Hoping the federal government will pay to relocate 130 residents from the troubled Hacienda public housing complex, the Richmond City Council voted Tuesday to move forward with a plan to find new homes for the tenants within 90 days.
But if the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) chooses not to fund the effort, Richmond will be stuck with a bill of approximately $700,000 that it will struggle to afford. The city is currently grappling with a $7 million budget deficit.
Hacienda, a 150-unit complex built in 1960, gained negative attention earlier this year following a series of news articles by the Center for Investigative Reporting exposing deplorable conditions. Tenants complained of bugs, rodents, mold, plumbing issues, and a leaky roof that has kept the top floor of the six-story building vacant. Many of their complaints were confirmed by independent inspectors.
The Richmond Housing Authority, tasked with overseeing the city’s five public housing properties with 550 units, is accused of ignoring tenant complaints and misusing funds.
To address the concerns, Richmond council voted last month to relocate residents of the Hacienda. On Tuesday, city staff returned to council with a relocation plan that costs $200,000 more than the initial estimate.
While the city awaits word on whether HUD will pay the $700,000 relocation bill, the housing authority will begin interviewing Hacienda tenants about where they would like to move. Residents won’t be able to relocate to the city’s other public housing complexes, which are near capacity. The funding sought from HUD includes housing vouchers that will allow residents to move to other locations.
Tim Jones, the housing authority executive director, has said he believes the Hacienda should be demolished. On Tuesday, however, Jones said the plan most likely to attract federal funding would be to rehabilitate the building after residents are relocated.
Councilman Tom Butt, who believes the reports about Hacienda’s poor condition have been overblown, has asked city staff to look into the possibility of handing over management of the public housing complexes to HUD.
“If they want to, [HUD] can take over the housing authority and run it themselves with contractors,” Butt said.
City Manager Bill Lindsay said while it is possible to “basically walk away from the building or units,” he warned against federal control.
“Before we were to do something like that, I’d want to check HUD’s track record for managing properties,” Lindsay said. “I think just getting inspections done and processes in place, we’ve been able to work a lot faster than the federal government could.”