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Brooksville City Council considers plan to demolish subsidized apartment complexes

BROOKSVILLE — The Brooksville Housing Authority's plan to bulldoze its two subsidized apartment complexes is rolling forward.

Next stop: the City Council.

The housing board voted unanimously last month to submit an application to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to relocate the residents of Hillside Estates and Summit Villas and demolish the aging buildings. The authority must include in the application a letter of support from the local government.

The council will consider the request at its regular meeting slated for 7 p.m. Monday at City Hall.

The housing board provided a copy of the application and a 16-page relocation plan for council members to review. "I think it's a responsible plan for the residents and the taxpayers," said housing board Chairman Randy Woodruff. "I sympathize with the residents who have to move. I know it's going to be a hardship for them, but I think they're going to wind up with better dwellings and safer dwellings."

The documents flesh out the details of a plan described in general terms to nervous and angry tenants at neighborhood meetings in September. Many of those residents are elderly, disabled or both, and said they did not want to move.

But the complexes, built in the early 1970s, are suffering from years of neglect, executive director Tommy Brooks told them. An architectural study concluded that repairing and modernizing the apartments would take a little more than $17 million.

Settling due to unstable soil is a problem at Hillside Estates, located off Union Street near the now-shuttered Rogers' Christmas House Village. Three buildings are uninhabitable and several more have significant cracking and other damage.

Because of its limited budget, the authority would need five years just to pay for needed roof work, Brooks said.

The cost to demolish both complexes is $1.13 million, according to the application. They are composed of 52 residential buildings. Of the 126 apartments, which range from studios to four-bedroom units, 123 were occupied as of last month, by 167 people.

The relocation plan hinges on providing Section 8 vouchers for tenants to use to find comparable affordable housing. Residents would begin to move out within 180 days of HUD's approval of the plan and the relocation process would take about a year.

The authority would offer counseling services to help navigate the Section 8 program, find new places to live and fill out paperwork. The authority also will cover application fees, security deposits and moving expenses. The moving expense rate ranges from $550 for one room of furniture to $1,650 for eight rooms, and $200 for each additional room.

Total estimated cost of those services: $182,350.

Tenants would receive a 90-day notice from the earliest date they could be required to move and then a 30-day notice with an exact moving date. The notices would not come before a new residence is found.

If residents refuse to move, the authority could evict them.

The documents also sketch out a possible future for the 13 acres of land left vacant by the demolition.

The application estimates the demand for affordable housing units in the area at nearly 1,700, a number that jumps to about 3,400 by 2015. Rather than sell the property and send the money back to HUD, the authority could transfer the land to a public-private partnership group to develop an affordable housing project and possibly other services to benefit low-income residents, such as a day care center.

That will depend largely on the support from HUD, Woodruff said. And he acknowledged the Brooksville authority might not be around to see such a project to fruition.

Woodruff and other authority members were appointed by a previous council with the direction to explore folding the agency into the Hernando County Housing Authority. Woodruff said he still supports that move, especially since HUD has been moving away from operating authorities in smaller communities, opting instead for Section 8 voucher programs. The county housing authority, for example, operates only Section 8 programs, though it will break ground soon on its first low-income housing project.

But the county authority could still move forward with public and private partners to develop the vacant land for a low-income project, Woodruff said.

Another potential factor in play: The county hopes to be in the running in the next five years for a HUD grant that could bring in $33 million or more for community improvements such as affordable housing.

"We definitely want to explore all the options and find something that works," Woodruff said. "I think it's probably too soon to say what that would look like."

City Council member Joe Bernardini on Friday said was generally encouraged after an initial review of the plan. He noted a section that documented questions and concerns from residents at the September meeting.

"They were more interested, it seemed to me, in making sure they were going to be taken care of," Bernardini said. "(The plan) seems to do that."

At least some residents have joined together to fight the move.

Susan Cook, 50, is president of the newly formed Summit Villas Tenant Association and said she plans to be at the council meeting Monday to voice her disapproval.

"There's a lot of people that actually think this their community, that this is their home, and they would like to stay here regardless of what HUD or the housing authority has to say," Cook said.

Edith Whitman is among them.

Whitman, 68, has lived in Summit Villas for the last five years or so. She suffers from a heart condition and had both knees replaced last year. And she has heard at least one horror story that makes her nervous about the reliability of Section 8 vouchers.

While help with the relocation would soften the blow of uprooting, it doesn't change her desire to stay, she said.

"It's totally unfair," she said. "I'm happy where I'm at."

Tony Marrero can be reached at (352) 848-1431 or tmarrero@sptimes.com.

>>By the numbers

$17M Approximate cost to repair and modernize Hillside Estates and Summit Villas

$1.13M

Approximate cost to demolish both complexes

123 Number of apartments currently occupied in the complexes

167

Number of people who would have to relocate

Brooksville City Council considers plan to demolish subsidized apartment complexes 12/17/10 [Last modified: Friday, December 17, 2010 8:24pm]
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