Good housing keeps families healthy

I applaud UC San Francisco for its recent report shedding light on the issue of the health and wellbeing of children living within the Housing Authority.

As the report stated, children living in our Hope VI and HopeSF properties are less likely to visit hospital emergency rooms on a frequent basis than their peers living in apartments that have not yet been renovated. It is this fact, among many others, that has led the new leadership here at the Housing Authority to work toward a day where new and newly renovated homes are the new norm for public housing in San Francisco.

There is no denying that our agency has much work to do to achieve its goal. However, we have made, and continue to make, great strides toward expediting the implementation of this goal. In addition to the completed developments identified in the article, two HopeSF developments will begin construction in 2015. Hunters View Phase 2 will commence construction on 182 new units in early 2015. Alice Griffith Phase 1 and Phase 2, part of the Hunters Point Naval Shipyard redevelopment, will begin construction on 203 new units in early 2015.

In addition to this new housing, the Housing Authority and the Mayor's Office are working with HUD to finalize funding of the rehabilitation of 3,500 existing public-housing apartments which will be starting in 2015 under HUD's new Rental Assistance Demonstration program. HUD's Rental Assistance Demonstration program is designed to change the form of HUD financial subsidy to take advantage of outside funding. In the past, HUD would provide the subsidy directly to the Housing Authority, which in turn spent the funds on the projects.

Through RAD, HUD will provide the subsidy in the form of rental vouchers that will be dedicated to the units. The voucher subsidy will then help leverage additional funding through first mortgages and attract equity through low-income housing-tax credits to pay for the substantial rehabilitation needed by the existing developments. Early estimates indicate that the RAD financing structure will result in over $500 million in rehabilitation. To put that number into perspective, the Housing Authority only receives $10 million per year for rehabilitation under the current system.

The Housing Authority has only been able to make this progress because of the unprecedented support of the Mayor's Office and The City. In all of the developments above, the Mayor's Office of Housing and Community Development or the Office of Community Investment and Infrastructure will provide public funds, in addition to the private funds, for the rebuilding of public housing or the rehabilitation of apartments.

The Housing Authority is also partnering with other city departments such as the Department of Public Health and the Human Services Agency to ensure public-housing residents have enhanced access to services.

These housing efforts are a direct result of the mayor's goals to revitalize and rebuild public housing, by continuing HopeSF commitments, and improving thousands of other Housing Authority apartments. Not all housing authorities have such city support.

These new and rehabilitated homes are indicative of our new paradigm — one where, working together with city leaders, we are pursuing a goal that exemplifies our firm belief that every single San Franciscan deserves the dignity that comes with having an adequate place to call home.

Barbara Smith is acting executive director of the Housing Authority in San Francisco.

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