Bum Advice

Ignore the trumped-up complaining; it is time to throw the bums out of the Housing Authority

In San Francisco, of course we were treated to the acarreados of Willie Brown, a group of around 200 presumed public housing tenants who packed a City Hall policy hearing earlier this month to denounce Gonzalez's plans to dissolve the Housing Authority Commission. Gonzalez has since been vilified as a racist, apparently, and entirely, because he is white and wants to throw the bums out of Housing Authority management. (Many of the agency's current employees are black, as are many residents in its buildings.) Supporters of that management suggested that, by asking acting Housing Authority Executive Director Gregg Fortner detailed questions about a recent Inspector General's audit of the authority, Gonzalez had showed himself to be prejudiced against African-Americans.

"You have brought racism to a high point!" the Chronicle quoted one such meeting attendee as saying.

Chroniclecolumnist Ken Garcia had suggested that Gonzalez's proposal proved our current Board of Supervisors is "gauche." "Our latest band of civic saviors has determined to take on an issue so far beyond its expertise it would make its previous monumental lapses pale by comparison," he wrote.

So last week, I found myself calling upon Jewel Green, 76, matron of the Hunters View housing project. She's lived for the past half-century in various San Francisco housing projects, spending the last 15 at Hunters View, which is located in the Bayview-Hunters Point neighborhood, one of the city's toughest. When I caught up with her, she'd just returned from dispersing a brawl.

"Some guy came up here, he was black, he bought some drugs; the dope wasn't good dope, it was fake stuff. He came back with a baseball bat, and 30 people jumped on him," complains Green, whose voice betrays the weariness of someone who's routinely asked to police such matters. "I'm the one gets the call. I go out, and all of them take off running. We never get any police when we need them."

Ms. Green didn't join the troops who showed up to denounce Matt Gonzalez the other day. She says she watched them on television and was angered. Current Housing Authority management, she says, has overseen a series of structures that remain dilapidated and dangerous, year after year. "I saw those people on TV. I saw them and know who they are," Green says. "They're doing nothing but lying."

Former Supervisor Amos Brown, who has organized City hall protests supporting the indicted and suspended Ronnie Davis, has also praised the agency's policy of hiring ex-convicts, saying the policy provides work for the otherwise unemployable. Green says no other community in San Francisco would tolerate being forced to share its apartment buildings with ex-con day laborers.

"You take somebody who has been in jail two or three times for drugs -- they cannot possibly be doing a good job. Don't bring anybody over us who's been in the pen two or three times. If you want to get him a job, fine, but don't put him over us," Green says, adding that the presence of convicted criminals on the authority payroll adds to an already tense housing project atmosphere. "I hear shooting, killing. There's roofs caving in people's houses. They move them out, move them back in, and the same place has caved in again. They don't have qualified people doing the work. There's no business having a roof fall in a second time.

"I'm black. I've worked with people of every color, and this is not a racist problem; it's a problem that has to be solved. Look at the money these people have taken. Every time you pick up the paper, somebody has robbed somebody here. Every time you look up, somebody at the Housing Authority has taken money. These people ought to be gone. They don't have any business being there. There is no reason to have this money missing."

Ergo: Throw the Bums Out.

This credo may appear racist and gauche to some of the mayor's supporters.

But it's worth asking: When an agency charged with providing housing for the city's poorest residents is turned into a multimillion-dollar money tree for political cronies of the mayor, can that situation not also be labeled, at least, gauche? When housing vouchers are sold as scrip by bureaucratic Mafiosi, thereby shutting out poor black people who've been waiting for years for affordable places to live, can that misuse of resources not be seen as a kind of racism, too? And when the Housing Authority becomes a jobs program for convicted criminals, rather than an organization dedicated to making public housing better for its residents, is that circumstance not gauche, and racist, and, well, just plain awful?

For those concerned about these problems, yet still put off by the frightening gaucherie of eliminating the culpable, I remind you that our city recently Threw Out the Bums, and to surprisingly good effect.

Last fall we discarded a Board of Supervisors that had served largely as a rubber-stamp committee for the mayor. That many of the new supes professed liberal leanings provoked only-in-San-Francisco sneers among the likes of USA Today, Garcia, Mayor Brown, et al. But the fact is the new board hasn't done anything terribly untoward. If anything, city politics has been vitalized by the new supervisors' zeal.

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