Steve Muccular visits his family at the Hacienda public housing complex in Richmond. The building’s security guards don’t venture up to the sixth floor, he says, so he squatted in the laundry room for months. (Lacy Atkins/San Francisco Chronicle)
Steve Muccular visits his family at the Hacienda public housing complex in Richmond. The building’s security guards don’t venture up to the sixth floor, he says, so he squatted in the laundry room for months. (Lacy Atkins/San Francisco Chronicle)

Richmond city officials have voted to relocate about 130 residents of the troubled Hacienda housing project, a complex at the center of a recent probe by The Center for Investigative Reporting that uncovered a panoply of health and safety threats, including rampant vermin and mold.

The Richmond City Council, meeting Wednesday night as the city’s housing authority commission, started a marathon session hearing the results of recent inspections of the city’s public housing, with a special emphasis on Hacienda.

Michael Petragallo of Sterling Management, an inspection firm that the  Richmond Housing Authority retained to assess conditions in its buildings, said he had several concerns about conditions there, especially considering that the project is designed to serve senior citizens. He noted the complex’s elevators are “non-operational” and that latches on security bars over windows on the ground floor are corroded and don’t function properly.

Petragallo also noted a host of other problems disclosed in CIR’s reporting, including serious roof leaks that have forced the housing authority to leave nearly all top-floor units vacant, unsecured trash chutes that pose a falling hazard, widespread evidence of excessive moisture, windows that don’t open, and a “serious and persistent” infestation of cockroaches and mice.

Richmond Housing Authority Executive Director Tim Jones, the principal target of residents’ criticism of conditions throughout the city’s public complexes, told the council that he had invited the Contra Costa County Vector Control District to assess pest infestations at Hacienda. He said a preliminary inspection involving 43 apartments had found 21 with live adult cockroaches, five with cockroaches in the nymph state, 11 with dead cockroaches, seven with mice and one with bedbugs.

Jones also reported on results of a citywide survey of public housing residents that found 83 percent of respondents had contacted the agency about maintenance issues in the past three years. Although 85 percent said the authority or contractors had responded to the requests, just 55 percent said the problems had been resolved. Jones conceded the low number of issues resolved indicated the agency has been ineffective at dealing with maintenance requests.

“In all honesty, that number should be well above 95, 96, 97 percent,” Jones said. “Otherwise we’re not doing our job.”

Given the problems at Hacienda, the council voted to vacate the premises and relocate all 130 or so residents to federally subsidized Section 8 housing units. The Center for Investigative Reporting’s Amy Julia Harris was at the meeting and said many details of the relocation have yet to be settled:

There’s still not an exact timeline for when (the relocation) will happen, but the city manager is coming up with a relocation plan in the next two weeks, and also with a plan for how to pay for all of this. The Housing Authority Executive Director, Tim Jones, has said that moving everyone out will cost about $489,000 and they don’t expect the federal government to pay for all this, and the Richmond Housing Authority is $7 million in debt, so the city would ultimately foot the bill for this relocation plan.

After hearing hours of public testimony, the council also held a no-confidence vote in Tim Jones and another senior housing authority official, Kathleen Jones (the Joneses are not related). That motion needed a majority of the nine-member commission and failed with three yes votes, two no votes and two abstentions.

Author

Dan Brekke

Dan Brekke (Twitter: @danbrekke) has worked in media ever since Nixon's first term, when newspapers were still using hot type. He had moved on to online news by the time Bill Clinton met Monica Lewinsky. He's been at KQED since 2007, is an enthusiastic practitioner of radio and online journalism and will talk to you about absolutely anything. Reach Dan Brekke at dbrekke@kqed.org.

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