Defiant S.F. housing chief resigns

Public-housing chief Gregg Fortner resigned Thursday night amid strained relations with Mayor Gavin Newsom over conditions at the Housing Authority’s crime-plagued sites.

Fortner, whose resignation takes effect Jan. 4, 2008, has served for seven years as director of the federally funded housing agency, which operates about 6,360 apartments for low-income tenants in various San Francisco locations.

“Over the last two weeks, City Hall staff has expressed to me the mayor’s feeling that it is time to make a change in the leadership at the San Francisco Housing Authority. I agree,” Fortner said in a statement.

Newsom, who has championed a plan to rebuild the Housing Authority’s decrepit developments, made an angry phone call to Fortner last month after seeing vandalism and a lack of maintenance during a visit to the Sunnydale housing development.

Relations became further strained when Fortner turned out to be one of two top officials earlier this month to deny Newsom’s request of senior staff members and department heads to hand in resignation letters. Newsom has said he requested the resignation letters, which he asked to be dated for Jan. 8, 2008, to make it easier for him to make changes in the administration if he is re-elected.

Moments after Fortner’s resignation became public, Newsom announced that he has created a “transition team” led by City Administrator Ed Lee to work with the Housing Authority commission to assist in ongoing operations and “foster greater collaboration between the SFHA and city departments.” The team includes city employees from the Department of Public Works and the Controller’s Office as well as police Chief Heather Fong.

Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi, who has called on city officials to do more to crack down on crime at public housing sites, said the creation of the team “is a step in the right direction, due to the gravity of the state of problems plaguing our Housing Authority properties.” Mirkarimi said that “change needed to happen” but said, “I don’t believe the problems were fitting just to one person or Gregg Fortner.”

Fortner’s resignation was announced Thursday evening following a closed session of the commission, a seven-member body appointed by the mayor that governs Fortner’s contract.

“With much regret, the board of commissioners received and accepted the resignation of the executive director,” said the Rev. George Woodruff, commission president.

Afterward, commissioners expressed surprise or offered no comment about the resignation.

The Housing Authority, which receives funding through the federal government, has experienced millions of dollars of funding cuts in recent years.

“We don’t have enough money to do what we want to do,” Fortner said during the meeting.

Asked to respond to his critics, Fortner said, “No executive director since 1986 has lasted as long as I have. I must have done something right.”

The Mayor’s Office said it will be initiating a nationwide search for a new executive director.

jsabatini@examiner.com

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