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Eduardo Martinez
Eduardo Martinez
Eduardo Martinez
Gayle McLaughlin
Jovanka Beckles
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Richmond Sun

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ISSUES | Housing

A Familiar Headline

Council Members Push to Aid City’s Underwater Borrowers

"'There are two kinds of cities that Wall Street can't frighten—those that have serious underwater loan and foreclosure problems, and those that have dedicated Mayors and City Councils,' said Robert Hockett, professor of law at Cornell University." Hockett is credited with developing the strategy of a municipality using its power of eminent domain as a tool for principal reduction. He went on to name a city which has both. Could he have been talking about Richmond?

Well, in this case he wasn't; he was referring to the Big Apple! Four New York City Council Members—at least one of whom is underwater himself, along with New York Communities for Change and the Mutual Housing Association of New York, have jointly started to push for a plan similar to the one Richmond may implement, to prevent further foreclosures and their ensuing blight.

Once again, Richmond may have some pretty big feet following in its footsteps.

Read the whole article in The Observer.

Have You Seen This? Cynthia Burke’s Guest Commentary

“Foreclosure Prevention Program Will Improve Richmond’s Financial Health”

From the Contra Costa Times of Saturday, April 19th. Read it now, here.

Thank you for your wisdom and your courage, Cynthia!

Update on Richmond Housing Authority Issues

by Mayor Gayle McLaughlin

The City of Richmond has the responsibility to provide clean, quality housing in all our Public Housing Agency facilities. In some of our public housing areas we have clearly failed.

What to do

Solve the most immediate problems now.

The Housing Authority is now doing this, reaching out to each unit to resolve current and past problems. Staff is compiling the data on these unit by unit inspections and repair and remediation efforts to present to the Board of Commissioners at our special meeting tomorrow, Wednesday, at 6:30 pm in the City Council Chambers.

Determine the future of Hacienda.

Meeting at Hacienda to hear residents   photo: Eduardo Martinez

The main question at this point in time is whether to renovate or demolish this aging building. This decision must be based on the clear-cut needs of our tenant residents for quality housing and also based on how quickly we can force HUD to pay for the right solution. I have demanded that HUD complete the paperwork process and provide a timeline in writing so that we can convey to residents what they can expect.

A large number of our public housing residents, especially in Hacienda, are individuals with disabilities, many in wheelchairs. This is an issue of disability rights along with an issue of quality housing rights in general, which is why we call on HUD to prioritize the needs of Hacienda.

Determine the root cause of the problems.

I have initiated and the Housing Authority Board has passed a directive to staff to begin the process of identifying an independent management auditor. After this audit is completed, we can consider the question of what changes need to occur in our Housing Authority management and management procedures.

We do our public housing residents a disservice if we get sidetracked into a bloodletting session rather than going after the real problems. We expect our staff to treat our residents with full respect and dignity. Likewise we treat our staff. We do not decide to call for terminating staff based on rumors or even public outcry. We take all complaints about staff extremely seriously and look fully into all complaints, but that is the starting point for an investigation where the staff member also has an opportunity to explain.

I am taking responsibility for assuring things continue to move forward without delay on all levels of review and action in regard to these Housing Authority issues. Like so many other public housing facilities nationwide, Richmond facilities have been neglected by HUD for too long, amid Congressional budget cuts to HUD that have left cities with great challenges. Things are coming to a head nationwide. It is up to us to make it 100 percent clear to HUD and our elected Congressional representatives that our public housing residents are tired of waiting.

Please join me at the special meeting we are having tomorrow, Wednesday 3/12, at 6:30 pm., at which we will analyze the data from recent unit-to-unit inspections and determine next steps we need to take on behalf of our residents' health and well-being.

Connecting the Dots

The Richmond Housing Authority Crisis and the Big Picture

By Vice Mayor Jovanka Beckles

KQED photo

There has been a great deal of attention directed toward Richmond's Housing Authority after recent negative media coverage alleging gross mismanagement. Although there have been challenges to the truthfulness and questions about the accuracy in the reporting, what we know for certain is that real harm was done, and we must take the health and wellbeing of our residents as seriously as we do our own.

The residents of our public housing deserve that much respect and action on our part at a minimum. To ensure sustainable solutions, it is critical to find the systemic underlying causes and to make both the short and long term changes necessary. Although it is premature to say what the ultimate outcome will be, I support the full independent investigation that Richmond Mayor and Housing Authority Board Chair, Gayle McLaughlin has called for.

I appreciate the independent press and I support the right of the people to know what is going on. I also recognize that reporting outrageous acts of mismanagement, deplorable living conditions and finger pointing make for good press, but there is a bigger picture and another story that is not being told. That story is one of income inequality, historic and systemic oppression, poverty, racism, classism and the politics of economics that contribute to the resulting problems. Because the full truth is complex and neither sensational nor simple, that story does not fit neatly into a sound bite that tugs at heart strings or elicits indignant gasps.

Local governments all over the country are being asked to do more with less, and are then held accountable for all the things can and do go wrong. Of course, we and they must take some responsibility, but under the circumstances, some of the responsibility must also be fairly shared and things must ultimately shift. As income inequality has dramatically increased, we have witnessed the systematic shredding of the social safety net. There are constant cut backs in funds, often resulting in the cut backs in staff and lowered morale for the staff in place. This results in far reaching systemic problems. These are the real and concrete consequences of the austerity measures national and state governments have been promoting and enacting. When an agency is working with limited resources, where there is not enough to cover basic needs, it is fertile ground for discontent, low morale, corruption and incompetence. Not many competent people want to stay at a job they are expected to do but can't do well for lack of resources. This does not in any way excuse the alleged rude or disrespectful treatment of residents; on the contrary. Neither does it justify unresponsive department action. But unless we start dealing with the underlying issue of poverty, finding people jobs, and rebuilding the safety net, there is no real or lasting solution. All other efforts are simply band aids and cosmetics.

One of the many reasons that I am promoting a fair living wage is to make a local attempt to begin to decrease the ever widening disparity faced by workers - in this case those who may happen to be public housing residents, as well those who provide any number of services to the residents, and of course all other workers. Everyone deserves a chance at a decent life and a decent place to live. I also believe that given a choice, workers prefer to work with integrity. The current economy does not support living wages that provide a sufficient income to many individuals to make a living and afford market rate housing. As long as income disparity remains egregiously high, people will struggle with housing and there will be public housing. As long as there is public housing, we the stewards of the public funds, must be vigilant in ensuring that it is responsibly and respectfully managed.

The City Council alone cannot remedy the larger issue of national economic disparity and income inequality. Fortunately, organized communities can and are fighting for justice and equity in these areas. I stand with my colleagues and the community in the belief that government works for and with the people. I welcome ongoing dialogue on this issue and look forward to discovering what more will be revealed. I will continue to initiate and support public policies for appropriate and necessary action for the good of the residents of Richmond.

This article first appeared in the Feb. 22 San Francisco BayView National Black Newspaper.

Get Answers to your Questions

Mortgage CartoonThe Richmond CARES program is is a new approach.  The idea is to fight blight and keep our communities stable by keeping people in their homes.  By preventing foreclosures through  restructuring mortgages in line with their present value rather than the inflated values of the bubble, we help all the homeowners in the community. 

With the realtors and Bates/Booze trying to sow confusion there are bound to be questions.

For in-depth understanding of the legal and economic thinking behind this program see the Report by Prof. Robert Hockett for the Seattle City Council. Click here.

Eduardo Martinez Explains Richmond CARES
Eduardo Martinez Explains Richmond CARES

Here are some other good sources you can get on-line:

New from Jeff Ritterman:
"Heart Attacks, Depression and Suicide: The Toxic Fallout From the Foreclosure Epidemic and a Prevention Strategy That Just Might Work"
Click here for the Huffington Post article

Richmond Cares Fact Sheet

SF Chronicle Article

New York Times Article

FAQs 9/30/13

Power Point   

Progressive Politics in Richmond Makes Front Page News
In the New York Times

A City Invokes Seizure Laws to Save Homes

Peter DaSilva for The New York Times

Robert and Patricia Castillo paid $420,000 for a three-bedroom, one-bathroom home in Richmond, Calif., in 2005. It is now worth $125,000.

The power of eminent domain has traditionally worked against home
Peter DaSilva for The New York Times
owners, who can be forced to sell their property to make way for a new highway or shopping mall. But now the working-class city of Richmond, Calif., hopes to use the same legal tool to help people stay right where they are.


An abandoned home in Richmond, where roughly half of all homeowners with mortgages are underwater, meaning they owe more than their home is currently worth.

Gayle McLaughlin, the former schoolteacher who is serving her second term as Richmond's mayor.

Scarcely touched by the nation's housing recovery and tired of waiting for federal help, Richmond is about to become the first city in the nation to try eminent domain as a way to stop foreclosures.


The results will be closely watched by both Wall Street banks, which have vigorously opposed the use of eminent domain to buy mortgages and reduce homeowner debt, and a host of cities across the country that are considering emulating Richmond.

The banks have warned that such a move will bring down a hail of lawsuits and all but halt mortgage lending in any city with the temerity to try it.


But local officials, frustrated at the lack of large-scale relief from the Obama administration, relatively free of the influence that Wall Street wields in Washington, and faced with fraying neighborhoods and a depleted middle class, are beginning to shrug off those threats.


"We're not willing to back down on this," said Gayle McLaughlin, the former schoolteacher who is serving her second term as Richmond's mayor. "They can put forward as much pressure as they would like but I'm very committed to this program and I'm very committed to the well-being of our neighborhoods."