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Chinatown public housing reborn under nonprofit

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Residents, community members and city officials joined the nonprofit Chinatown Community Development Center in celebrating the rehabilitation and reopening of 92 units of public housing of 990 Pacific Ave. on Thursday.

The building underwent seismic retrofit and an overhaul of its residential units under The City’s Rental Assistance Demonstration program — an initiative under the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to improve and preserve public housing. RAD transfers ownership of “public housing sites from the San Francisco Housing Authority to community-based affordable housing developers.”  

Under RAD, residents are guaranteed to return to their units after temporary relocation, and owners must keep rent prices at 30 percent of the tenants’ income.

Thursday’s celebration marked what many view an improved model of public housing for San Francisco — a sentiment that stems from a past that many regard as a “legacy of broken promises in the City.”

Xiao Ying Zhao Lin, at 86 years old, one of the oldest residents at 990 Pacific Ave., addressed the crowd:

“I emigrated to the U.S. from China in 1986, and San Francisco Chinatown has been my home ever since. I was very scared and fearful about moving away from Chinatown and worried I would not be able to return to my home.”

Lin continued:

“But thanks to CCDC, they helped us with everything, including finding housing, moving into our temporary units and then move back home … I am very lucky that I have housing, but there are more people like me, and we all deserve affordable housing. We need to keep fighting for and supporting causes that will continue San Francisco’s commitment to its citizens.”  

Joanna Ladd, project manager at CCDC, told SFBay:  

“I think residents were rightfully scared because unfortunately, the legacy of public housing in this country is of people being told that something is going to happen and then nobody ever making good on that promise.”

Ladd added:  

“Fortunately our organization was lucky because we had an existing relationship with public housing residents from our work — we had a reputation in Chinatown for being great tenant advocates. So … I think that helped with some of the anxiety.  

CCDC, a 41-year-old nonprofit, manages 3,700 affordable homes for low-income tenants throughout the City. It secured private and public funding to pay for the rehabilitation and repairs and future maintenance for its buildings. 990 Pacific and 227 Bay Street — also public housing for seniors and people with disabilities — are the first to be completed, with Ping Yuen and North Ping Yuen, also on Pacific Ave., under rehabilitation until 2019.   

Ladd also spoke to the attendees:

“ … [CCDC] attended to each resident’s individual needs, and they made that [990 Pacific Ave.] lived up to our dream of what public housing could be; that is the level of commitment you get when you transfer public housing to the very advocates who have been fighting for better living conditions in public housing for over 40 years.”

Mayor London Breed, who worked together with Lee on affordable housing when she was still on the board of supervisors, and who also grew up in public housing, told the crowd:

“Sadly I know how it feels to live in public housing where the conditions are absolutely horrible. And so I’m so excited to be here today because we are doing something different with public housing.” 

Breed continued:

“We are changing the face of public housing by changing the way it looks, the way it feels for the people who live here. Nothing is more important to me as mayor to make sure that the experiences I had growing up living in public housing with my grandmother are not the same experiences of San Franciscans today.”

When speaking to the room of attendees, Supervisor Jane Kim also thanked the late Mayor Ed Lee, who she said made the rehabilitation of public housing a focal point of his time as mayor. Lee led the City’s participation in the RAD program.

Kim added:

“We always celebrate the opening of new construction and new affordable housing but we also know that if we don’t take care of our affordable housing that we lose this housing that so many of our families and seniors depend on.”

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