“I’m involved in our community to see the residents get what they need, so our kids feel happy and safe and the elderly always have somebody to call.” – Bobbi Cochran
Bobbi Cochran, has lived in Holly Courts Public Housing for thirty-one years. He’s a father, grandfather, community leader, and caregiver to the children and residents of Holly Courts. Since retiring in 2005, Bobbi has focused on bringing unity to the Bernal neighborhood and has served as the Sargent of Arms of the Resident’s Council Holly Courts for the past six years. He talked with us about the transformation that’s taking place there and the tight knit Bernal Heights community where he’s raised his family. He shared some of his wisdom and experience to give another voice to the diversity of the Bernal community that strives to make the neighborhood a safe and peaceful place for it’s families and residents.
When did you move to Holly Courts?
My wife and I moved into Holly Courts in 1985 with our two kids and we’ve been here ever since. I worked for Boeing in Seattle, when I came to San Francisco for the first time and I feel in love with it. Since I was in the Aerospace Union, I thought we would move to Sunnyvale and I’d work for Lockheed. Then, one day, I went out on a house painting job with a friend and I loved it. For 20 years I worked as a house painter and then as a job foreman for a property development company until I retired in 2005.
What is Holly Courts and how do people come to live here?
It was originally built in the 1940’s for Army doctors and nurses. In about 1950 the city turned it into a public housing development. We still have a few original residents who have been here since that time. People apply for housing through the San Francisco Housing Authority and get put wherever a unit comes up in the city. Most people don’t even know Holly Courts exists and those who do want to live here because it’s a tight community and we’re a part of the Bernal neighborhood. You don’t feel like you’re walking past a project because we protect people and we don’t want any violence happening around Holly Courts. I never liked the word “project”, I always wanted to get away from that name. I like to use development or complex. We want people in the neighborhood to feel like they can call on us for help
What changes have you seen in the neighborhoods?
In Holly Courts we’re going through a major makeover. About a year and a half ago Bernal Heights Neighborhood Center along with Bridge Housing (a private management company) took ownership of Holly Courts from the San Francisco Housing Authority. This has been a very good thing for the community. We had mold and mildew problems and the housing authority didn’t have the funds to do the work. Now all 118 units are being remodeled. They started about a year and a half ago and they’re in phase four right now. They take two buildings at a time, relocate the tenants for three months and remodel their units. They’re also building handicap ramps in the courtyard.
We’ve always had a strong resident’s council. It got strong around 1993-1997 when there was a lot of drug sales that went through here. I call that time the dark era. Drugs went through families like wild fire, one family after another. We bounced back because we put together a committed resident’s council, we worked with the Bernal Heights community and Ingelside police station. Not as snitches, but as community workers to try to bring Holly Courts out of that dark era. By 2000 we felt it turn around. Even during that time there wasn’t a lot of violence in Holly Courts. I’ve been here 30 years and I don’t know of any break-ins. We have every race living together here, Indians, Hispanics, Cambodians, Caucasian and Samoans. I might not know everyone by name but when we pass each other on the side walk we recognize one another, we’re neighbors. When I was raising my kids, families would play basketball and volleyball with the kids in the courtyard on the weekends. The resident’s council has always been involved to keep it a very family oriented place and to keep it safe for the children.
How have you experienced the relationship between the Bernal Heights Neighborhood Center and the Holly Court Resident’s Council?
The resident’s council here has always been involved with the Bernal Heights community. The Bernal Heights Neighborhood Center helps us with public housing workshops and other community meetings where we get together, discuss our problems and find ways to work them out. Right now I sit on the Housing Corporation Committee and the Bernal Heights Safety Planning Committee. It’s a mix of everybody who lives in Bernal Heights. We have regular community meetings, there’s a map on the wall of the neighborhood to see what areas need better lighting, better ways to handle trash, we gotta all work together to keep Bernal Heights and the other communities around us safe.Supervisor Dave Campos and Hillary Ronen have come when we needed them to be involved. We’ve all been striving for unity for the whole Bernal Heights neighborhood and we respect each other.
Jen Baxter is a writer, photographer and San Francisco native.
She tells stories encouraging people to be independent, more aware and more creative.
You can find more of her work at JenBaxter.com