The Richmond City Council responded to damning media reports of appalling public housing conditions and financial mismanagement by the Richmond Housing Authority.
Tim Jones, executive director of the Housing Authority, admitted that his agency has “fallen short” in its duties, but rejected the reports’ charge that these deficiencies reflect system-wide failure.
“There is absolutely room for improvement,” he said in an emergency item added to Tuesday night’s council meeting. Measures under discussion ranged from alternative housing to demolition, and leadership changes to federal intervention.
The Center for Investigative Reporting, San Francisco Chronicle and KQED reported on Monday that the Housing Authority is $7 million in debt and is failing to maintain adequate living standards and security for residents.
Mayor Gayle McLaughlin in response organized a working group including herself, Council member Corky Booze and Council member Jael Myrick to try and address the issues as quickly as possible.
The public housing residents who turned out Tuesday night confirmed news reports of vermin, leaks, and broken heaters. Speakers expressed their anger and disgust about the living conditions they said they have endured.
After a pipe burst in her home, Jackie Thompson described the raw sewage, rocks and leaves that flowed through her apartment. “There was poop just sitting in my living room,” she said.
Felton Amos, a Nevin Plaza resident, said he has to buy six to eight cans of bug spray every month to combat the roaches in his apartment.
Booze, who is the Housing Authority liaison to the council, took Housing Authority director Jones to task for failing to respond to resident’s complaints and maintenance problems in a timely manner.
“I love Mr. Jones to death, but it’s time to move on,” Booze said. Some public housing residents also called for Jones’ resignation.
Council member Nat Bates suggested that the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) take over. “We don’t have the management level at the housing authority to rectify this problem,” Bates said. “Concerns raised and expressed are not new. We’ve been listening to the complaints for years. It’s no secret and everyone on this council knows it’s not new.”
Jones said that in his opinion the Hacienda apartments—the site of the most egregious sanitary and maintenance failings—should be torn down. “We’ve taken a look at the rehab, and it doesn’t make sense to put that much money into that structure.”
Jones is meeting with HUD in two weeks and said he will make the case for allowing a demolition disposition for the apartments. This approval is the necessary first step before the Housing Authority can begin issuing vouchers, which would allow residents to find alternative housing.
In the meantime, Jones said his staff is reviewing each work order log to ensure that repairs have actually been completed.
City Manager Bill Lindsay, who oversees the Housing Authority, also came under fire. “You’ve got to manage the city. If not, it falls back on you,” said Booze.
Lindsay said he talked to the police chief to ensure that better security protocols are developed. “We need to do better,” he said. “One thing that concerns me is we don’t want tenants to give up on Hacienda. We need to hear about the problems and resolve them.”
The council discussed the item for more than three hours. “We deserve safe, sanitary and decent housing,” said Jaycine Scott, a four-year resident of Richmond’s Nevin Plaza.