At Hacienda, some tenants are having trouble searching for a new home
on April 10, 2015
So far, around 20 families who live at the Hacienda public housing complex have received Section 8 vouchers intended to help them relocate while the building undergoes renovations. They have 60 days to find a new home. But some of them say they have received little search or transportation assistance and are worried they will not be able to find a new home before time runs out.
The Hacienda apartments caught media attention when the Center for Investigative Reporting, a nonprofit investigative news organization based in Berkeley, California, broke a series of stories last year about the disturbing living conditions there, which include infestations of bugs, mice and mold. The building is set to be renovated and its 101 households will receive federally-funded Section 8 vouchers to help them pay rent in a new building.
Around 10 households received their vouchers after a briefing on Wednesday held by the Richmond Housing Authority (RHA). It is the second briefing since the first one on March 25, at which another 12 households received their vouchers.
The vouchers expire in 60 days after the date the tenants receive them. But tenants can apply for an extension of 30 days by presenting a list of 20 properties they have tried and failed to rent. “Vouchers receive initial 60-days +30 +30 + however many more extensions they need,” RHA executive director Tim Jones wrote in an email.
But some tenants say finding new apartments is difficult. Larry Demery lives in a one-bedroom apartment on the fifth floor at Hacienda. He has received a list of 17 properties he can call to inquire about housing. The list is printed out from the website called GoSection8. But he says many of the listings are now outdated. “The list starts in 2012,” Demery said. “They only have two apartments listed, one in Martinez, one in Pittsburg [that are updated] this year.” He said many properties on the list don’t have vacancies at all. Now he is combing through the Yellow Pages for rental places.
The housing authority is paying the contractor Autotemp $382,695 to relocate the families. But some tenants said they have received little search or transportation assistance over the last two weeks since they got their vouchers. Demery said there was one person from Autotemp who interviewed him about what type of place he wanted to move to.
“As I can see, he’s just consulting me, he’s not looking for an apartment for me,” Demery said. “He told me once you get this, give him a call. I gave him a call. He told me I will get back to you within the first of next week, which was last week. I don’t think he’s going to do anything unless I turn in one of these papers and find a place.”
Shannon Rivas has lived at Hacienda for eight years. She hasn’t had any luck finding a new home yet. “I went to Liberty Village, they said they didn’t have any,” Rivas said. “I went to Trinity Plaza, the waiting list is five years long.” Rivas is also having a hard time trying to visit the replacement sites. She doesn’t have a car and her daughter is working and can’t drive her. “I guess I have to borrow a car or I have to go on the bus,” she said.
“Finding a place is the problem,” Hacienda tenant Larry Foster agreed. “They [the housing authority] gave me some phone numbers. I called everyone. Nobody is taking applications.”
Foster is in his 60s. He doesn’t have a computer. He doesn’t know how to use his smartphone, either. Foster has been driving around randomly in the last two weeks and he has visited around 10 places. “I’m going door-to-door,” Foster said. “I park my car and there are five rows of apartments. I knock on each one. Right now that’s the only way I can do it.” He hasn’t found a place yet. A lot of the places he has visited don’t accept Section 8 vouchers, and the ones that accept Section 8 don’t have vacancies.
Other tenants complain that the voucher issuing process is not transparent and are asking why their neighbors have received vouchers while they haven’t. “It was like it was done in secret,” said Connie Gary, the chairperson of the Hacienda Tenants’ Association. She said tenants only figured out that vouchers are being issued when they talked to their neighbors, and that the association was not informed ahead of time.
After Wednesday’s briefing, RHA housing program analyst Debby Ortiz said the issuing queue is based on tenants’ anniversary dates. “If they move in in January, they have a January anniversary date, they got seen first,” she said. “Then February, March through December.”
Three more meetings to issue vouchers have been scheduled for this month. “Each briefing will include a minimum of ten households,” Ortiz wrote in an email. “It is anticipated that approximately 50 families will have been scheduled to attend a Tenant Protection Voucher Briefing.” According to this plan, by the end of the April, half of the 101 families residing at Hacienda will have received their Section 8 vouchers.
David Richman, president of Autotemp, declined to comment for this story and said that all the questions should be addressed to Jones. Jones has not replied to an email asking for details about how Autotemp will assist residents with transportation and searching for apartments.
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