Tuesday, March 11, 2014

"Richmond Housing Authority Issues"

"Update on Richmond Housing Authority Issues" 
2014-03-11 from Richmond Mayor McLaughlin:
The City of Richmond has the responsibility to provide clean, quality housing in all our Public Housing Agency facilities. In some of our public housing areas we have clearly failed. 

What to do
Solve the most immediate problems now.
The Housing Authority is now doing this, reaching out to each unit to resolve current and past problems. Staff is compiling the data on these unit by unit inspections and repair and remediation efforts to present to the Board of Commissioners at our special meeting tomorrow, Wednesday, at 6:30 pm in the City Council Chambers.

Determine the future of Hacienda.
The main question at this point in time is whether to renovate or demolish this aging building.  This decision must be based on the clear-cut needs of our tenant residents for quality housing and also based on how quickly we can force HUD to pay for the right solution. I have demanded that HUD complete the paperwork process and provide a timeline in writing so that we can convey to residents what they can expect. 
A large number of our public housing residents, especially in Hacienda, are individuals with disabilities, many in wheelchairs. This is an issue of disability rights along with an issue of quality housing rights in general, which is why we call on HUD to prioritize the needs of Hacienda.

Determine the root cause of the problems.
I have initiated and the Housing Authority Board has passed a directive to staff to begin the process of identifying an independent management auditor.   After this audit is completed, we can consider the question of what changes need to occur in our Housing Authority management and management procedures.
We do our public housing residents a disservice if we get sidetracked into a bloodletting session rather than going after the real problems. We expect our staff to treat our residents with full respect and dignity.  Likewise we treat our staff.  We do not decide to call for terminating staff based on rumors or even public outcry.  We take all complaints about staff extremely seriously and look fully into all complaints, but that is the starting point for an investigation where the staff member also has an opportunity to explain.
I am taking responsibility for assuring things continue to move forward without delay on all levels of review and action in regard to these Housing Authority issues. Like so many other public housing facilities nationwide, Richmond facilities have been neglected by HUD for too long, amid Congressional budget cuts to HUD that have left cities with great challenges. Things are coming to a head nationwide. It is up to us to make it 100 percent clear to HUD and our elected Congressional representatives that our public housing residents are tired of waiting.
Please join me at the special meeting we are having tomorrow, Wednesday 3/12, at 6:30 pm., at which we will analyze the data from recent unit-to-unit inspections and determine next steps we need to take on behalf of our residents' health and well-being. 

"Richmond Housing Authority Issues"
2014-02-17 message from Richmond Mayor Gayle McLaughlin:
Many of you have likely read the article in today's SF Chronicle and other media outlets about the status of Richmond's Housing Authority. 
First of all, I want to clarify that the Housing Authority is under the City Manager's authority.   The City Council has received updates on progress-to-date, but the day to day work is supervised under the direction of the City Manager.   
It is clear there are major problems in our Housing Authority (going back decades from previous leadership) and I thank the reporters for bringing the current problems to our attention.  It is also important to note that cuts in federal funding have caused more problems than existed before, but it is essential we all recognize that more needs to be done at the local level.   I am making sure the City Manager and the Housing Authority act more swiftly to address the problems.  I am holding a City Council study session on 2/25 and will be seeking a full report along with a time frame to address these problems.   Money has only recently been acquired for renovations and the Council has been updated on this development, but we need to see short-term solutions side by side with long-term renovation solutions.
Housing Authority issues are priority for me.  I want to thank the Housing Advisory Commission members that I appointed.
Although a lot of these issues are slated to be resolved through the renovations, I will be seeking a more immediate plan to eliminate many of the problems in the next months.   
I will be asking our City Manager and Executive Director of the Housing Authority to provide a report on how to control the rodent problems and structural building problems, along with access and service issues.  I have also convened a working group of the City Council (which includes myself and Councilmembers Booze and Myrick) to work directly with staff in moving forward all changes as expeditiously as possible.  I am also seeking from staff an outreach plan to convene opportunities for all public housing residents to share their issues and concerns and a follow up plan for staff to respond swiftly to their problems.  
Lastly, we must continue to call on the federal government to do better with its policies.  To underfund public housing is an injustice that needs our fullest attention.
Thank you, [signed] Gayle McLaughlin, Mayor, City of Richmond 

"Richmond City Manager Responds Regarding Housing Authority"
2014-02-17 message from Richmond Mayor Gayle McLaughlin:
Please see below City Manager Bill Lindsay's preliminary response to the Richmond City Council on issues of the Housing Authority.  With support from the City Council, I will be placing an emergency item on the agenda  tomorrow night to hear additional information from staff on this matter.  On 2/25, as I stated in a previous email, we will hear a more extensive report from staff with a full action plan and outreach plan outlined.
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, [signed] Bill Lindsay, Richmond City Manager

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