Thursday, December 14, 2017
News Roundup

Most tenants of Brooksville apartments set to close have found new homes

BROOKSVILLE

Frances Manso spread her arms wide and beamed last week as she gave visitors a tour of her new home.

"See how open it is?" said Manso, 52.

Manso moved to the Spring Hill duplex last month from a cramped apartment in Summit Villas, one of two aging apartment complexes owned by the Brooksville Housing Authority. Her new place is 1,000 square feet with two bedrooms.

"I was in a one-room shack, basically," she said. "I'm just so fortunate."

More than two years after the city housing board decided to shutter Summit Villas and Hillside Estates, nearly all of the residents have moved out of the complexes.

Tenants started moving in September, using rental assistance vouchers to help pay for privately owned housing. By last week, Manso and about 90 other households had relocated, said Donnie Singer, executive director of the Hernando County Housing Authority, which is administering the voucher program.

That left fewer than two dozen households between the two complexes who have yet to move, Singer said. Of those remaining, about a dozen have vouchers but have not signed a contract for new housing. The final five should be getting their vouchers soon. A few declined vouchers altogether.

The complexes could be empty by the end of the month, Singer said.

"I'm very happy with the way things have gone," said city housing board Chairman Randy Woodruff.

Many residents agreed. Some, such as Manso, are happy with the end result but said the effort to get there was stressful and frustrating.

•••

The city housing board voted in summer 2010 to ask HUD for permission to move the residents and get rid of the apartment complexes after an architectural study concluded that repairing and modernizing them would cost a little more than $17 million.

Composed of 126 total units in 52 residential buildings, the complexes were built in the 1970s.

The cost estimated to raze them: about $1.1 million.

The larger of the two, Hillside Estates, was home to many families with young children. It is just east of the now-shuttered Rogers Christmas House Village.

Summit Villas sits on 2 acres in the 500 block Dr. M.L. King Jr. Boulevard, west of Hale Avenue. Most of the tenants were elderly, disabled or both.

All tenants paid rent on a sliding scale based on household income.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development approved the housing board's application earlier this year, agreeing to give tenants rental assistance vouchers. Under the program, residents pay 30 percent of their monthly income for rent and the voucher covers the rest.

Families with school-aged took first priority to minimize disruption to their schooling. Though tenants were permitted to move outside the county, all but a few decided to remain in Hernando County.

Officials from both housing authorities assured residents they would help them find new places and cover moving expenses.

"As far as I'm concerned, they did everything they said they were going to do," said Jimmy Otero, 56.

Disabled with emphysema, Otero lived in Summit Villas for about two years. He moved in October to Magnolia Gardens, a new 60-unit senior apartment complex on Barnett Road in Brooksville. It's the first affordable housing project completed by the county's housing authority as part of a public-private partnership with a developer and a bank. Tenants must be 55 or older.

Thirteen Brooksville authority households have moved there, including Otero. He lives in a two-bedroom unit on the third floor.

"I call it the penthouse," he said. "That's how nice this is."

For others, the process took longer.

One day last week, Fran Dismel sat in her cramped living room at Summit Villas, where only a few tenants remain. She got her voucher in October and started packing. Boxes have been stacked by the door for weeks.

"I was so proactive and now I'm the last one here," she said.

Dismel, who has multiple sclerosis and doesn't have a car, wanted to move to Spring Hill but couldn't find an apartment in her price range. A Brooksville apartment manager had a two-bedroom apartment, but said an old misdemeanor shoplifting charge might disqualify her.

"He said he would take into consideration it's been 10 years," she said.

A couple of days later, she got the news. The apartment was hers.

Manso also ran into complications.

She was told her voucher for a one bedroom apartment would be $625. Determined to live in Spring Hill to be closer to her daughter and two grandchildren, Manso went through the list of area apartment complexes and landlords provided by the housing authority.

Permanently disabled since 2010, Manso had trouble finding one-bedroom apartments on the first floor that were available when she needed one, she said.

She found a two bedroom in a Spring Hill complex for $625 and signed a lease. She had the power turned on and was ready to move when she learned that amount of rental and utility assistance she was eligible for — which is based on yearly market studies conducted by HUD — had dropped as of Oct. 1.

"I cried," she said. "Where in the world am I going to find something for $545 a month?"

A real estate agent found her a duplex off Northcliffe Boulevard, but the rent was $570. The landlord agreed to drop the rent.

On Thursday, a cool breeze blew through her front screen door as her Siamese kitten Sammy mewed on the screened back porch. Beyond that, a fenced, spacious backyard where her granddaughters can play.

"You can't ask for too much more," she said. "I'm not moving again, unless I hit the lottery."

•••

Next month, the Brooksville housing board will likely select a financial advisor to help come up with ideas for what to do with the properties other than selling them, said housing board chairman Randy Woodruff.

It's possible one or both properties could be the future home of a project similar to Magnolia Gardens, but it would have to be the product of a similar public-private partnership. County housing board members have said they are willing to consider such an option.

Most likely, though, the properties will be sold as-is, possibly at auction, Woodruff said. The city authority doesn't have the money to tear down the complexes.

HUD has indicated it no longer wants to run small housing authorities. Brooksville City Council members, frustrated by corruption and mismanagement of past directors and boards, have said for years that the city housing authority should be dissolved.

"If something out of the ordinary develops, there is a chance the Brooksville Housing Authority could be around for many years to come," Woodruff said, "but I just don't see that happening."

Times researcher Carolyn Edds contributed to this report. Reach Tony Marrero at [email protected] or (352) 848-1431. On Twitter: @TMarreroTimes and @HernandoTimes.

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