As much as Richmond city officials are ripping an investigative report on their housing authority, they would still be ignoring the agency's festering problems if not for that expose.
Instead, city leaders who have been advised for years about the concerns of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development have suddenly jumped to attention.
Mayor Gayle McLaughlin wants an independent investigation. Councilman Tom Butt visited the city's most troubled property, which apparently makes him the first council member to set foot there in at least 16 years.
And City Manager Bill Lindsay has quickly devised a series of steps to improve the quality of Richmond Housing Authority apartments, starting with finding a new security firm and inspecting each unit to ensure it meets "a high standard for decent, safe and sanitary housing."
Housing Authority Executive Director Tim Jones, after reports of rude and verbally abusive staff members, issued a directive to employees to be "professional, courteous and respectful."
It's about time. Although the necessity of such a directive boggles the mind.
It turns out, as The Center for Investigative Reporting revealed, that HUD has issued sharply critical reports for years. The feds found Jones ineffective managing the agency's performance and regulatory compliance programs.
They branded the council, which serves as the housing authority board, insufficiently informed about its operations and finances, and threatened to create an independent authority to run the program.
HUD spokeswoman Gene Gibson says things are starting to improve. But the agency is still among the very worst in the nation. Gibson says her department still has concerns about Jones' ability to resolve the problems. Moreover, she says, council members should have been aware of these problems before now.
At least Councilman Nat Bates isn't trying to feign surprise. "We knew what was going on, but collectively we did nothing," he told our reporter Robert Rogers.
No one expects public housing projects to be pristine and luxurious. But they should be clean, devoid of vermin and mold, watertight and reasonably warm. That has not been, and still is not, always the case.
Which is why we found Lindsay's initial reaction to the investigative report so troubling. On one hand, he attacks the work of the Center for Investigative Reporting as inaccurate and distorted, "calling into question (its) veracity."
But he then admits the housing authority's challenges and deficiencies "may be more severe than other (city) departments," and that the report "raises serious concerns that must be addressed."
Rather than shooting the messenger, he would better serve the city and the residents by fixing the problems. Now.