City manager blasts report on housing authority

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Residents of Richmond's 'uninhabitable' Hacienda will soon relocate
The Hacienda housing complex

In a letter responding to a scathing investigative story about the Richmond Housing Authority, City Manager Bill Lindsay claims the report contains “many significant factual inaccuracies” but also admits it raises red flags that should be addressed.

“While I am tempted first to identify the many significant factual inaccuracies contained in the story, or the clearly intentional misleading ‘packaging’ of what may otherwise be accurate information, I will not dwell on those,” Lindsay wrote. “Suffice it to say that these inaccuracies and distortions are so prevalent as to call in to question the veracity of all that has been written or reported in this series.”

Lindsay also admitted that the housing authority has problems.

“All of our departments have operational deficiencies, and all need to focus on continuous improvement,” he said.

Lindsay’s full letter, which was released through Councilman Tom Butt’s email forum Monday night and is up for discussion at tonight’s Council meeting, is below:

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Mayor and Members of the City Council:

This email is to begin to address for you the articles and KQED news reports regarding the Richmond Housing Authority, of which you are undoubtedly aware.

First, as to the documented problems facing the Housing Authority’s tenants, I take these issues very seriously.  The mission of the Housing Authority is to provide decent, safe, and sanitary housing for approximately 2,866 households, and, to the extent we have failed to do this for some of these households, I offer my personal and professional apology.  I know that Tim Jones takes this mission seriously as well.

Second, there is no doubt that the Richmond Housing Authority needs to improve in its operations.  While that is clear, it makes the Housing Authority no different than any other City department.  All of our departments have operational deficiencies, and all need to focus on continuous improvement.  There is no City department that could withstand a detailed audit of its operations without numerous recommendations for areas of improvement.  Indeed, our internal audit program is intended to do just that, with the objective to continuously do better on behalf of the City’s residents.  The Housing Authority’s challenges and deficiencies may be more severe than other departments, but we will address them.

The current story on the Richmond Housing Authority is very troubling.  While I am tempted first to identify the many significant factual inaccuracies contained in the story, or the clearly intentional misleading “packaging” of what may otherwise be accurate information, I will not dwell on those.  Suffice it to say that these inaccuracies and distortions are so prevalent as to call in to question the veracity of all that has been written or reported in this series.

But, to the extent that not all of the report is inaccurate, it raises serious concerns that must be addressed.  One of these concerns is the apparent disconnect between the tenants and the Housing Authority maintenance management system and staff.  The news articles describe problems that have been reported by tenants in the past but apparently were not resolved.  The Authority’s maintenance management systems, on the other hand, show closed work orders with completed repairs.  We need to understand this inconsistency:  Are tenants not reporting conditions?  Are maintenance records inaccurate?  Is there not an adequate system of follow-up?  Have tenants given up on reporting problems?  We need to follow up on these questions by doing focused outreach to tenants, encourage them to report problems, and making sure that repairs are accurately inspected and reported.

It is also troubling that, when the Housing Authority has responded to problems, the results have not been apparent.  For example, the news reports describe a problem with vermin in some units in Hacienda.  Yet the pest control log for Hacienda shows control attempts at hundreds of units in this facility, just in 2013.  If this is the case, why are these pest control treatments ineffective?  What do we need to do differently to solve this problem?

I also noted in the report the apparent disinterest by private security personnel that were contracted by the Housing Authority (after a particularly controversial procurement process).  We need to make certain that contract personnel are performing their required obligations effectively, and reporting failures in security infrastructure, so that tenants can be safe.

Additionally is something that we have known for some time, that we need to continue to address the large scale infrastructure problems with the Richmond Housing Authority properties. This process has been initiated for Friendship Manor and Triangle Court but needs to continue with urgency at other facilities.

These are only preliminary thoughts, and we will be prepared to provide a more complete response at the City Council meeting tomorrow and on February 25th.

If you listened to the KQED story in its entirety, you will note that Ophelia Basgal, the HUD Region IX Administrator states that the Housing Authority is on “the right track” with respect to its improvement plan.  We appreciate her acknowledgement, and believe that her statement reflects an accurate view of the direction of the Housing Authority.  We intend to continue on this track and bring operational excellence and financial stability to our housing services.

Sincerely,

Bill Lindsay

City Manager

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