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Residents Of Dilapidated Richmond Public Housing Complex Get Federal Vouchers To Relocate

RICHMOND (CBS SF) -- After years of living with mold, cockroaches and mice, residents of Richmond's Hacienda public housing complex will soon begin the process of moving to more habitable dwellings, city officials said Friday.

The public housing complex, operated by the Richmond Housing Authority, came under fire last year after a series of stories published in February by the Center for Investigative Reporting, in partnership with the San Francisco Chronicle and KQED, detailed allegations ranging from squalid living conditions to financial mismanagement.

Constance Gray, president of the residents' council at the development, said she has been living with leaking roofs, rampant mold, and an unresponsive maintenance staff since she moved in 11 years ago.

"My apartment used to be the pooling place for water when it rained," Gray said. "There wasn't anywhere I could put my bed where it didn't get wet."

In March, the Richmond City Council voted to approve an ordinance relocating all of the tenants from the building with Section 8 vouchers provided by the federal government. That doesn't mean Gray is too optimistic about her prospects on the private market.

"I'm still at the wait and see point," Gray said. "These things have been going on since 2003."

Gray, who is in a wheelchair, said she is worried about the high percentage of residents who are wheelchair dependent and may not be able to find housing that fits their needs. She said she will stay in Richmond if she can, but is also looking further east and north in the Bay Area, where rent prices tend to be lower.

Two Hacienda residents, Francis Clay and Dianna Stanton, filed a civil lawsuit against the Richmond Housing Authority in Oct. 2013 for civil rights abuses, according to court records. Clay said he got other residents to join as plaintiffs in the suit as well.

A settlement was expected in early February, but Clay said it has since been pushed back to May. The next hearing is scheduled for March 16, according to court records.

Clay said he has documented the health effects of the black mold on his lungs, getting a letter from a doctor who certified that his lungs had dark black spots, even though, as Stanton said, "He never smoked a day in his life."

But Clay and Stanton's complaint ranges from bugs in the beds to asbestos hidden in the walls to questions about whether lead paint has ever been removed from the building, which was built in the 1960s.

Clay and Stanton said they couldn't be happier to be leaving.

"It's depressing," Clay said. "When you're depressed, you have no motivation. People fall into bad ways that way."

"How can you not be depressed living in an environment like this?" Stanton said, adding she was "ecstatic" to be leaving.

RHA executive director Tim Jones said Mercy Housing, a private affordable housing developer, would be taking over the building once all of the residents have relocated. The renovations are expected to cost $20 million, Jones said.

It will cost the housing authority just over $1 million to relocate the residents and he said he expects the process to take up to six months.

Over the next few years, Jones said the RHA's non-profit development arm would take on renovations at other RHA housing complexes and a private management company will manage them. Although the RHA will continue to own the buildings, the units will no longer be considered public housing, Jones said.

They will be affordable housing units and will follow the same income and rent guidelines as public housing, but they won't be operated by the RHA, he said.

Congressman Mark DeSaulnier credited the quick response by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to issue Section 8 vouchers and allow the housing authority to vacate and renovate the apartment with the coordination of government agencies at all levels.

"If I were to give credit, it would be the response to problems that came up," DeSaulnier said. "Although it's too bad the residents had to go through this, we think this is really positive for everyone."

© Copyright 2015 by CBS San Francisco and Bay City News Service. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed

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