For the first time in five months, the topic of the Richmond Housing Authority (RHA) reached the Richmond City Council last night. Providing an update on progress made (and not made) since the crisis broke seven months ago, the RHA convened to discuss the problems afflicting public housing in the city. It turned out that while there has been some progress made over the past months, it has been slow, drawn out, and difficult to come by. Last night's meeting was a continuation of this trend.
While there was a set schedule for discussion, the conversation wavered and often derailed. On the docket for the meeting was a proposal to receive reports from Commissioners of the Housing Commission, to pass one-year and five-year plans for the RHA, and to receive a report on RHA staff.
In between conversation on these items the reason for the massive delays on progress for resolving the Hacienda crisis came out. The RHA application for additional funding from the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) was denied. Back in April, when it was decided that HUD would be consulted before moving forward to resolve the crisis, it was determined that the RHA would ask for vouchers to move tenants living in a condemned building and to determine whether to tear down the building or renovate it.
The application process would have been completed in June, but HUD denied the RHA's initial application due to a lack of sufficient and comprehensive information on the buildings. Upon further work and review, the application was sent back to HUD in late August. Throughout the saga of this crisis, which Radio Free Richmond recently brought to light again, solutions have regularly been pushed back and changed, and the resolution to this application is no exception.
"Right now, it's out of our hands," City Manager Bill Lindsay repeated throughout the meeting in regard to this application process. Council member Corky Boozé, the liaison for the Housing Commission, wasn't satisfied with this response. He wanted to know exactly when the RHA would expect a response from HUD. This was a hard question to answer, and throughout the meeting the expected date for a response kept changing. City Manager Lindsay first said the end of September, which was later revised to early October, and by the end of the meeting it was delayed to the end of October. As far as the city government suggested, the process to save the tenants of RHA buildings is out of their hands since it is under review by HUD.
However, saying that isn't providing the full picture. Back in March, when the heat to do something to resolve this crisis was high, an ad hoc committee consisting of council members Jael Myrick, Boozé, and Mayor McLaughlin was formed to resolve this problem. Based on information given at last night's meeting, over the past seven months this ad hoc committee has met just a few times, and only over procedural events.
Like the ad hoc committee, the conduct of the RHA administration, represented last night by Executive Director Tim Jones, proved equally ineffective and out of touch during last nights meeting. In the report presented to the committee there was misinformation about tenants living and moving into Hacienda and there were few answers to the council members' questions.
Council member Nat Bates asked what was happening with the audit into an RHA employee who funneled contracts to her husband, and how much this was going to hurt the city's budget. "It's under investigation," Jones responded. To Boozé's question about when the tenants would finally be moved out of the roach infested, crumbling Hacienda building, there was a good deal of mumbling about procedures and no definite answer was given.
This is not to say nothing happened at last night's meeting: each of the three items that were brought before the council were approved. While is a feat for the RHA, it is nothing to find solace in. The one and five year plans which were approved generally continue business as usual. A notable exception in this is a plan to convert four RHA buildings into private, section-8 housing, but even that was not discussed at length. As things stand right now, the residents of the Hacienda building are still living in a site deemed uninhabitable seven months ago. Despite questioning and head scratching from the council, they were all met with the same response: "It's out of our hands."