Repair requests increase at San Francisco Housing Authority sites

The Housing Authority is falling behind on maintenance.

Backlogged requests for repairs are on the rise again in The City's public-housing complexes, according to agency records, at a time when the agency pledged to fix the problem.

As of May 31, the most recent data available, there were more than 2,500 outstanding work orders, or requests for maintenance, going unfulfilled, according to Housing Authority records.

That's down from the more than 3,000 pending late last year, but still above zero, which was the number of repairs the agency promised to have pending by this time.

Pending maintenance requests range from the mundane, like a clogged toilet, to serious health and safety hazards, like roach infestations and inoperable smoke detectors.

There was an open work order to fix smoke detectors at 76 Brookdale Ave. in the Sunnydale projects, where a 32-year old mother and her 3-year-old son died in an April fire. Residents at other properties say longstanding issues like bugs and mold are left to fester for months.

Barbara Smith, the agency's executive director, said Monday that a combination of residents putting in more requests and an aging housing stock are behind the recent rise in work orders.

“We want residents to call in work orders. This is an indication they have greater faith we'll respond to their requests,” Smith said. But “our properties are old … everything is old, and has a tendency to break down.”

The Housing Authority has been put on notice multiple times to address the backlog in repair requests.

A 2013 audit of the agency, conducted by Board of Supervisors budget and legislative analyst Harvey Rose, called on the Housing Authority to take “immediate steps to address the backlog of work orders.”

The agency responded by declaring a health and safety emergency last summer and set a goal to reduce the backlog to zero by last month.

It did not meet the deadline, and the rate of new work orders spiked in recent months, records show.

Outside contractors were hired to perform some work, and the Housing Authority created a new job classification for a general handyman called maintenance mechanic to end the practice of calling in skilled workers to perform simple tasks.

That improved the state of the housing stock for a while before the problem returned this year with a vengeance.

For about a year, the agency had held new repair requests to less than 100 per month before requests began to skyrocket early this year.

The agency had reduced open work orders to less than 2,500 before 200 new requests came in during February, followed by 400 in May and over 700 in April.

Around 700 of the open work orders are for plumbing issues like clogged toilets and sinks.

More than 600 of the open work orders are calls for general basic maintenance, according to Housing Authority data.

A single Housing Authority property accounts for one-quarter of the open work orders: Sunnydale, the World War II-era low-rise buildings near McLaren Park in Visitacion Valley.

The agency has directed extra resources to fix problems in Sunnydale, but they will have their hands full. Mold in units is rampant, and even bedbugs are staging a comeback, according to Dani Johnson, who advocates for public-housing residents with the Housing Rights Committee.

“[The Housing Authority] are claiming they don't have the money for it, and that they don't have the manpower to fix things,” she said.

Tenants will complain of bedbugs in their unit, only to be told that the Housing Authority “doesn't have money for the spray,” she said Monday.

The agency spends about $8 million a year on “maintenance materials” and “maintenance contracts,” according to records.

About 13,000 people live in The City's 6,054 units of public housing.

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