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Pact will give public-housing residents a chance

Sheila King used to clean garbage from the streets of Ponce de LeonCourts because she loved her community. Now she'll get paid for doing it.

On Friday, King was awarded a $70,000 two-year contract from the Tampa Housing Authority to clean and do landscaping for one of the city's largest public-housing complexes.

"I'm prepared for this," King said. "Basically, we used to do it before, anyway."

King was one of 12 public-housing residents to receive two-year job contracts from the Housing Authority. As part of the second phase of its Resident Enterprise Assistance Program, the authority awarded a total of $620,000. Last year, five residents got $244,600 in contracts.

"It's continuing our efforts to enhance the economic viability of the residents," explained Audley Evans, the Housing Authority's executive director.

It seems to be working. For the first time, residents are taking a stab at economic independence. They're mowing lawns, running day-care centers in their homes and janitorial services - trying to destroy the idea that living in public housing means living without hope.

"I got tired of seeing (Giddens Duplexes) dirty," said 31-year-old Judy Smith, a former housewife who won a $12,000 contract.

This program "sounded like an opportunity of a lifeline - to own your own business."

Residents learn business basics during a mandatory training program. The authority brought in experts from Tampa's financial community to teach residents how to write business plans, keep records and manage employees.

"We didn't think we would get this far," said 35-year-old Bernard Williams, who won a $50,000 contract to clean Riverview Terrace with his partner, Winifred Crecy, 32. "We're going to clean up and make people feel good about the community."