Update on the RHA: A Q&A with Jackie Thompson

blogimage.jpgFew signs of reform were present last week at the special joint meeting of the Richmond Housing Authority and City Council. Eight months after the Hacienda complex was deemed “uninhabitable,”the fate of the building remains uncertain. Last Tuesday’s meeting offered little clarity.

The only item on the brief meeting’s agenda was the approval of a contract with a plumbing service, and the conversation was short. No update was given on the status of the Hacienda building’s Demolition/Disposition Application with the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). With the power to determine whether their building is demolished or rehabbed, this application will determine the future for Hacienda residents.

With the goal of ensuring that the conversation on the RHA does not again fade away, here is an update from Housing Commissioner Jackie Thompson.

Note: This conversation took place after the Housing Authority Board of Commissioners meeting on Tuesday, October 21st. Progress in the following week has been included and marked as an update.

Radio Free Richmond (RFR): The joint meeting of City Council and Richmond Housing Authority, also known as the Housing Authority Board of Commissioners, was really brief. Why was that?

Jackie Thompson (JT): The Richmond Housing Authority had just one item on the agenda at its special meeting, which was to finance a plumber. Nothing else was brought up, and special meetings don’t allow for public comment, so the meeting didn’t have much to it

At the Housing Authority meeting on October 7th, we were told to expect an update from HUD on the Hacienda application within two weeks. Do you know the status of that application?

JT: There is still no word back from HUD. We’re waiting on that. (UPDATE:  The Housing Authority has asked the Housing Authority Board of Commissioners to approve the recommended action to adopt a resolution certifying that the required resident consultation process for the Hacienda Inventory Removal “Demolition-Disposition” be approved as the Application has been completed.  This recommended action went before the Board of Commissioners on Oct. 28th at a Special Meeting).

What is the general feeling of progress in Hacienda and the RHA? It feels like things are slowing down again.

JT: The biggest change is that tenants now have representation. Tenants now have a voice from community leaders who attend commission meetings and City Council meetings. These leaders make sure that the issues of RHA tenants are in focus. Then they tell their neighbors what’s going on. Before, tenants didn’t have this kind of representation and organization, and they were just lost in miscommunication coming from every direction. (UPDATE--10/28/14—It was requested by JT that the Housing Authority send a letter to all of the residents at the Hacienda notifying them that the application process re: the Demolition-Disposition has been completed and that such request was approved by The Board of Commissioners

When can we expect an answer from HUD?

JT: Hopefully —I’ll say hopefully —in November. Right now we don’t have a definite answer on the HUD Demolition/Disposition Application. That’s in HUD’s hands.

However, even if they do approve the demolition, they won’t be able to rebuild Hacienda as it is right now. Building codes have been rewritten since Hacienda was constructed, and the building is too close to the train tracks behind it. Tearing down and rebuilding Hacienda would interfere with the railways, and that can’t happen. 

No matter what, if they rebuild Hacienda, there will be a reduction to the number of units in the building. Current building codes won’t allow for anything else. There are over one hundred units in there now —and what would we do if there were less? None of that is clear. There are many questions remaining. 

There is progress, but we don’t have definitive answers. The residents are frustrated. No one can move in, and we can’t even transfer people in the building from one unit to another. We’re at a standstill right now.

Describe the relationship between the Housing Commission and City Council.

JT: I disagree with the Council most of the time. They don’t know all of the laissez-faire of HUD. I don’t think the majority of the City Council understands the rules and regulations that apply to public housing. Given that I grew up and worked in public housing my whole life, I know these rules. But I’m just one person, and that makes it hard to get things done.

Back in the spring, when we had a public forum on the problems of the RHA, a few members of City Council who didn’t understand HUD rules and regulations got up and promised in a resident meeting things that couldn’t be done. That only made things worse for everyone. Those council members said they were going to get the residents out of Hacienda, but they didn’t understand the HUD Demolition/Disposition Application process. Now these same tenants who were given promises are asking what’s happening and why they haven’t been moved. Those council members don’t know the HUD rules and procedures, and they can’t offer an answer. No one can.

What can we expect in the coming weeks and months?

JT: At the moment I’m working to clear up the confusion that was given to the tenants seven months ago. The RHA is also in the process of converting Friendship Manor, Nevin Plaza, and Triangle Court into Section 8 project-based housing, though we don’t know when exactly that will happen. A lot is up in the air right now, and there is a lot of work to come. Right now it’s just a matter of making sure everything stays on track.

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