RICHMOND, Calif. – After months of scouring the rental market to find new homes for displaced residents from a run-down public housing complex, here’s what the Richmond Housing Authority came up with: a list of landlords who don’t accept public housing vouchers or have no vacancies, one extended-stay hotel and a commercial building that is for sale.
Those were some of the options suggested by Autotemp, an Oakland relocation consultant hired by the city for more than $382,000 to move 118 residents out of the squalid Hacienda housing complex.
Scores of Hacienda residents are being moved out of the high-rise after The Center for Investigative Reporting last year exposed residents’ yearslong struggles with mold, mice and mildew. Their complaints for basic maintenance like plumbing leaks and insect infestations had gone unaddressed by the housing authority’s top brass.
In February 2014, the housing authority’s executive director, Tim Jones, acknowledged that the building was uninhabitable, and the Richmond City Council subsequently pledged to evacuate all the residents.
The next step was hiring Autotemp to find the residents new housing. In a 57-page document released this week, the company described its research into available subsidized housing as promising. “The survey identified numerous replacement housing resources, including landlords willing to accept Section 8 vouchers, within Richmond and the general vicinity,” read Autotemp’s relocation plan.
But the fine print shows something far different.
Autotemp surveyed the rental market in San Francisco Bay Area cities spanning more than 60 miles, from Fairfield to Union City, to create a list of landlords and property management companies that could be resources for replacement housing. Yet almost all of Hacienda’s predominantly elderly and disabled residents want to stay local, close to their doctors and support systems.
Reveal called all of the landlords suggested by Autotemp in Richmond, reaching the landlords of 30 of the 43 rentals listed in the city, and found a stark market: Almost none on Autotemp’s list accept Section 8, and those that do have no openings.
About three-quarters of those reached – 22 – don’t accept Section 8 vouchers at all. Many haven’t for years.
Of the eight landlords who said they would accept tenants paying with Section 8 vouchers, one – Heritage Park at Hilltop – has a six-month waitlist; another, Westridge at Hilltop, has a three- to four-month waitlist for one-bedrooms and a six-week waitlist for studio apartments.
The other six landlords said they have no Section 8 openings now and have been full for months.
David Richman, president of Autotemp, declined to comment. Jones, of the housing authority, did not return calls for comment.
In the year since the Richmond City Council voted to evacuate residents from Hacienda, none have been officially moved; several have left on their own. In February, after months of back and forth with the federal government, the housing authority announced that it had received $1 million in taxpayer funding for the move and would begin a $20 million renovation of the rundown high-rise after residents had moved out.
Beyond the typical problems of a tight Bay Area real estate market, many of the residents face additional challenges to finding housing. Because they are elderly, disabled and have other special needs, some require apartments on the ground floor or with wheelchair ramps. The relocation consultant reported that 38 of the heads of households in Hacienda are over 62 and that members of 63 households have a physical or mental disability.
Once they are issued a voucher, residents have four months to secure housing, with the possibility of an extension under extenuating circumstances. But residents, several of whom are a month into the process, complain that they have gotten little help from the city and are confused by the housing search.
Some recounted being left to scan rental listings on their own and drive to listings to find out whether there are vacancies. The consistent response from landlords? We’re full.
Evan Lang, 39, has lived in Hacienda for almost three years. He has muscular dystrophy and said he has had no luck finding an apartment in the two weeks since he received his Section 8 voucher.
“The housing authority is setting us up to fail,” Lang said. “We don’t know what to do. We’re at the point feeling like we should give up. We’re all sitting here with vouchers but nowhere to go.”
In their report, the consultants listed one Richmond property managed by Brenda Brown, the owner of Oakland-based B&B Management Services, as a single-family residence accepting renters. But Brown said the property at 229 W. Macdonald Ave. is a commercial building, and it’s up for sale. She said she has no idea how her name and building ended up on Autotemp’s housing list.
“This property is absolutely not for rental,” she said. “That’s clearly a mistake.”
Brown said that even if she did have openings in one of the 20 rental properties she manages around the Bay Area, most of her landlords shun Section 8.
“I have had quite a few Section 8 tenants lately that have wrecked the owner’s property and caused so much damage,” Brown said. “They have torn up the place and won’t even pay their minimum amount of rent. As soon as I list a property, I can fill it in a week. So Section 8 won’t be a priority.”
Autotemp also listed an Extended Stay America hotel at Hilltop Mall in Richmond as a housing option. There’s one problem: “We haven’t accepted Section 8 in a while,” said Fam Saefong, assistant manager. “No one has called us to talk about that in months.”
And there’s a second problem: cost. A studio apartment there rented weekly would cost more than $2,600 a month and a two-bedroom more than $3,200 a month. For the studio, that’s nearly triple Richmond’s maximum Section 8 subsidies, and for the two-bedroom, it’s more than double, even if the vouchers were accepted.
It’s also more than most Hacienda residents can afford. Last year, almost 90 percent of those living in Hacienda paid between $200 and $500 a month in rent, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.