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Subsidized housing residents set to move out as Brooksville Housing Authority is dissolved

BROOKSVILLE — Holding his slumbering 2-year-old son as his other boy fidgeted nearby, David Ownbey pored over the paperwork that stands between him and his young family's next home.

Ownbey and his wife, Crystal, have spent their four-year marriage in Hillside Estates, one of two aging subsidized apartment complexes run by the Brooksville Housing Authority. Residents of both complexes recently learned that the federal government has approved the authority's request to sell the properties and move residents because the cost to repair the buildings far exceeds their value.

After that, the plan is to dissolve the city authority altogether.

On Thursday, the Ownbey family and about 60 of their neighbors gathered at Brooksville City Hall to learn how to apply for Section 8 housing vouchers that will help them pay for rental housing elsewhere.

"It's good we're getting out of where we are," said David Ownbey, a 28-year-old deli worker at a Spring Hill Publix store.

Still, the impending move comes with plenty of trepidation for the Ownbeys and other residents of Hillside Estates, located just east of the shuttered Rogers' Christmas House Village, and Summit Villas, a smaller complex on Dr. M.L King Jr. Boulevard.

Tenants currently pay rent on a sliding scale based on their income, and they deal directly with housing authority officials who work in an office located at Hillside Estates. The Section 8 vouchers, to be administered through the Hernando County Housing Authority, are federal dollars paid directly to landlords to subsidize rents for low-income tenants.

That means residents must now venture into the private market.

Officials from both the city and county housing authorities tried to ease residents' minds at the City Hall meeting and during an earlier gathering at Summit Villas, where most tenants are seniors, disabled or both.

Officials assured tenants that counseling services would be provided to help them find homes. Donnie Singer, the county authority's executive director, said there are plenty of rental units, ranging from apartments to single-family homes, that accept Section 8 vouchers in Hernando County.

"Some of you will have a seamless move. Others will have bumps in the road," Tommy Brooks, the Brooksville authority's executive director, told the Hillside Estates residents, many of them parents with young children. "That's why we're here, to make it as seamless as it can be."

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has approved 65 housing vouchers. That's a little more than half of the 115 vouchers required if every household in the two complexes wants one. The rest of the vouchers are expected to arrive in October.

Tenants with school-age children will go in the first wave. It's unlikely that tenants will receive their vouchers before school starts in Hernando on Aug. 20, officials said, but the goal is to get families moved as soon as possible.

The Brooksville authority will cover moving costs and probably utility deposits, Brooks said. But voucher recipients are probably on their own for some other typical up-front expenses, such as first month's rent and security deposit.

That worries some residents.

"They know we're on a limited income," said Tawanna Capel, a 34-year-old Hillside Estates tenant and mother of four who came to City Hall with her husband, Jeffery, a cook at KFC. "Where is all this money supposed to come from?"

Some tenants also were disappointed to hear about an existing Hernando County Housing Authority policy that requires voucher recipients to live in Hernando County for one year before using the voucher to move elsewhere.

Jenise Yore, a 21-year-old single mother who was laid off earlier this year, has lived at Summit Villas for about two years. Yore hoped to use the voucher in the St. Petersburg area, where she has family and the job market is better. Now she is faced with the prospect of moving twice.

"I feel stuck," Yore said.

The policy exists because Hernando County only receives a set number of vouchers from HUD each year, Singer said. Tenants can petition the county housing board for permission to move, but there has to be a compelling reason, such as proof of a job offer, he said.

The city authority doesn't have the money to demolish the buildings from which the tenants are moving, so they likely will be sold as they are, possibly at public auction.

There is a loose end that still needs to be tied up before the city authority can dissolve.

The board is waiting for HUD's blessing of a $160,000 settlement agreement approved last week with Brooksville electrician Jim Lane, who filed suit in 2008 seeking payment for work he performed at Summit Villas the previous year. Lane says he is due $220,000, plus 18 percent annual interest built into the original contract.

The authority has already racked up at least $20,000 in attorney's fees, and that figure would grow substantially if the case went to trial, said city housing board Chairman Randy Woodruff. "This seemed like the smarter use of taxpayer dollars," Woodruff said of the settlement.

Tony Marrero can be reached at tmarrero@tampabay.com.

Subsidized housing residents set to move out as Brooksville Housing Authority is dissolved 07/27/12 [Last modified: Friday, July 27, 2012 8:25pm]
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