High-rise, high-density public housing complexes are becoming an anachronism in the United States. Once considered an appropriate way to house large numbers of low-income people on relatively little land, such complexes now are recognized as bad for residents and communities, and they are being demolished. And that's exactly what should happen with the outdated, stigmatizing and mostly-vacant Graham-Rogall public housing complex in downtown St. Petersburg.
Modern-day public housing is a far cry from the warehousing of the past. Today, many of those who cannot afford to pay market price for housing are given vouchers they take to private apartment complexes, where they live among those who pay market rents. When public housing is built now, it typically is not concrete highrises or fenced compounds, but single-family homes or small apartment buildings nestled comfortably in middle-class neighborhoods. Low-income residents of St. Petersburg deserve that modern experience, and disposing of Graham-Rogall is the way to get it.
At 486 units, Graham-Rogall, built in the 1970s, is Pinellas County's largest public housing complex. Owned by the St. Petersburg Housing Authority and located immediately east of Tropicana Field, the complex hasn't a single redeeming architectural feature. Its apartments are undersized. Narrow hallways lead to unattractive common areas. The complex is so unappealing that housing authority executive director Darrell Irions says it has always had vacancies, despite Pinellas' documented need for more affordable housing.
Only 100 residents, mostly elderly and disabled, still live there. The authority moved another 145 residents after it struck a $12 million deal last year to sell the complex. The developer, KEGB of Tampa, has since pulled out.
Now the housing authority is pursuing two options. It's considering rehabbing the 10-story, 150-unit Rogall building, hopefully with federal stimulus money, and tearing down the older Graham building and replacing it with a new 50-unit complex. But until July 27, the housing authority also will advertise for proposals from developers who may have other ideas for the property.
However, a fix-up of Rogall will take millions of tax dollars and will do nothing to address the concentration of too much low-income housing in one place.
The authority's board should opt for a third option: razing the buildings and putting up the land for redevelopment. With the millions of dollars likely to result from sale of the property, the housing authority can provide attractive, modern homes throughout the community for its low-income residents, today and in the future. That's what they deserve.