ST. PETERSBURG — As the relocation efforts at the Graham-Rogall public housing complex appear to be moving along, the sale of the property that triggered the moving of hundreds of residents has hit a snag.
Officials at the St. Petersburg Housing Authority say the sale of the complex to KEGB of Tampa will become final once all residents have been moved to affordable, alternate housing. But it is still unclear whether the sale will happen at all.
Three weeks ago, the housing authority learned that the KEGB team questioned whether the complex is worth the $10 million asking price that was agreed on last year.
The relocation efforts are going "a lot better than the sale," said Darrell J. Irions, executive director of the housing authority. The agency is looking at options in case the sale doesn't go through, Irions said at a residential meeting last week.
Nineteen families are still living in Graham Park, while 116 residents are still living in the Rogall side of the complex.
With or without the sale, the housing authority is continuing with plans to relocate the residents.
The building reportedly needed $20 million in repairs and upgrades when the complex was put on the market. It is assumed that even if KEGB pulls out of the deal, the building is beyond repair.
Graham-Rogall, the largest public housing complex in the city, was built as separate projects and later joined through construction. Rogall was built in 1978 and is in decent condition, but the 1971 Graham building is a problem, Irions said. Because of current construction difficulties, demolishing the building is not an option, he said.
Even though the housing authority is trying to make for a smooth transition for residents, the process is not seamless.
Jane Walker, the executive director at Daystar Life Center, said she worries about the residents. "A lot of people are losing their support system."
Daystar distributes USDA packaged food to residents at Graham-Rogall. The center used to distribute about 200 packages a month and now serves about 48 a month.
Residents at Graham-Rogall are mostly elderly, disabled or impoverished.
"They rely on subsidized housing," said Walker, adding that residents who depend on assistance may be less likely to publicly voice complaints.
"There are very few that will fight," Walker said.
Housing authority officials remain optimistic. While the process may be inconvenient, they say, moving has been made easy because the agency pays the moving expenses, including packing.
"We take care of everything," Irions said.
The closing may even prove to be valuable for the community. Dispersing residents throughout the country allows the city to break up the large pockets of poverty.
"This gives the opportunity for kids of these families to see things they normally wouldn't," Irions said. "Between 2004 and 2005, we put in 115 first-time home buyers."
But in recent years, the housing market in St. Petersburg, like the rest of the country, has worsened.
"A lot more people are on the streets than there used to be," Walker says. "Whatever is being torn down isn't being replaced."
People who live in St. Petersburg cannot deny the scarcity of affordable housing or ignore the growing homeless population, she said.
Jo-Lynn Brown is a reporter for the Neighborhood News Bureau, a program of the Department of Journalism and Media Studies at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg.