MARTINEZ, Calif. (CN) - Ten public housing residents call the Bay Area city of Richmond "one of the biggest slumlords in Contra Costa County," and seek punitive damages for it.
Lead plaintiff Constance E. Gary claims the city and its Housing Authority "warehouse its most vulnerable residents" in "substandard and dilapidated housing" in the 142-unit Hacienda Development, one of six public housing developments run by the city.
Richmond, pop. 107,600, is north of Berkeley, on the east side of San Francisco Bay.
Gary claims the city has essentially allowed Hacienda to fall apart, into "intolerable and uninhabitable" conditions, with "filth, rubbish, garbage, rodents and vermin" so rampant it "endangers life, limb, health, property, safety and welfare."
She says the grounds and common areas are "just as bad," a haven for drug trafficking, prostitution and other crimes.
"The criminal element has been able to run amok in Hacienda, in part because the gates surrounding Hacienda are not secured, and the city and the RHA have decreased security at Hacienda," Gary says.
"The plaintiffs do not feel safe at Hacienda."
Hacienda was declared uninhabitable in February 2014, but the city and the RHA have continued to demand and collect rent from tenants, and though the residents asked the city to fix the "myriad problems," as required by their leases, their requests fell on "deaf ears," the complaint says.
It adds: "In the name of all that is good, the city's conduct must stop."
Eighty-one percent of Richmond's residents are nonwhite. The $259,900 median value of a house or condo is 30 percent below the statewide median, and its median household income of $54,638 is 9 percent below the statewide median of $60,190, according to city-data.com.
A 2014 report from the Center for Investigative Reporting found deplorable conditions at Hacienda, including "16 life-threatening health and safety violations" that were documented by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Hacienda is not alone, according to the Feb. 17, 2014 report, "Residents Live in Filth, Fear, in Mismanaged Bay Area Public Housing," from the Center for Investigative Reporting.
The Department of Housing and Urban Development itself in 2013 called all but 44 of the 4,055 public housing agencies in the United States "troubled," according to the center's reporter Amy Julia Harris. Hacienda's HUD rating of 47 out of 100 in 2013 was among the lowest in the country, Harris reported .
The plaintiffs seek damages and punitive damages for fraud, public and private nuisance, conversion, code violations, negligent and intentional infliction of emotional distress, money had and received, breach of contract, breach of faith and breach of implied warrant of habitability.
They are represented in Contra Costa County Court by Mister Phillips, of Pinole, who declined to comment.
Richmond and its Housing Authority did not respond to requests for comment Monday.
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