Mayor Ed Lee steering clear of Housing Authority Director Henry Alvarez, discrimination lawsuits

Courtesy PhotoMayor Ed Lee is keeping his nose out of Housing Authority Director Henry Alvarez's business and declined to comment on lawsuits surrounding the agency.

Courtesy PhotoMayor Ed Lee is keeping his nose out of Housing Authority Director Henry Alvarez's business and declined to comment on lawsuits surrounding the agency.

Mayor Ed Lee is taking a wait-and-see attitude toward San Francisco Housing Authority Director Henry Alvarez, who is the subject of two lawsuits filed by two top-ranking agency attorneys alleging racism and other discrimination.

The Housing Authority Commission has contracted with the law firm of former City Attorney Louise Renne to investigate the lawsuits and present findings to the commission and the mayor. Asked Tuesday if Alvarez should be suspended or step down from his post in the interim, the mayor displayed no intention to do so.

“He hasn’t pled guilty to any criminal charges,” Lee said. “We do have to be somewhat confident that the investigation will bear some immediate confirmation whether or not those allegations will be sustained.”

Housing Authority spokeswoman Rose Dennis said the outside investigation will include a briefing on the legal options available to her agency and the mayor, who played a role in the hiring of its director. When serving as city administrator, Lee recommended Alvarez for his post following a “nationwide search” after long-time Executive Director Gregg Fortner resigned under political pressure.

Dennis said there is no schedule for how long the investigation would take and no way to tell when the commission would receive a briefing. Dennis said Alvarez has a strong record as the leader of the agency and “people should be assured that he can do his job” despite the pending lawsuits.

Meanwhile, the lawsuits have thrust the housing agency back into the political limelight. On Tuesday, Supervisor David Campos officially asked Harvey Rose, the board budget analyst, to audit the agency.  

“I wanted to make sure that as we discuss what’s happening with that agency that we go back to focusing on how this agency is actually serving the needs of its residents,” Campos said.

This is not the first time Lee has faced controversy with the head of an agency. In 2011, he appointed Mohammed Nuru to head up the Department of Public Works after serving as manager for the agency for 11 years, prompting some criticism since Nuru’s former nonprofit, the San Francisco League of Urban Gardeners, was accused in 2004 of illegal campaign activity. And Nuru was also the target of a $105,000 lawsuit settled this year accusing him of treating black women differently in the workplace.

Like Alvarez, Nuru is black. The Rev. Amos Brown, chairman of the Housing Authority Commission and president of the local NAACP chapter, says that’s not a coincidence.

“There is a rush to judgment when it involves black people,” Brown said. “There is no due process. No well-founded evidence in any of this.”

As for how the agency should react, Brown said, “Just wait until the real facts are unearthed.”

jsabatini@sfexaminer.com

artsbooksLocalMayor Ed LeeSan Francisco

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