Wednesday, May 23, 2018
Business

Mosley Motel's struggling residents prepare for the next struggle: finding new homes

ST. PETERSBURG

Zeneta Jackson rummaged through two cardboard boxes of rumpled, donated clothes searching for anything her 7-year-old son can wear. He is one of the five children Jackson, 36, and her fiancé live with at the Mosley Motel.

"Every time it's time for us to save," Jackson said, "something comes up."

Carol Vanzyl, 45, shares one of the Mosley's 110 rooms with five cats, her boyfriend and her 26-year-old son. She cares for both men, who are disabled.

Rufus Brown, 55, used to be homeless, but now works at a bakery. He pays $499 every two weeks so that he and his 27-year-old daughter can live at the motel. She can't find a job but is studying for her GED. He said they live from paycheck to paycheck.

Struggle is the common thread that runs through the lives of those who call the Mosley Motel home. It's where poor families, senior citizens, veterans and even a hospice patient live, paying as they go every week or so.

Now a new struggle looms: soon the motel's 400 or so residents won't even have the cramped, dingy rooms of the Mosley to call home.

And they will have even less time to find new homes than they thought.

Residents initially heard they had until Sept. 30 to move. Then, on Tuesday, the new owner, Altis Cardinal LLC of Miami, sent notices giving residents 30 days to leave the motel at 401 34th St. N.

They must be out by Sept. 16 — in 26 days.

That's all the time Mosley residents have to find affordable housing and come up with a down payment, security and utility deposits, and then move their belongings.

It won't be easy, especially when such housing is already lacking in Pinellas County.

"The need for affordable, good quality housing in our county is critical," said Debra Johnson, executive director of the Pinellas County Housing Authority. "Last year, families were having an increasingly difficult time locating affordable housing."

Johnson said that the Pinellas housing authority is working with another agency, Personal Enrichment Through Mental Health Services, to help Mosley residents. "We do have vouchers for people that are eligible," she said.

Cliff Smith, St. Petersburg's manager of veterans, social and homeless services, has marshaled agencies from Pasco to Pinellas counties to help tackle the Mosley crisis. He said their task would have been easier had they been allowed to meet with residents months ago.

Instead, Smith said the former ownership group — which included Julious Mosley Jr., whose father opened the original Mosley; and Michael Shimshoni, a landlord who's had numerous problems with the city — kept social workers from talking to residents. "We just had to wait," Smith said.

Altis acquired the Mosley, which had been in foreclosure, on July 20. The company said it has "acquired and developed" more than $1.4 billion worth of properties.

The former owners fought being evicted from the property and an appellate court ordered a stay. The previous managers then kicked social service providers off the property, and residents were left with the impression that they could stay.

The court reversed course and lifted the stay Aug. 15. That allowed agencies such as Catholic Charities, Directions for Living, Pinellas County Human Services and the Area Agency on Aging to start assisting residents.

Smith said the good news is that "most of them qualify for some type of financial help with moving, such as the first month's rent, and security and utility deposits."

By Friday, officials said they had interviewed 65 families and individual residents — but only one family had been assured a new home. Smith said he is working with the four Pinellas housing authorities to find residents places to live — but they may not be able to live in St. Petersburg anymore.

"I have some people who say they would go anywhere," he said.

Smaller agencies such as Daystar Life Center can help with basics such as food, bus passes and even transportation to move, executive director Jane Trocheck Walker said. They'll try to help those who don't qualify for other programs, Walker said.

St. Vincent de Paul South Pinellas has money it can use to pay for housing, said chief executive officer Michael Raposa. He said the organization will leverage its good relationships with landlords to try to find rentals for Mosley residents.

"The fact of the matter is, the Mosley has served as a quasi-homeless shelter for many, many years ... and we've got to figure out that we are turning these people out of that shelter," said Raposa, who also is chairman of the Pinellas County Homeless Leadership Board.

While many agree that Pinellas has a shortage of affordable housing, they say the situation isn't as dire as it may seem for Mosley residents.

"Remember, these folks are actually paying a weekly rent, so they have some income and they have been able to sustain their rent," said Susan Myers, CEO of the Homeless Leadership Board.

But 23-year-old Casia Palm is worried that her family could end up on the streets.

"We don't qualify for anything," she said of her family, which includes husband James, 31, a 2-year-old son, Gage, and her brother-in-law, Mike Palm, 25.

Her husband's Tampa road construction job brings in about $2,000 to $2,400 a month, she said, and his brother makes much less than that.

"On top of that, we have $400 a month in car payments, plus general expenses and other bills," she said. They just spent their savings to fix the brakes on their 2007 Jeep Liberty.

She said it costs $1,076 a month to stay at the Mosley. Her family is paid up until Sept. 12 — four days before they must be out.

"We went and spoke to the office and asked if we would be pardoned from any rent so we could save (to move)," Palm said. "They said no. They said go to another motel."

Residents have complained of other indignities in recent days. They said the Wi-Fi, phones and cable were recently shut off. Altis spokeswoman Lesley Valentin blamed that on the motel's contentious ownership change.

She said the former owners told Duke Energy to turn off power to the motel. On Friday, she said Wi-Fi had been restored. Residents are dependent on the Internet to look for jobs and places to live. Altis is still trying to restore phone service.

The Mosley's former owners also took the motel's records, Valentin said, so Altis has no idea how many people live there or how many have left.

A former manager recently told the Tampa Bay Times that there were 400 or so residents, including about 100 children.

And they must all be out by Sept. 16.

"The most important thing for everyone to know is to get the help they need," Valentin said. "We're trying not to get them physically evicted by the sheriff."

Contact Waveney Ann Moore at [email protected] or (727) 892-2283. Follow @wmooretimes.

     
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