ALSO IN THE BAY AREA:
[ HUD Neglects the SF Tenderloin | Political Potstickers | KAMP | SF Bilingual Elections ]
Tenderloin Tenants Take Complaints to HUD
Residents of four privately-owned but government subsidized complexes in San Franciscos Tenderloin have joined a multi-state protest that they hope their national management firm finally will heed.
The letter, sent on July 6 to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, was filed by the senior citizens and disabled persons residing in the 576 units of Maria Manor, 174 Ellis; Marlton Manor, 240 Jones; Alexander Residence, 230 Eddy; Antonia Manor, 180 Turk.
To meet its mandate of providing housing for low-income elderly and disabled people, HUD contracts with private landlords nationwide. Security Properties, which owns the four Tenderloin complexes, contracts with AIMCO to manage them.
Requests that elevators be fixed and signs be translated havent yet been answered. Even though its typical of a government agency to take this long, whether or not its typical, we dont feel its acceptable, said Rob Eshelman, lead organizer of the Housing Rights Committee of San Francisco. The committee is an affiliate of the National Alliance of HUD Tenants, which has been targeting AIMCO for the past year.
AIMCO is in charge of over 380,000 apartment units in 48 states, including nine other properties in Bayview District and elsewhere in the city. Of its caseload, about a fourth involve HUD contracts. In those cases, a HUD-appointed asset manager oversees each property, and the agency also has final say on each buildings budget.
Well have to investigate and see if their complaints are valid, said Howard Williams, a regional vice president based in Oakland, Calif. I believe that 95 percent of the residents are completely satisfied, and there are a few that arent. Our interest is in satisfying 100 percent of our customers, and we strive for that. But being human, we fail sometimes.
Housing advocates allege that the firm hasnt tried hard enough -- and that its cutbacks have made life worse for thousands of people in recent months. In San Francisco, AIMCO cut two to three staff members from each building -- which meant that things like shattered windows and broken elevators had no chance of being fixed for months.
My wife and I have been living here for 12 years, and it seems like everything is going slowly, said Que Marrable, the President of the Alexander Tenant Association. Once they start fixing things, in a couple years a new manager comes in, and they have to start all over.
In February, the committee rallied renters at Alexander Manor, in step with those in Dallas and four other cities, and has since redoubled efforts to unify and to educate tenants. The renters hope their complaints send a signal to HUD that AIMCO may be collecting the same management fees for staff it no longer hires, thereby cheating tenants out of services, Eshelman said.
These days, more residents than ever worry about safety, too, given that Marlton Manor resident Greg Powell was robbed in his own room and others have experienced thefts as well.
This is the Tenderloin, said Powell. This is not a great neighborhood. Given that, he said, having qualified security guards is a top concern.
The drugs have also increased in the building, said Powell. The management is just not doing its job.
Marlton Manor rooms, tenants say, arent checked every night, even though the resident managers are supposed to check on the elderly residents. One resident found last month had been dead for three days.
Lower staff numbers have also contributed to a dip in the quality and number of activities tailored for senior citizens, such as day trips to parks and recreational services such as bowling trips and movie nights. Maria Manors lunch program remains available but is short-staffed.
Lack of bilingual services is a less visible but still pressing problem affects up to a third of some complexes residents. Maria Manor, especially, has a substantial population of mostly Chinese-speaking senior citizens, along with others who speak mostly Vietnamese or Tagalog.
A lot of the times, the tenants dont know how to communicate about daily things with the management, said Anna Chang, a community organizer for the Chinatown Community Development Center.
Many residents are unable to read posted or mailed notices, and are not aware of the going-ons within their own apartment buildings, said Eshelman. Powell called the lack of bilingual access racist as hell.
The tenants are hoping that AIMCO will consider printing notices in other languages and hiring bilingual staff.
Though local rent-control and other laws afford the tenants a fair degree of protection, more of what the residents are fearing is a low-level retaliation on the part of the management, said Eshelman. Some fear that the price for outspokenness might be a retrenched indifference toward their complaints, but nonetheless, many tenants feel they need to try.
AIMCO maintains that they are not neglecting their tenants. We extend ourselves in a number of ways, said Williams. We try to remain sensitive to peoples needs and conditions.
But Eshelman said the only solution is to get the building out to the hands of the for-profit developers and into the hands of more socially responsible owners instead of letting units rot or be sold. According to the National Housing Trust, California alone has lost about 10,000 units of federally-subsidized housing from 1996 to 1998.
HUD is not doing their job by enforcing what residents are entitled to, said Eshelman. And when asked about specific problems that are plaguing the residents,
I think that they [HUD] will respond affirmatively to the letter and look into the matter and reach some reasonable judgment, Williams said. Once that happens, we will follow their directions.