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Money for homeless tent city rankles residents paying higher rent

When the Pinellas County Housing Authority decided last month to give $300,000 to the Pinellas Hope tent city for the homeless, board members cast it as a good deed.

After a rough year that saw the authority's executive director, Darrell Irions, leave in a spat, the gift was meant to be positive news. The agency even released a picture of its members smiling with a big check.

Betty Hover, 74, didn't crack a grin.

Hover, who lives in the agency's Palm Lake Village affordable seniors housing complex, had her rent raised $15 this year to $435 a month. A sour economy had left "insufficient interest income to offset operating expenses," according to a March letter sent to residents.

The $300,000 gift for Pinellas Hope is coming from the budget of the Palm Lake Village Housing Corporation, an offshoot of the county authority. The corporation, run by the authority, includes Hover's complex in Dunedin and the Crystal Lakes Manor apartments and the Magnolia Gardens assisted living facility, both in Pinellas Park.

"I'm very irritated over them donating this money … because there are people that live in Palm Lake Village that could really use more help, and they're not getting it," said Hover, a three-year resident there. "And their living conditions could be improved with this money, and they're not getting it."

A new community center opened in Hover's complex this year. But she and other residents said they are charged high repair fees. A new toilet bowl costs almost $40, according to a list of fees provided by the authority. An energy efficient bulb is $7, though the authority says tenant-provided bulbs are put in for free.

Housing authority officials initially blamed complaints such as Hover's on confusion between the housing corporation's budget and that of its namesake apartments. The money had to come from the housing corporation, they said, because it doesn't use federal housing money, so it doesn't have the same restrictions.

However, revenue for all three complexes is funneled into a single pool of money, and explanations from authority officials haven't always meshed.

Chairman Joe Triolo said it is his understanding that the Pinellas Hope money will come from the pooled fund. He also noted that the rent increase was Palm Lake Village's first since 2001.

Board member Cynthia Wilson, who lives in Palm Lake Village herself, said Thursday she wasn't sure of the financial details surrounding the gift. "Right now," she said, "I don't know enough about it."

Wilson, who doesn't pay the rent increase because she falls under the federal government's Section 8 housing plan, cast the dissenters as merely a few people "who couldn't be happy with anything."

Agency spokeswoman Liane Caruso said the first $150,000 for Pinellas Hope would come only from Crystal Lakes Manor and Magnolia Gardens revenue. The source of the remaining $150,000 come next year isn't settled, she said. It can't come from Medicaid funds received at Magnolia Gardens, according to an e-mail from Caruso.

Triolo defended the gift.

"We did look at it very carefully. We did do this for the people in need of help and temporary housing," said Triolo, who spearheaded the contribution to cash-strapped Pinellas Hope. "We definitely can revisit that and make sure that is clear."

David DeCamp can be reached at ddecamp@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8779.

Money for homeless tent city rankles residents paying higher rent 12/05/09 [Last modified: Saturday, December 5, 2009 12:09am]
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