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Brooskville residents hear rationale for decision to raze of two apartment complexes

BROOKSVILLE — Franchette Dismel couldn't fathom how the Brooksville Housing Authority had gotten to this point.

How could officials allow the authority's two subsidized apartment complexes, Summit Villas and Hillside Estates, to fall into such disrepair that the only solution is to tear them down and uproot Dismel and her fellow residents?

"Why wouldn't they address it at the time instead of waiting 'til it got so bad?" Dismel asked housing officials at a resident meeting Wednesday at Summit Villas, the complex on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. that Dismel calls home. "A stitch in time really does save nine."

The answer lies in years of mismanagement and corruption that led to prison time for a former executive director.

Regardless of the cause, the current reality is the same, Executive Director Tommy Brooks told residents at two meetings Wednesday: It makes more sense to tear down the apartments and help occupants move to better housing than spend money to rehab the complexes, both of which were built in the early 1970s.

"There are a lot of things that should have been done since 1973 that have not been done," Brooks told about 30 residents crammed into a small, stifling meeting room at Summit Villas. "When we looked at what it would take to bring these up to date, it's cost-prohibitive."

An architectural study concluded that repairing and modernizing the apartments would take a little more than $17 million. Because of its limited budget, the authority would need five years just to pay for needed roof work, Brooks said.

The housing board voted unanimously this summer to hire Smart Inc., a consultant firm, to handle the demolition application process. HUD officials in the Jacksonville office support the idea, Chairman Randy Woodruff told the Times earlier this week.

At the Summit Villas meeting and at another held later that evening at Hillside Estates, Brooks and a consultant for the authority laid out the proposal.

The Housing Authority will apply to HUD to demolish the complexes and a plan to move residents. As part of the relocation plan, residents would receive federal Section 8 rental subsidy vouchers for housing that could be used anywhere in the United States.

The authority would help residents find housing, cover moving and other related costs such as application fees and security and utility deposits, help solve problems that crop up during the process and provide counseling services after the move.

"We're going to stick with you all the way," Brooks said.

He noted that the application process is a lengthy one, so two to three years could pass before anyone has to move.

Summit Villa residents, many of whom are elderly, expressed anger and skepticism.

"Get rid of the poor people, that's the only sense this makes," said Alma Golden, 77, who has lived at Summit Villas for more than a decade. "My God, it's stupid."

At least two tenants said they understood the cost-benefit rationale. And several people showed up to lend support to residents. Among them was former executive director Ronnie McLean, who was terminated in 2008 after members of the housing board said he was not up to the job.

McLean urged residents to form an association to stay informed and, if they choose to, fight the plan with a unified voice. "Stick to your guns," he said. "This is your community housing authority."

Tenants pay rent on a sliding scale based on their income. At Hillside Estates, located near the now-closed Rogers' Christmas House Village, 82 of 90 units are occupied, Brooks said. The others are vacant for renovations. At Summit, 34 of 36 units are occupied, with two vacant for renovation.

Razing the Brooksville authority's only two complexes would make it even more logical to merge the operation with the Hernando County Housing Authority, board members said this week.

The Brooksville City Council only has power to appoint and remove housing board members. About two years ago, after a tumultuous period that saw the ousting of several housing board members for mismanagement, the City Council tapped new members with the directive to explore a merger with the county.

"I would imagine that's going to be a topic of discussion again in the near future," Woodruff said.

HUD has said that could only be an option when both agencies shed their official "troubled" status. The Hernando authority did so earlier this year. The Brooksville authority has complied with HUD's corrective actions, Brooks said. He would not speculate on when the agency might be cleared, though.

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

Brooskville residents hear rationale for decision to raze of two apartment complexes 09/22/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, September 22, 2010 8:28pm]
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