Mayor aims to dissolve Richmond’s low-income-housing agency, but critics call plan ‘simplistic’ and ‘reckless’

The Richmond Housing Authority brought on Tia Ingram, former head of the Berkeley Housing Authority, as a consultant in July. Ingram presented on the agency’s shortfalls and future vision at Tuesday’s city council meeting.

The Richmond Housing Authority brought on Tia Ingram, former head of the Berkeley Housing Authority, as a consultant in July. Ingram presented on the agency’s shortfalls and future vision at Tuesday’s city council meeting.

The Richmond Housing Authority, a longstanding public-housing agency that manages the city’s low-income options, is on the chopping block after years of rocky relations with the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

Last week, Mayor Tom Butt presented a resolution to dissolve the RHA, which he says suffers from years of funding shortages and a contentious relationship with the federal government.

The resolution would eliminate the RHA and give away its assets, including the developments Nystrom Village and Nevin Plaza, leaving the city of Richmond without an official public-housing agency.

“The bottom line is that HUD just doesn’t provide enough money to operate the housing agency, and the city is having to make up the difference out of the general fund,” Butt said.

He estimated RHA’s debt to the city at $4 million, a figure he said is rising at a rate of $1 million a year.

But city budget documents tell a different story: HUD granted approximately $22.5 million to the housing authority every fiscal year since 2014, and provided $24.5 million to the agency in 2017.

Nikki Beasley, the executive director of nonprofit housing-advocacy group Richmond Neighborhood Housing Services, criticized what she called the “simplistic” reasoning used in the mayor’s proposal to dissolve the RHA.

“We didn’t get here overnight. This has been ongoing,” said Beasley at a special meeting of the housing authority last week. She reiterated that Richmond should be responsible for the poor management of its housing program.

Incorporated during World War II to house the thousands of shipyard workers pouring into the city, the RHA was once the largest housing agency in the country, at its peak, operating more than 16,000 units.

In recent years, however, it has struggled to live up to HUD’s standards— receiving two audits in 2016 alone— a situation the mayor and RHA administrators say is directly related to a dwindling budget, which is historically underwritten solely by HUD.

The mayor is a fan of the Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD) program, a HUD initiative that promotes public-private partnerships in the affordable-housing sector. He said RAD could help fund properties currently owned by the RHA in the event that the agency is dissolved.

Applications for the program are managed by HUD. However, HUD recently turned down a proposal from the RHA to bring Nystrom Village and Nevin Plaza into the RAD program.

Councilmember Melvin Willis criticized the RAD plan, citing reports from residents of RAD properties that involved mismanagement and poor living conditions.

Willis was also opposed to making a “reckless” decision to shut down the housing authority without taking time to consider potential outcomes or alternative solutions.

“This actually becomes a racial-justice issue, because low-income people-of-color are the ones that mainly depend on these services that the city is providing,” Willis said. “I don’t think it’s incumbent on us to pull the trigger.”

With the Trump administration proposing $6 billion in cuts to HUD and also the elimination of the Housing Trust Fund, which earmarked an additional $174 million for states’ affordable-housing initiatives in 2016, Butt believes it’s unlikely that the RHA could see a significant cash infusion from the feds moving forward.

In June 2017, Tia Ingram, former head of the Berkeley Housing Authority, was brought in to RHA as a special consultant. She was hired to help RHA revitalize programs recently audited by HUD, including the Section 8 Housing Voucher program, which Ingram said was underutilized. Some 250 housing vouchers, out of 1,800, went unused in 2016.

The Contra Costa Housing Authority (CCHA) could potentially absorb the city’s housing-voucher program, but finding an agency to take over properties traditionally overseen by the RHA is expected to be difficult.

Joseph Villarreal, executive director of the CCHA, said that federal funding for housing programs has been shrinking for more than two decades. “I don’t want to make it sound like housing authorities are closing their doors left and right, but it is something that’s been happening for a little while, and financially it’s hard,” Villarreal said. “We have a tough time just making ends meet.”

In the meantime, Councilmembers said last week they would review potential dissolution of the housing authority, and Butt said a vote will be shelved until October.

7 Comments

  1. How much does Tia get paid?

  2. Commenter

    Please Mr. Willis, if you wish to make this a “social justice” issue then let’s talk about all the crime that is subsidized in these housing projects that we the hard working and tax paying citizens get the bill for. According to the Richmond Police Department, the housing projects are home base for a number of gangs. These criminals get subsidized housing and we get our cars broken into or stolen, our houses burglarized, our loved ones senselessly murdered for no reason at all like poor Niko Martinez, shot 67 times for no reason at all. These housing projects are incubators of crime and dependency. That isn’t just my opinion the history of the last 60 years has demonstrated that to be so.
    It is no surprise that Section 8 housing vouchers are going unused. The passage of Measure L guaranteed that would happen, and countless people stood before the city council and explained that would happen as well. They chose not to listen. Tim Jones is on record saying that he was inundated with phone calls from Section 8 landlords wanting out of the program. As far as Berkeley is concerned, try to find Section 8 housing there. Now Richmond is headed the same direction thanks to Measure L.

  3. James Johnson

    Congress has cut funding to HUD every fiscal year since 2005, this year as well. Next year will see cuts like never before. The Mayor has a duty to all taxpayers to run the city in everyone’s best interest, not just one group. These complexes have been neglected for decades, the crime is out of control, they are nothing more then dependency holding cells. On the other hand what happens to the people living there? Vouchers seem like the best option but hardly any landlord will take them, especially with such huge Section 8 cuts coming next year. The truth is that the government wants out of housing and that is where we are headed. The gravy train was only going to last so long and we are now nearing the end of the line.

  4. Commenter

    The mixed income development is a better way to do it, where you build something nice that all income levels can appreciate and want to live in, and you set aside a certain number of units for low income residents. We’ve been down this road before. In the 1960’s large numbers of housing units for low income were built in Richmond. What that accomplished was a lot of grown men dependant on their mothers and grandmother’s for housing because there was never any incentive or pressure for them to get an education or trade. They could simply lay around someone’s subsidized housing all day long watching soap operas on tv. And the schools in Richmond in those days were good, better than today but many did not take advantage of them.
    I like the Section 8 program and used to participate in it. At that time I was assured that if I had any trouble with the tenants that they would get them out right away. It was with that specific assurance that I decided to take the risk. But I wouldn’t do so today with the punitive Measure L in effect. Too risky. It seems that many others have come to this conclusion as well if so many vouchers are going unused. That is too bad but you can thank the RPA for that one. They were warned.

  5. A Concerned Citizen

    The Mayor is a buffoon who doesn’t realize that he is the CHAIR of the housing authority board. It was under his watch as the head of the governing and oversight body of the agency that this happened. In a meeting he complained of getting lots of letters from HUD, acting like he didn’t know why. Guess what, THAT IS WHY.

    • Commenter

      Mismanagement and problems with the housing authority long predate the Mayor’s term in office. Calling a man with a long history of real accomplishment and contribution to our city a buffoon reflects more poorly on yourself than Mr. Butt for anyone familiar with the matter.
      So what is your solution to the problem?
      We would all like to hear it.

      • John

        The RHA has been a massive hole in the general fund of the city for years. It is not going to change because as long as the city is on the hook, there will be no serious effort to live within the HUD budget. I think the mayor is absolutely right to try to cut it loose. Maybe then with more efficient operations and reorganization, it can provide housing as intended within the means provided. Unfortunately, RPA council will not vote for anything that adversely affects the members of its sponsor and patron, the SEIU.

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