez, director of the Treasure Island Development Authority, also has departed. Along with the other four, they were appointees of former Mayor Gavin Newsom.
In their places, Lee has tapped top-level staffers from the District Attorney’s Office, Office of Economic and Workforce Development, Human Resources Department and Human Services Agency. No new president has been selected. The commission’s next scheduled meeting is Thursday.
Only Patricia Thomas, a Lee appointee who lives in the Ping Yuen projects in Chinatown, remains. The other resident seat is vacant.
Financially starved for decades, with a “distressed” housing stock beyond repair, the Housing Authority last year earned a “troubled” rating from federal inspectors for dismal finances and poor management. And Executive Director Henry Alvarez, who clashed with city unions, is exiting amid lawsuits from authority staff.
Lee has vowed to shake up the agency. The mayor wants it rebuilt on the model of North Beach Place and Valencia Gardens — projects that benefited from a Newsom-era program called Hope SF where the lack of federal cash is made up for through private capital. In return for rebuilding public housing, developers are allowed to construct valuable market-rate housing.
Hashed out under federal guidance, reboot plans for the Housing Authority — which could be dissolved entirely, Lee has told The San Francisco Examiner — are due July 1.
“This shows [Lee is] really serious about reforming public housing and is willing to take major steps in order to do it,” said Supervisor London Breed, who grew up in public housing in the Western Addition and toured Plaza East, a public high-rise, with the mayor Friday a few hours before the authority shake-up was announced.
While all members of city commissions serve at the pleasure of the mayor, such a clean sweep is rare. Notable also is the ouster of Brown, a longtime city political fixture whom public housing advocates saw as an immutable force against substantive change at the authority.
Brown declined to comment when contacted Friday.
“One thing’s for sure, the old guard had to go,” said Sara Shortt, executive director of tenant advocate the Housing Rights Committee.
The new commissioners — all experts in public safety, finance and job training — might appear to be an all-star management team, but Shortt said it remains to be seen if they will act independently of the mayor.