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Standoff awaits HUD decision: public housing vs. condos

ST. PETERSBURG — Community activists have joined forces to stop the controversial sale of the city's largest public housing complex.

Nearly 500 families would be uprooted by the St. Petersburg Housing Authority's plan to sell the Graham-Rogall complex to a condominium developer.

The Committee to Save Graham-Rogall wants the housing authority to renovate the deteriorating low-income units instead.

"These people have nowhere to go," said Judith Nelson, 73, the group's chairwoman.

The housing authority decided to sell Graham-Rogall after its staff determined repairing the complex would cost more than $22-million. The two buildings, which share a hallway, are valued at $5-million.

But Nelson, a retired film distributor and president of the South St. Petersburg Democratic Club, said the housing authority board should try to find the money for repairs.

"This should be a priority," she said. "Who are they doing housing for, the rich or the poor?"

The housing authority began moving residents out last year. About 95 of the Graham building's 336 units are occupied. All of the 150 units in Rogall are full.

The redevelopment has been stalled since June 2007 because of complications involving the sale of the Rogall building to condominium developer KEGB.

Under the terms of a restriction placed on part of the building during a 1994 bond refinancing, the Rogall apartments must remain affordable rental housing until 2017.

The housing authority and KEGB have appealed to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for a special exemption to redevelop the property into condos sooner.

"Nothing has changed," said Audra Butler, spokeswoman for the housing authority. "We are still waiting to hear from HUD."

KEGB has said it could not make a profit running Graham-Rogall as apartments even if given the property for free.

The housing authority will meet April 24 to discuss how to move forward with the development.

Cristina Silva can be reached at (727) 893-8846 or csilva@sptimes.com.

Standoff awaits HUD decision: public housing vs. condos 04/15/08 [Last modified: Sunday, April 20, 2008 11:45am]
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