In a special meeting to address poor public housing conditions exposed by media reports nearly a month ago, the Richmond City Council voted to draft a plan that includes evacuation of Hacienda, where residents have been living in apartments affected by mold, vermin and a leaky roof.
Under the action taken at Wednesday night’s special session, residents at Hacienda, one of the city’s five public housing projects, will receive Section 8—federal housing assistance—vouchers and help finding alternative housing. The evacuation is estimated to cost around half a million dollars.
However, City Manager Bill Lindsay told the council he does not know where the city will get this money.
“I have a concern that, with your good intentions, you may be exacerbating the problem,” Lindsay said. He said the process could lead to “unintended consequences.”
Housing Authority director Tim Jones cautioned against too much haste, saying some residents will get the vouchers and move out right away but others, especially seniors, may need more help understanding the program.
“We just need to make sure that we move forward very carefully so we don’t drop anyone. We don’t want anyone to fall through the cracks,” Jones added.
Jones suggested the council to hold off on the evacuation in the hopes that funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development will come through. Jones said the city could begin a 90 to 120-day application process with HUD to try and obtain funds for the proposed relocation.
Mayor Gayle McLaughlin said the situation can’t wait for HUD. “This is something we are doing for the benefit of the health of the residents, sooner [rather] than later,” she said.
Councilmember Tom Butt left before the vote was held, and said he wouldn’t support the resolution, calling it “irresponsible” and “immature.” He suggested polling residents of the housing project to see if they want to be relocated.
“I left the meeting before the vote was taken because chaos reigned in the chamber and the mayor was either unable or unwilling to keep order and allow me to even speak on the issue,” Butt wrote in his e-forum. “A vocal minority of Hacienda residents has been controlling this agenda ever since the yellow press descended on Richmond.”
City staff was directed to return to the council with a plan in two weeks.