Hacienda public housing tenants to be relocated

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

The 130 residents of the pest-infested Hacienda public housing complex will soon be relocated following a Tuesday vote by Richmond City Council and housing commissioners.

Residents will be moved from the aging building at 1300 Roosevelt Ave. to privately owned Section 8 rentals as soon as possible. The cost of relocating the residents will be roughly $489,000, Richmond Housing Authority Executive Director Tim Jones said.

The money will have to come from the city’s general fund, City Manager Bill Lindsay said.

Hacienda is said to be the worst of five public housing developments in Richmond.  A series of news articles by the Center for Investigative Reporting last month exposed deplorable conditions at the Hacienda and Nevin Plaza. CIR also alleged mismanagement at the housing authority and misuse of funds.

At Wednesday’s housing authority meeting in front of a group of angry tenants, an independent auditor confirmed reports of squalid and unsafe conditions at the city’s public housing developments. Mike Petragallo of Sterling Management Inc. said major safety hazards at the Hacienda include broken elevators and ground-floor windows that no longer open or close. He also cited leaky roofs, water damage, rampant discoloration on doors and walls and infestations of cockroaches and rodents.

While the Hacienda is on the “low end” of public housing complexes he has inspected over 15 years, it’s “not the worst,” Petragallo said.

Councilman Tom Butt, who left Tuesday’s fiery meeting in frustration and was absent when the relocation vote was taken, disagrees with the relocation plan.

“When the city kicks in $500,000 it doesn’t have, that’s money that will never be paid back and will not be spent for public safety, potholes and parks,” Butt said in his e-mail forum Thursday.

Butt had earlier inspected the Hacienda and interviewed residents. He said he doesn’t believe the majority of tenants want to leave the complex. He says blame for public housing conditions should be directed at the Department of Housing and Urban Development, not the city.

“Most people don’t seem to understand that the Richmond Housing Authority is supposed to be a 100-percent HUD-funded operation,” he said. “All the city is supposed to do is manage it.”

HUD has reported that the Richmond Housing Authority, which is $7 million in debt, is plagued by “ineffective leadership,” financial mismanagement and a lack of oversight by the seven councilmembers and two housing commissioners who make up the housing authority commission.

Some councilmembers are calling for Jones and his senior deputy, Kathleen Jones, to be fired. (The two are not related.)  But in a separate vote Tuesday, the commission rejected a vote of no confidence for the pair. Lindsay recommended that council await results of an ongoing audit before deciding upon their future employment.