Homeless advocates complain about public housing vacancies in SF

Mike Koozmin/The SF ExaminerBoarded-up windows at housing projects

Advocates for the homeless say they are troubled by an inordinate number of vacancies at public housing complexes even as officials pledged Monday to move 51 homeless families into apartments as quickly as possible.

The City has seen a surge in homeless families this year, and the San Francisco Housing Authority recently reported a monthly average of 423 vacancies, or 7 percent of its more than 6,000 units.

“They’re leaving those vacant units just sitting there, empty,” Jennifer Friedenbach, director of The City’s Coalition on Homelessness said, at a rally late last month to draw attention to the issue.

But at a hearing before city supervisors Monday, housing authority officials said it wasn’t that simple.

“It’s been widely reported that we have a large number of vacant units,” Director Henry Alvarez said. “That’s actually incorrect.”

About 150 of the units are part of a Bayview project that is undergoing renovation, agency spokeswoman Rose Dennis said. Another 50 units are not actually apartments but offices, community centers, day cares or police substations.

Alvarez told supervisors that about 223 units were actually vacant. Half of those have been promised to households on the authority’s 25,000-deep waiting list, and the rest are undergoing repairs. Alvarez said the authority would expedite repairs on those units to allow homeless families to move in.

It typically takes up to 45 days for new residents to take over an apartment after the former residents have moved out, Dennis said. However, if a unit is badly damaged, the repairs take longer.

“We try to make it as expedient as possible,” she said. “Obviously people need housing, and we don’t want it to languish.”

But some residents say they see plenty of languishing units.

At the Bayview’s Alice Griffith housing project, an informal count on Sunday turned up some 20 boarded-up units, several with heavy steel doors to keep out squatters.

Ron Whittenberg, a 20-year resident, said he has noticed more such vacancies in recent years.

“These places here on the corner, they’ve been vacant for two years,” he said, pointing to two homes near his own. “It takes them a long time just to board them up. It’s sad, there’s families in shelters that could move in here.”

Dennis said that Alice Griffith is slated for renovation late next year, following the recent promise of a $30.5 million federal grant. But meanwhile, she said, the authority will have to drain money from other improvement projects to expedite housing offers for the 51 homeless families.

“We’re going to try to bring units online more quickly,” she said. “We’ll take money from other places to make that occur. And those places are no less worthy.”

acrawford@sfexaminer.com

Seeking shelter

Public housing units in San Francisco: 6,138
Average monthly vacancies in 2011: 423
Households on the waiting list for public housing: 25,000
Homeless families on a waiting list for rooms in shelters (as of Monday): 253

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