RICHMOND -- City leaders absorbed about two hours of tongue lashing Wednesday evening from more than 75 residents of the city's most troubled public housing complex who complained about substandard conditions and years of disrespect and neglect from Richmond Housing Authority staff.

Residents of the six-story Hacienda housing complex on Roosevelt Avenue groused about leaky roofs, poor service, pest infestations and inadequate bathroom and disability accommodations during the meeting, which was called by Councilmen Nat Bates and Corky Boozé and also attended by Mayor Gayle McLaughlin, Vice Mayor Jovanka Beckles and City Councilman Jael Myrick.

"There are no happy tenants here," said Dolores Johnson, a 69-year-old resident of the aging, concrete building.

City officials vowed immediate action, saying residents needed to be moved out of the building.

"This situation is absolutely unacceptable," Myrick said, drawing cheers. "I am ready to vote to bulldoze this place tomorrow."

The meeting followed weeks of controversy stemming from reports by The Center for Investigative Journalism characterizing the housing authority as among the most troubled in the nation, beset by mounting debt, sloppy procurement practices, misuse of public funds and poor staff performance.

Housing Authority Director Tim Jones, who was labeled "ineffective" by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, has acknowledged the Hacienda should be demolished but said funding for such an operation is scant. The roof of the building leaks so badly that the top floor is vacant, costing the authority tens of thousands of dollars in lost rent in recent years and leaving needy residents without housing.


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On Tuesday, the City Council voted to hire an independent investigator to audit the housing authority.

All the grievances at Hacienda were on visceral display Wednesday night. People outnumbered available seats in the stuffy, first-floor multipurpose room and loud voices boomed above the sound of nearby BART trains that rumbled by. Residents, often screaming, berated their elected leaders for not doing more to address the problems over the years.

Prompted by Boozé, one woman lifted her shirt to expose her stomach, which she said was pocked and scarred by chronic bedbug bites. Other residents said they wait days for workers to fix emergency plumbing overflows, and battle insects and vermin with home poison products.

McLaughlin, who called for action when problems first came to light, vowed help and assured residents "the situation will be resolved."

Beckles said change was imminent.

"It's over, it's done, this situation has changed," Beckles told residents.

Johnson fired back that she and her neighbors "want it in writing."

The City Council has scheduled a special meeting next week to discuss issues with the housing authority and its staff.

The meeting Wednesday brought a new dose of urgency to the housing controversy. Jones and City Manager Bill Lindsay, who were not at Wednesday's meeting, initially met the news reports with skepticism, and moved to conduct their own assessment of housing conditions.

Lindsay acknowledged Tuesday that city staff suffers from a "credibility problem" and he now supports an independent audit.

But Councilman Tom Butt remained skeptical. He visited the Hacienda site last month and wrote a lengthy report on his website criticizing The Center of Investigative Reporting's exposé. ¿He said conditions at the complex were better than reported,

In several Facebook posts, Butt also criticized Bates and Boozé for "fomenting anger" and said the city was "doing a decent job" until cuts in HUD funding to the housing authority were slashed in recent years.

"There are hundreds of people on the waiting list for these public housing units that provide clean, safe and affordable housing at far below market rates," Butt wrote. "It seems that once people get into public housing, they think they are in a hotel with maid service."

Butt said he plans to go back to investigate the Hacienda again Friday.

Bates, like his other council colleagues present Wednesday night, saw things differently.

"We need new management," Bates said. "I want a vote of no confidence for (Housing Director) Tim Jones."

Contact Robert Rogers at 510-262-2726 or rrogers@bayareanewsgroup.com. Follow him at Twitter.com/SFBaynewsrogers.