Tom Butt
  E-Mail Forum – 2017  
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  Public Housing Debacle -- Follow the Money
August 21, 2017

HUD wants to blame it on mismanagement, but the challenges faced by the Richmond Housing Authority (RHA), as well as housing authorities across America are rooted in money, not management. Don’t take my word for it -- multiple HUD websites document the $26 billion backlog of deferred maintenance in  public housing projects. “The most recent Capital Needs Assessment (CNA), completed in 2010, estimated the backlog of unmet public housing capital need at approximately $26 billion.”

The Trump budget call for an additional $6 billion cut for HUD public housing support. The result is that housing authorities in cities like Richmond are having to do more and more with less and less.

It’s time for Richmond to fight back, to insist that the commitments made by HUD going back to WWII are honored, particularly in California and the Bay Area where affordable housing is out of reach of the majority of people. The status quo is unsustainable and getting worse.

I plan to take the lead in investigating this gigantic underfunding of public housing, and of necessary, subpoena HUD Secretary Ben Carson, himself, to come to Richmond and testify under oath what he and the Trump administration are going to do about it.

Mayor: Conditions at Hacienda complex ‘an incredible disgrace’

August 21, 2017

Richmond Mayor Tom Butt paid a visit to the vacated Hacienda public housing complex on Saturday and filmed conditions he called “an incredible disgrace.”

One day after the mayor announced that he’s looking into dissolving the embattled Richmond Housing Authority, which operates a half-dozen complexes including the 150-unit Hacienda, he toured the complex at 1300 Roosevelt Ave. and noted a lack of security.
According to the mayor, wiring was stripped, plumbing parts were stolen and trash was strewn all over the complex, where residents, mostly seniors, were forced to vacate two years ago after a news investigation exposed shoddy conditions and mismanagement of funds by the RHA.

“My information is that there are at least 20 people living here [illegally] at any one time, there’s been prostitution going on here, there’s been some violence, people have had to call the police,” Mayor Butt said.

Butt also questioned an $84,000 City Council-approved contract with a building security firm.

“You can see it’s not secured,” Butt said.

The $84,000 contract for security services was approved in late June.

The mayor’s visit to the Hacienda, which is slated to be renovated by Mercy Housing, came the day after he announced through his e-forum newsletter a plan to potentially dissolve the Richmond Housing Authority, which he called doomed to fail given inadequate funding by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. And future federal funding appears destined to diminish under President Donald Trump’s proposed budget, Butt said.

The mayor wants Richmond to “get out of the public housing business.”

“This is not sustainable,” he said. “The City of Richmond has already dipped into its general fund to subsidize the RHA, and the prospect for additional future subsidies is almost certain.”

However, HUD has said that the problem is less about the amount of federal funding than chronic mismanagement by the city officials operating RHA. After an audit last year, HUD demanded that “poorly managed” RHA repay millions of dollars in misspent funds from 2012 to 2015. Two years ago, a Contra Costa County Civil Grand Jury report echoed a media investigation’s findings that RHA is plagued by dysfunction and mismanagement. That grant jury report acknowledged that RHA has been overwhelmed due to federal funding cuts that “reduced its staff from 65 to 25.”

Here’s more from Mayor Butt’s e-forum newsletter submission on Saturday regarding this matter:

There is no better poster child for than The Hacienda for the neglect by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) of public housing in the City of Richmond. In 2014, The Hacienda, operated by the Richmond Housing Authority (RHA) and funded by HUD, was occupied as subsidized affordable housing by 100 seniors and people with disabilities. For years, HUD had starved the RHA of funds required to maintain the Hacienda, and the building slipped in disrepair. The 50 units on the top floor were vacated because HUD would not provide funds for the seriously leaking roof.

In 2015, the RHA succeeded in vacating The Hacienda, but only after I had to go to Washington DC, and along with Congressman Mark DeSaulnier, beg for enough Section 8 vouchers to enable the Hacienda residents to find alternate lodging.

By the end of 2015, The Hacienda was empty and had become a nuisance and an eyesore. The plan was to “reposition” the building by transferring ownership to Mercy Housing, a non-profit affordable housing developer that would use tax credits and HUD grants to rehabilitate the project and restore it to active affordable housing. The project received a “demolition/disposition” approval from HUD in 2015, but progress towards actual disposition has been slow due to HUD red tape.

Today, the building stands vacant and heavily vandalized, occupied by dozens of squatters and used periodically by prostitutes. The neighbors have complained bitterly for over a year to no avail. On June 27, 2017, the Richmond Housing Authority Board of Commissioners (City Council plus two appointed RHA residents), authorized a $84,000 contract with Vacant Property Specialists (VPS) , supposedly experts in securing building, to secure the building.

Today, Saturday, August 19, 2017, I visited the building and found it wide open, heavily vandalized, strewn with trash and occupied by squatters. See my video on YouTube.

I lay the blame for this squarely on HUD because, as the only funding source for housing authorities, they do not provide sufficient funds to maintain and operate public housing. Then they blame deficiencies on the victim – in this case the Richmond Housing Authority. That’s why I want to get Richmond out of the no-win business of operating a housing authority. See City of Richmond to Consider Investigating HUD and Dissolving the Richmond Housing Authority, August 18, 2017.