Ongoing investigation sparks changes in public housing in San Francisco

In a 10-month investigation for the San Francisco Public Press, supported by the Fund, reporters Nina Sparling, Frank Bass and Madison Alvarado revealed unsafe living conditions at the city’s Plaza East Apartments, a public housing complex. The facility’s management company had asked for subsidies to demolish and redevelop the hundreds of homes, just 20 years after they were built. Prompted by the Public Press’s reporting, the city’s Board of Supervisors held hearings to investigate and approve $2.7 million for repairs to the existing low-income units. The federal Department of Housing and Urban Development rejected the company’s rebuilding proposal (which would have allowed it to add lucrative market-rate housing). The Public Press followed up by requesting city inspection records showing that several departments appeared to drag their heels in response to complaints of pests, mold and water damage in tenants’ homes. A subsequent data-driven story found that the San Francisco Housing Authority’s rent collections fell just before the COVID-19 pandemic began, a trend residents said made them more vulnerable to eviction. The project was produced by Mia Zuckerkandel, a fellow with the Investigative Editing Corps. The reporting team included infographics intern Jenny Kwon and research assistants Ande Richards and Imran Ali Malik, students at UC Berkeley’s Investigative Reporting Program. The Public Press is following up this year with additional reporting.

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