RICHMOND -- While problems festered at the city's most maligned public housing project, a member of the commission overseeing the facility penned monthly reports in 2010 and 2011 complaining about mold, bug infestation, security lapses and other problems -- reports that city leaders say they never saw.
"Changes weren't made based on my work; management and oversight were ineffectual," said Arnie Kasendorf, the 81-year-old former commissioner on the Housing Advisory Commission whose charge was to monitor conditions at the Hacienda, a six-floor public housing building on Roosevelt Avenue. "I finally figured there was no point in my work, so I didn't reapply to do it anymore."
Troubles at the Hacienda and other structures managed by the Richmond Housing Authority came to light in February, when The Center for Investigative Reporting characterized 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 said the Hacienda should be demolished but that funding for such an operation is scant. The City Council earlier this month voted to relocate tenants from the building.
The roof of the building leaks so badly that the top floor is nearly vacant, costing the authority tens of thousands of dollars in lost rent in recent years and leaving needy residents without housing.
But Kasendorf's reports, which he provided to this newspaper, make clear that the advisory commission documented many of the same problems. Kasendorf said he was sure his reports were received by Jones and other top housing authority staff, but the City Council -- which is the governing board of directors for the agency -- was not in the loop.
"I don't recall getting any Housing Advisory Commission reports during that time," Councilman Tom Butt said. "But we should have. The very purpose of the commission is to bring these issues to the council, but that didn't happen, and I don't know why."
City Manager Bill Lindsay said Kasendorf's reports did not come to him, either.
"If safety problems are being discussed, then I would expect that (housing authority) staff would act on it," Lindsay said. "I can say I didn't see these reports, but I don't know what was done to act on them."
Jones on Friday said he and his staff took commission reports seriously and used them to improve service but did not share the information with the council, which oversees RHA administration.
"Have we been remiss in not conveying the information to the council? Absolutely," Jones said. "We'll fix this."
The Richmond Municipal Code says the purpose of the seven-member advisory commission, each of whom is appointed by Mayor Gayle McLaughlin, is to advise the commissioners of the housing authority, in Richmond's case the City Council, on "all matters concerning the administration of the housing authority."
The commission has not met since January, Jones said, because members have quit and new appointments have not been made to reach a quorum.
The city released some of Kasendorf's reports in response to a public information request but not all of the ones that he provided to this newspaper. Kasendorf provided seven reports from 2011, about one page each, that document a litany of problems at the Hacienda, including resident complaints about mold in their units, saturation on the top floor, pest infestation, poor lighting, inadequate security and complaints about staff.
"Many of the tenants seemed dissatisfied with how the (Richmond Housing Authority) is dealing with the mold issue," Kasendorf wrote on Oct. 17, 2011. "I think it is time to have a follow-up meeting by the RHA to inform the tenants what progress is being made to refurbish the complex."
Councilman Corky Boozé, the council's liaison to the advisory commission since 2010, said he complained to Jones about conditions "on a consistent basis" but acknowledged that the reports did not go to the council. Boozé said he was unaware of the municipal code rule that mandates that the advisory commission advise the City Council, and thought it was Jones' job to take the reports to Lindsay and the council.
"The reports went to Tim, and he said he would take care of the issues," Boozé said.
Complaints allegedly went unheeded for years, and some council members expressed shock and outrage at revelations in the media reports, many of which were touched on in Kasendorf's reports from 2011. They also pointed the finger at Boozé for not sharing information he heard as liaison.
HUD reports in recent years warned the council about poor government oversight and financial management by the housing authority but lacked the on-the-ground problems documented in Kasendorf's reports.
The council on March 12 directed Jones to draft a relocation plan to vacate 130 residents from the Hacienda, an operation that could cost the cash-strapped city more than $500,000.
Councilman Nat Bates said he didn't blame Kasendorf for no longer wanting to serve on the commission.
"At some point, you simply just give up because management and the majority of the council turn a deaf ear and become blind in dealing with the problem head on," Bates wrote in an email. "Only when the news media became involved did they attempt to do anything."
Kasendorf blamed Jones and Boozé for the disconnect in information between the advisory commission and the council.
"It's Jones' job to get the information to the council, and Corky (Boozé) was at the meetings as a liaison, so he had some responsibility, too."