Residents live in filth, fear in mismanaged Bay Area public housing see Center for Investigative Reporting
Feb 17, 2014
- Housing and Development Reporter
Editor's Note: The New HUD financed affordable housing in Marinwood like the proposed Marinwood Village will import out of county residents from East Bay Cities to fill them just like Hamilton's Bay Vista and Wyndover projects. Marinwood-Lucas Valley has been given 70% of all affordable housing in the 2012 Housing Element for unincorporated Marin. Supervisor Susan Adams was a prime advocate of placing housing here.
There were at least 16 life-threatening health and safety violations at the five public housing projects managed by the housing authority, according to the two most recent years of U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development reports. Seniors and disabled residents lived amid exposed wiring and missing smoke detectors and fire alarms. Most well-kempt housing projects don’t have these major health and safety violations, HUD says.
Nearly 1 in 5 apartments in the Hacienda and Nevin Plaza complexes are infested with insects and cockroaches, inspection records show.
Then there are the indignities that don’t show up in formal government reports: A woman with no legs giving herself sponge baths from her bathroom sink because maintenance workers didn’t install a simple safety bar in her shower. The fire department rescuing a paralyzed veteran from his third-floor apartment because the elevators didn’t work for three days. A disabled man who watched in horror for nearly a month as raw sewage slowly dripped from the neighbor’s bathroom upstairs.
Residents say their pleas for basic maintenance are ignored by officials paid to provide services to the poor.
CIR also found a number of cases in which housing authority workers claimed in official documents to have fixed problems. But they hadn’t.
“It’s just continual chaos here,” said Everett Dennis Lewis, a disabled resident of Hacienda. “The housing authority doesn’t give a crap.”
There are 4,055 public housing agencies in the United States, all overseen by HUD. Last year, the federal government labeled 44 as “troubled” – housing authorities that had such severe problems with their finances, management or living conditions that the government was on the brink of shutting them down.
Richmond was one of them.
In the most recent federal assessment reports, released in 2013, Richmond received a score of 47 out of 100, one of the lowest rankings in the country. It received failing marks for running up debt and failing to track its finances. Its executive director was deemed ineffective.
Richmond managed to receive a passing grade for the condition of most of its apartments. For the most part, the projects in Richmond aren’t as dilapidated as those in Detroit and New Orleans. But the breakdown in finances and leadership manifests itself daily at Richmond’s two largest – and worst – complexes as residents struggle with rodents, filth and security problems.
“They are a dysfunctional organization,” said Gerard Windt, division director of the HUD office that oversees Richmond.
The Richmond Housing Authority got $26 million in 2013 from the federal government to provide safe and decent housing for the needy. Richmond has 715 units of public housing for the poor, elderly and disabled. It also gives out Section 8 vouchers to subsidize rent for an additional 1,750 residents on the private market.
Residents who end up in Richmond’s public housing are predominantly old or disabled African Americans. More than three-quarters of them make less than 30 percent of Contra Costa County’s median income, or $18,750 a year, according to HUD. Many of them used to have jobs as grocery baggers, janitors and food service workers until they got old or sick. Some lived on the streets, and others struggle with addiction.
Residents don’t get their apartments for free. Almost 90 percent pay between $200 and $500 a month in rent, according to HUD. Eaton pays $262 a month to the housing authority.
The authority’s executive director, Tim Jones, said he’s “running an operation on life support.” He blamed years of budget cuts from the federal government for the problems plaguing the housing authority and insisted that the agency is on the road to recovery. He said the problems come down to money.
All 4,000-plus housing authorities across America face these same slashed budgets. About 1 percent of those agencies find themselves on HUD’s troubled list.
Maintenance complaints neglected
When Juanita Hasnat moved into Nevin Plaza in 2011, the housing authority knew she was disabled. But her apartment didn’t have a simple disabled access fixture: a safety bar in the bathtub.
Hasnat told the housing authority about the oversight, thinking it would be a quick fix. But