Link to the KPIX news story: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8nbPLfFXX68
Hacienda housing complex
Residents of ‘uninhabitable’ Hacienda to relocate after Section 8 vouchers approved
February 5, 2015 by Mike Aldax
Residents of Richmond’s long-troubled Hacienda housing complex will soon receive Section 8 vouchers so they can move to new homes, Mayor Tom Butt’s office announced Thursday.
The approval of federal funds to relocate residents from the aging Hacienda comes nearly a year after Richmond Housing Authority (RHA) Executive Director Tim Jones called the building “uninhabitable,” a declaration that prompted Richmond City Council to seek federal approval for relocation.
The Section 8 vouchers will allow residents to relocate to privately-owned rentals, the mayor’s office said in a statement. Currently, 101 of the 150 units in the building are occupied.
Residents will also receive financial assistance for the cost of packing, moving and security deposits. RHA will also open a relocation office to assist tenants, the mayor’s office said.
The Hacienda will undergo a $20 million renovation project and current residents will be allowed to return once it is finished, according to news reports.The relocation process will take six months, and the renovation to begin afterward will take 24 months, according to the mayor.
On Friday at 3 p.m., Mayor Butt, Congressman Mark DeSaulnier and Jones held a public event about the relocation process at the Hacienda complex at 1300 Roosevelt Ave.
“Officials came together from coast to coast to make this happen,” Butt said in a statement. “We knew this was a top priority and we all rolled up our sleeves to make sure the application and funding would be fast-tracked.”
In March, after Richmond council voted to relocate Hacienda residents, an “Inventory Removal Application” was prepared to notify the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), according to the mayor’s office. After submitting the draft application in May, local officials worked with HUD officials to produce a final application that would be approved. The final application was submitted in November and was approved by HUD last month, the mayor’s office said.
The Section 8 vouchers for Hacienda residents were approved this week, which the mayor called a quick turnaround. He said the process could have taken another four months to review. DeSaulnier was credited with helping to expedite the process. DeSaulnier said the relocation “will allow individuals and families to immediately begin finding and settling into a better housing situation.”
“I will continue monitoring this process to ensure the timely distribution of federal funding,” DeSaulnier added.
A media investigation led by the Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR) exposed squalid conditions at the Hacienda, including infestations of bugs, rodents and mold, ceiling leaks, broken windows and plumbing issues.
Meanwhile, CIR probed allegations of gross mismanagement of the Richmond Housing Authority, one which led to a criminal investigation into a maintenance supervisor accused of steering RHA contract money to a vendor linked to her husband. And the agency’s top officials were also accused misspending federal funds while ignoring pleas from tenants living in squalid conditions.
CIR’s reports have prompted a Contra Costa County civil grand jury investigation.
Residents of squalid Richmond housing complex to move
By Amy Julia Harris, The Center for Investigative Reporting
Updated 7:34 pm, Friday, February 6, 2015
Photo: Lacy Atkins / The Chronicle
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Mole grows along the door and tape in placed to cover a hole where mice come in, is discovered by inspectors, Tuesday February 25, 2014, during a mandatory inspection of the Hacienda Public Housing in Richmond, Calif.
Mole [sic] grows along the door and tape in placed to cover a hole where mice come in, is discovered by inspectors, Tuesday February 25, 2014, during a mandatory inspection of the Hacienda Public Housing in Richmond, Calif.
After years of languishing in squalid conditions, the elderly and disabled residents of Richmond’s worst public housing complex will finally be moved out.
The federal government approved the estimated $1 million last week needed to relocate the 100 or so residents of the Hacienda complex on Roosevelt Avenue in downtown Richmond while a nonprofit developer revitalizes the dilapidated high-rise.
Residents can begin moving out immediately — nearly a year after city officials declared the building uninhabitable and promised to help them leave. They have the option of returning once the renovation is complete.
“Officials came together from coast to coast to make this happen,” said Mayor Tom Butt. “We knew this was a top priority, and we all rolled up our sleeves to make sure the application and funding would be fast-tracked.”
Mice and mold
The news comes after the Center for Investigative Reporting reported last February that Hacienda’s tenants long had been struggling with mice, mold, roof leaks and crime — with a chronic lack of action by the Richmond Housing Authority, which oversees the federally funded complex.
Inspections stretching back years showed that the building was falling apart. The most recent inspection revealed that half the apartments were infested with roaches. Almost a fifth of them had mold. Faulty elevators trapped disabled residents on a regular basis. Hacienda’s sixth floor sat vacant for two years because of roof leaks so severe that stalactites grew from the overhead walkway.
“People have died, gotten sick and lived in filth waiting for this to happen,” longtime resident Connie Gary said after learning that she and her neighbors would finally have another place to live. “It’s sad it’s taken so long.”
The Housing Authority said it was considering plans to move out residents in 2009 and again in 2011, but couldn’t persuade the federal government to come up with the money.
Butt, who is now leading the charge on the relocation, initially dismissed the problems at Hacienda after the Center for Investigative Reporting’s stories appeared. In March, he wrote on his public e-mail forum, “It seems that once people get into public housing, they think they are in a hotel with maid service.”
But most of the City Council agreed that the problems at Hacienda were serious, acknowledging that the city had failed its public housing residents. The council voted in March to evacuate the residents, but backed off of an immediate move after realizing it would cost about $700,000 the city didn’t have.
Instead, Richmond decided to submit a two-step application to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The process, which took more than seven months, wasn’t the speedy evacuation the city had hoped for. But HUD approved the first step of the process in January and agreed to finance the estimated $1 million relocation cost this week.
The Housing Authority will be helping residents in the upcoming weeks find a new place to live and paying packing and moving costs, said Tim Jones, the agency’s executive director. Residents can choose between moving into one of Richmond’s available public housing sites or finding an apartment on the private market with a Section 8 rent-subsidy voucher.
“We’ll be here to help make sure the transition is successful for our residents,” Jones said.
Hacienda will be leased to Mercy Housing, a nonprofit developer that will revitalize it. The building will still provide affordable housing once the $19 million project is complete, HUD said. The redevelopment will be paid for with a mix of low-income-housing tax credits and project-based Section 8 assistance.
Seeking another home
Three-year Hacienda resident Everett Dennis Lewis, 62, hopes to be back, but in the meantime, he’s anxious about finding another home.
“I just really dread moving,” Lewis said. “But I think they’ll probably fix this place up real nice and then I’ll be back. We deserve it after all the hell we’ve been through.”
This story was produced by Reveal, from the Center for Investigative Reporting, an independent, nonprofit newsroom. For more, visitwww.revealnews.org. Amy Julia Harris can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @amyjharris
Neglected housing project to be emptied within 6 months, officials say
By Amy Julia Harris / February 6, 2015
RICHMOND, Calif. – City and federal officials gathered in the bare-bones recreation room of the city’s worst public housing complex this afternoon to promise that residents will be out within six months and be able to move back into fully renovated apartments within two years.
Rhonda Marshall’s belongings have been packed in moving boxes for almost a year as she anticipated a voucher allowing her to relocate from the neglected Hacienda public housing complex. Credit: Ramin Rahimian for Reveal
Down the hallway in the Hacienda housing complex, six-year resident Rhonda Marshall was among those ready to go.
She packed her bags almost a year ago, just after city officials declared the 150-unit complex uninhabitable. Cardboard boxes holding her clothes, plates and personal belongings are stacked in the corner of her bedroom. The only things not packed: a few plates and her bed – which she had moved to her living room to avoid mold in her bedroom.
“Oh, honey, I’m ready,” Marshall said. “I’m so excited to get out of here.”
At today’s news conference, Richmond Mayor Tom Butt said his office, along with U.S. Rep. Mark DeSaulnier, a Democrat with an office in Richmond, and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development had launched a “full court press” to secure the $1 million in federal funding needed to move Hacienda residents. They said residents, many of whom are elderly and disabled, will be given Section 8 housing vouchers next week, along with assistance to help them find housing on the private market.
“The reason this was able to happen was simply teamwork,” Butt said. “We are so happy that we had success, and from now on, I hope we have nothing but good news.”
Tim Jones, the Richmond Housing Authority’s executive director, acknowledged the evacuation was a long time coming. The city first declared Hacienda uninhabitable on Feb. 18, 2014, after The Center for Investigative Reporting uncovered squalid conditions largely ignored by the housing authority.
“Today is a very happy day,” Jones said. “But it will be even happier when the last tenant is moved out.”
For years, residents like Geneva Eaton have been complaining about their desperate struggles with mice, mold and mildew. Last year, CIR exposed severe roof leaks and chronic maintenance issues that caused the building to be nicknamed the “Haci-hellhole.” Half of the apartments in Hacienda were infested with roaches and almost a fifth had mold, according to the most recent inspection.
Eaton called the news bittersweet.
“I’m happy to be leaving,” Eaton said. “But we’ve been suffering here in filth for years.”
Trying to convince HUD that Hacienda was beyond repair has been a multiyear challenge, according to Jones. In 2011, the housing authority tried but failed to secure funding to move residents out. But this time, he said media attention and the work of the city and DeSaulnier persuaded HUD to fund the move. The agency approved the renovation plan for Hacienda in January and agreed to provide housing vouchers earlier this week.
Richmond Mayor Tom Butt speaks during a press conference Friday at the Hacienda public housing complex in Richmond, Calif. Residents will be moved out within six months, officials promised. Credit: Ramin Rahimian for Reveal
DeSaulnier said he and Butt met with HUD officials in Washington earlier this week to insist that moving Hacienda residents should be a top priority.
“We were expecting a tough meeting,” DeSaulnier said. “But it was very productive. I’m thrilled for the Richmond residents, and I’m sorry that they’ve had to go through this. HUD got this right.”
The housing authority will be helping residents with the logistics of finding housing in the coming months, along with Autotemp Inc., an Oakland relocation consultant hired by the city in June.
It will probably take four to six months to move about 100 residents out of the Hacienda housing project, depending on the availability of replacement housing, according to a timeline by Autotemp.
The consultants will interview all residents, study the rental market and what housing is available, and put together a relocation plan for city approval. That process, the consultant said, typically takes about two and a half months.
“What we do is work with each household to identify relocation housing and assist them with the move,” said David Richman, president of Autotemp. “I’d like to believe that once we start the interviews, if someone wants to move out immediately, we can begin helping them.”
Mercy Housing, a nonprofit developer, will be in charge of the $19 million renovation of Hacienda once residents have left. The improvement plan is being paid for with a mix of low-incoming housing tax credits and project-based Section 8 assistance.
The renovation is estimated to take 18 months to two years. Hacienda still will provide affordable housing and current residents will be given priority.
Rommel Fuller, 55, who has lived in Hacienda for about five years, said he wouldn’t be coming back. But like others, he’s nervous about the future.
“In my heart, I’m ready to move,” Fuller said. “It’s just a matter of finding a place to go. We don’t know how anything is going to turn out. It’s scary.”
Fuller is no stranger to moving – he was moved out of his first apartment in Hacienda after water leaks caused his ceiling to buckle and puddles to pool on his floor. He was moved to the sixth floor, but severe roof leaks there forced the entire floor to be evacuated. And in Fuller’s last home in Hacienda, toxic black mold eventually overran his apartment and forced him to pack up his things once again.
Now Fuller is weighing where to use his Section 8 voucher – his two top choices are Vallejo or Hawaii, but his wish list is a tough one to fill: He wants to pay the $215 a month in rent that he’s paying now, and he wants a safe neighborhood.
“I don’t want to end up in another place like this,” he said.