S.F. Housing Authority labor disagreement is costing millions in federal funding

A standstill between powerful labor unions and the Housing Authority has delayed the agency from using simple handymen who could have fixed some of the 3,000 outstanding work orders at The City's dilapidated public housing — and has also kept $7.5 million worth of federal funding out of the nearly bankrupt agency's coffers.

Beginning in 2009, the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development instructed its agencies to create a “maintenance mechanic” position, a sort of general handyman that would be able to perform basic repairs.

To date, The City's Housing Authority has not created that position, causing the agency to miss out on $1.5 million in annual federal subsidies in that time.

The Housing Authority's existing contracts with The City's building trades unions allow for specialized workers like carpenters and plumbers — but they do not allow for “general maintenance positions,” which means that in some cases, “two or three workers” are needed for simple repair jobs one generalist could do, according to the authority.

Negotiations between labor unions and the Housing Authority over the maintenance mechanic position — including what duties such workers would perform and how much they would be paid — are still “ongoing,” interim Housing Authority Executive Director Barbara Smith said Thursday.

As soon as the two parties can come to an agreement, the Housing Authority's labor contracts will be amended and the agency, which is scheduled to run out of cash in early August, will be eligible for the extra funding.

Meanwhile, the agency has slashed the number of available craft workers from 68 to 30, officials told the Board of Supervisors on Thursday, which has in turn made a bad situation worse for residents.

Tyeshia Brown, a tenant of public housing on 25th Street, contacted The San Francisco Examiner on Thursday to say that she has been waiting two weeks for a maintenance worker to deal with a clogged kitchen sink and toilet.

The long-suffering Housing Authority has been hit hard by federal budget cuts including the sequestration earlier this year, but longstanding problems with mismanagement have “exacerbated” the problem, a recent audit of the agency found.

Vacant units stay empty for an average of six months — the federal standard for turnaround is 30 days — and meanwhile, there are 26,070 families on a waitlist for public housing. The waitlist hasn't been updated in years — and a waitlist for Section 8 subsidized housing vouchers hasn't been updated since 2001.

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