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Watch dramatic rescue from SF’s worst apartment elevator

A woman being rescued from SF's worst apartment elevator. | Courtesy Mark Parsons

New footage shows a woman being rescued from the city's worst supportive housing elevator

The infamous elevator is routinely breaking down on vulnerable residents as city leaders sit on funding that was promised for repairs.

Sunday footage shot by a resident of The Cadillac Hotel, a city-funded supportive housing facility, shows firefighters freeing a woman from the building’s elevator as she gasps for air.

Firefighters have conducted at least 12 emergency rescues at the Cadillac in the last two years, data seen by The Standard shows. Meanwhile, $10 million in repair funding languishes in political purgatory.  

“She was in there for at least 30 minutes,” said Mark Parsons, the resident who recorded the incident. “When you’re trapped in that elevator, it’s like being trapped in a coffin.”  

The fire department performed four rescues in four weeks at the Cadillac earlier this year—the worst of any city apartment building. And the city’s homeless support facilities have seen 125 rescues since Jan. 1, 2021, according to fire department data seen by The Standard.

The notoriously unreliable elevators often trap residents in their rooms, as many of them are disabled or elderly. Sometimes they are forced to slide or limp down stairs to leave the building

@sfstandard San Francisco’s most vulnerable residents are often left literally trapped in elevators that don't work. The city put money aside to fix them—but it hasn't come through. Read our full report. #sf #housing #fyp ♬ Serious and mysterious music box(1224981) - Wills Minutes

In 2015, a blind supportive housing resident fell to their death when an elevator door opened into an empty lift shaft at the Hartland Hotel.

City leaders agreed in July to set aside $10 million in funding for new elevators at supportive housing facilities. But the money hasn’t been spent because the city took out debt—delaying the allocation until sometime next year—rather than paying for the repairs with the city’s $14 billion budget. A spokesperson for the Department of Homelessness said that the city will start accepting applications for the funds sometime next year.

The funding was tied to Prop. I, a 2020 tax intended to bolster affordable housing. But Mayor London Breed and the Board of Supervisors couldn’t agree on terms that would’ve allowed the funding to be spent as part of the general budget. 

An elevator rebate program used to reimburse supportive housing owners up to $100,000 for repairs to the malfunctioning elevators. But the program was quietly shut down during the pandemic. Advocates worry the issue is now being largely ignored.

Parsons believes the fire department rescue data doesn’t reflect the actual number of breakdowns. He says some tenants have now learned how to “unjam” the elevator themselves.

“Everybody's playing repair person or rescue person with this elevator,” Parsons said. “Somebody's going to get hurt, it’s only a matter of time.” 

Anna Tong contributed additional research for this story.
David Sjostedt can be reached at