The Center for Investigative Reporting earlier this year drew attention to the crisis at the Richmond Housing Authority. Among other things, CIR documented the deplorable conditions at one major RHA apartment building, the Hacienda housing project, and the agency's problems handling money.
Now the public landlord for hundreds of low-income households is in the spotlight again. Several news outlets are reporting that Richmond police are investigating Debra Holter, an RHA employee who allegedly steered $340,000 in contracts to Strong Built Construction, a firm to which her husband, Sidney Holter, is connected.
Robert Rogers of the Contra Costa Times reported Friday:
"Goods and services paid for with taxpayer funds may not have been truly delivered," said Richmond Police Capt. Mark Gagan. "This may be a symptom of the bigger problem (in the housing authority)."
The investigation, which began last week, is of Debra Holter, a Public Housing asset specialist assigned to the Hacienda Housing Project, the city's largest and most troubled. Gagan said that Holter's job included managing maintenance contracts, but one company received a disproportionate share of them.
"It looks like she circumvented the normal process and had no oversight, no one signing off, on these contracts she was allegedly funneling to this company," Gagan said.
KTVU broke the story earlier this week and says police are also looking into exactly how the money was spent. The money was reportedly allocated for repairs and replacement of appliances at the Hacienda facility. But Gagan told the station: "Items were purchased from Home Depot, but never delivered to the residences or units. But rather, refurbished units were put in their place."
Conditions at the 150-unit Hacienda building are so bad — with rampant mold, insect and rodent infestations, sewage overflows and broken elevators — that the city decided earlier this year to move all the residents out. That hasn't happened yet.