Felix Hunziker: Grow the Hell Up

blogimage.jpgCan the foolish behavior on our City Council get any worse? Political pandering and infighting were again on full display as they fumbled with the Richmond Housing Authority crisis at the March 12th special meeting.

Desperate to appear sympathetic and avoid a hit to their 2014 reelection campaigns, all but one of our council members ignored the City Manager's recommendation to wait for a comprehensive analysis and voted instead to immediately evacuate the Hacienda building. The problems with this political prostration and abandonment of objectivity are legion.

  • The inspection report noting "discoloration" in the Hacienda building listed dew point and localized leaks as the most likely causes. We currently do not know if any serious mold issues exist, where they might be, if they were caused by tenant or maintenance failures, and yet our Council voted to empty the 130 unit building.
  • Contra Costa Vector Control noted the rodent problem in the Hacienda was primarily caused by just 6 units, and yet our Council voted to empty the 130 unit building.
  • There will be residents who wish to remain and RHA director Tim Jones acknowledged they cannot force residents to vacate. All acknowledged that a partially empty building was a hazard to remaining residents, and yet our Council voted to empty the 130 unit building.
  • Rather than waiting 90-120 days to receive tenant protection vouchers from HUD to move everyone out, the Council voted to empty the 130 unit building using Section 8 vouchers that were being held back due to expected federal cuts. As Tom Butt mentioned in his E-Forum, those vouchers could potentially disappear leaving the relocated disabled residents homeless.
  • The cost of relocating the residents of Hacienda must be borne by the City at an estimated cost of $500k and will take 90-120 days. We currently have a deficit of $4M, the RHA has an additional deficit of $7M.
  • Many of the Hacienda residents are disabled and moving them into Section 8 housing would require those units meet current accessibility codes. That may require extensive upgrades which adds to relocation costs and timelines.
  • Tenant testimony alleges greater mold problems in the Nevin Plaza building. Following the Council's logic this facility should also be evacuated and yet here they are attempting a case-by-case approach and holding their breath until July 2014 when comprehensive renovation work is scheduled to begin. If Nevin Plaza can wait 110 days why can't the Hacienda wait for HUD vouchers?

Despite this litany of unknowns, added costs and risks, our Council chose the politically shrewd option instead of holding out for a smart, fact-based resolution. If sophomoric housing decisions weren't bad enough, dais bullies Corky Booze and Nat Bates took a page straight from the Chicago politics playbook ("never let a tragedy go to waste") and exploited tenant woes to lay track for their 2014 campaigns. Corky's potshots at Bill Lindsay and attacks on Tom Butt for his "hotel with maid service" remark were particularly infantile. Never mind that Butt's comment, which was about some tenants not taking basic care of their units, was subsequently vindicated in the inspection reports mentioned above. Never mind that Bates and Booze served as Housing Advisory liaisons for over a decade and failed to intercede while management and service problems festered.
Everyone wants these tenants to live in safe, healthy public housing. Our Housing Authority must immediately address emergency tasks like failing elevators and security bars. For the remaining issues it's critical we conduct a thorough analysis to eliminate speculation and avoid falling prey to the same hype many of us (including me) believed when we first read the CIR investigative reports. But we're not going to get there while those responsible sow discord and make specious, premature decisions. To them I say, grow the hell up and serve your public like responsible adults.
Felix Hunziker
Richmond, California

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