Last Night's RHA Meeting: Out of the Frying Pan, Into the Fire

blogimage.jpgEvents surrounding the Richmond Housing Authority heated up last night during a fiery meeting where the City Council voted to provide Section 8 vouchers to residents of the Hacienda.

The tumultuous meeting began with a presentation by Mike Petragallo of Sterling Co.'s Inc., an independent inspector, who said the majority of Hacienda complex had some type of "discoloration,” the elevators did not work, and a leaky roof caused significant visual water damage to the top floor. During questions, he concluded the Hacienda is "on the low end" of aging public housing complexes in the greater bay area. RHA Director Tim Jones discussed progress in responding to work orders brought up in earlier meetings. He reported Contra Costa County Vector control attempts to tackle roach, mice, and bed bug infestations in some units. To the ire of the audience, Jones revealed results of a public housing residents survey reporting that only 55 percent of residents who called in work orders said their problems had been resolved.

More than 30 residents spoke at the meeting, many complaining of problems not just at Hacienda, but also Nevin and other complexes. Lisa Fishman, a resident of the Nevin public housing complex, produced a letter from her doctor saying that she suffered a litany of symptoms from black mold in her apartment. Several residents complained of unsanitary and dangerous living conditions. Wesley Ellis grilled the Mayor and some members of the Council for only visiting Richmond Public Housing recently when the cited problems have existed for years.

The Council voted to immediately issue Section 8 vouchers to residents and for staff to return to the council in two weeks with a plan on how to successfully relocate residents.  Evacuating and relocating the residents would costs around $500,000. Jones mentioned the city could initiate a 90- to 120-day application process with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which funds public housing, to try secure vouchers and funding instead of dipping into the city treasury. But council members, prompted by dozens of frustrated residents who came to the meeting, opted to move immediately. City Manager Lindsay made clear the city funds used would likely not be repaid by the RHA.

The city council did not pass a “no confidence” vote against RHA director Jones and Staff Manager Kathleen Jones. Lindsay thought the item encroaches on his authority over personnel matters.

Butt held a lone view that residents should be surveyed and asked if they wanted to move. He felt the blame fell squarely at the feet of HUD for the RHA shortcomings. Charles Smith, a Richmond resident, chastised the councilmember for his blog comment that occupants of the Hacienda expected “maid service.” Butt later stormed out of the chambers before the votes after several disruptions from audience members raising his voice to the Mayor for failing to run an orderly meeting.

City staff will return in two week with a plan on how to relocate tenants. Jones will give a further report on his progress to address the issues facing the RHA.

Radio Free Richmond

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