A week after residents of the Hacienda, Richmond’s notorious, uninhabitable public housing complex, were scheduled to be entirely vacated from the dilapidated premises, some of the building’s most disadvantaged tenants are still struggling to find housing elsewhere in the face of difficulties within the Richmond Housing Authority (RHA) and beyond.
It was February of last year when the story broke alerting the world to Richmond’s mold and mildew infested public housing project. This delay is the latest hurdle in the saga of Hacienda residents struggling to get out of the complex and relocate elsewhere.
Sixty-nine of 150, or 46 percent, of units at Hacienda remain occupied, according to Tim Jones, executive director of the RHA. Of these, nearly a third are seniors. Richmond City Manager Bill Lindsay told the Contra Costa Times last April that the target move-out date was September 15, but the Bay Area’s rental market has complicated matters, according to Jones.
“This is a very tough rental market all over the Bay Area, and it may take us a little longer to find them all a nice place to live,” Jones said in a recent email. “…We’ll keep working as best as we can until we’re finished.”
The City first ordered the Hacienda to be evacuated in March 2014 after a series of articles from the Center for Investigative Reporting exposed the conditions within the public housing complex. The prevalence of bug and rodent infestations, black mold, a crumbling foundation, and alleged corruption within the RHA sparked a push for reform, which started with the evacuation of the building’s residents, most of whom are elderly or disabled.
Three months later, in June 2014, the City approved a contract for nearly $400,000 with Autotemp, a consulting firm that specializes in move-outs of this sort. Vouchers, secured as recently as early 2015, from the U.S. Housing and Urban Development Department (HUD) are essential to moving residents out of the housing complex. A year after the City first awarded a contract to Autotemp in June 2015, the City Council approved the consulting firm’s Hacienda Relocation Plan.
Hacienda resident Rhonda Marshall is the last tenant living on the building’s first floor. For Marshall, it’s more than just a difficult rental market that has kept her in the crumbling apartment complex: it’s a lack of assistance from the RHA and Autotemp.
“They’re doing what they’re supposed to do, but they’re doing it the wrong way,” Marshall says. An amputee with a debilitating medical condition, Marshall spends 80 percent of the day in a hospital bed in her Hacienda apartment. “There’s no way I can get out to see apartments easily.”
Coby Williams, another Hacienda tenant, is able to get out and see apartments, but still, he’s struggling to find a place outside of the dilapidated building.
“I don’t even have my voucher yet,” Williams explains.
Caught in a legal battle with the RHA over what he believes to be an unjust eviction notice on his record, Williams recently won his case, but has yet to receive his Section 8 voucher to find housing elsewhere. He’s stuck in Hacienda while his case wades its way through the federal government’s bureaucracy.
“The sooner the better,” says Williams. “It’s good to see that people are getting out, but I’m waiting here too.”
To tenants still struggling to find a unit, Jones says that the RHA and Autotemp are available to aid residents. “For residents feeling stuck and unheard, they should talk to the Autotemp Relocation consultants at the on-site office in Apt #115, or RHA’s staff in the on-site occupancy office, or call my landline…and their concerns will be addressed.”
Despite the adversity faced by some tenants at Hacienda, there have been some signs of progress. According to a recent report from the City Manager, 15 residents moved out over the past 5 weeks, with an average of 2.5 residents moving out per week.
Jones says that most of the remaining tenants are accounted for. Thirty-two of the 69 remaining households are seniors with approved applications for units at the new Harbor View Senior Development, which is scheduled to open mid-October. Another 21 have opted to move out of the RHA’s jurisdiction. That leaves a final 16 in need of housing. At the current pace, it could take another five weeks to get every tenant out.
Marshall is skeptical of that timeframe. “I’ve gone over to the office in [Hacienda] where our housing advocates are supposed to be to help us move, but three days in a row last week they weren’t there,”the Hacienda resident said. “I don’t want to be the last one living here."