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Homes lay foundation of security

To Herbert C. Smith, living in a concrete home means he won't have to evacuate during a hurricane. It means he doesn't have to negotiate the front steps and can enjoy central heat and air-conditioning. And, contrary to the mobile home he lived in a few months ago, Smith said he feels safer in case of a fire.

"If anyone was sleeping there, you could say goodbye," Smith, 66, said last week, sitting in his spacious dining room at Palm Lake Village, off County Road 1. "The windows were too small."

Palm Lake Village, Pinellas County's largest housing complex for low-income elderly residents, was built as a mobile home park 21 years ago. The years took their toll on the homes. Residents say the floors buckled, the ceilings leaked and they couldn't get rid of the bugs.

The Pinellas County Housing Authority began an $11.7-million renovation of Palm Lake Village in July 1989.

"We're a very frugal housing authority," Executive Director Dean Robinson said last week. "We salted (money) away until that rainy day came when we would need it."

The 475 mobile homes, 94 of which had been condemned, were sold to a private company for $205,000, Robinson said. Residents began moving into the new pastel-colored houses last October, said Mike Stafford, manager of Palm Lake Village.

The houses are larger than the mobile homes _ 666 to 750 square feet compared with 560 to 600 square feet, Stafford said. Residents have spacious porches and storage sheds. There are grab bars outside the showers.

Rent, based on income, ranges from nothing to $403 for a two-bedroom home. Residents must be at least 62 years old.

"We love it. These homes are beautiful," said Alice Richards, who moved to Palm Lake Village in September from Massachusetts. Mrs.

"Here you feel so secure," she said. "The bedrooms are so much bigger. It seems to me my furniture was more crowded" in the mobile home.

She moved her old dining room table to the kitchen and bought a new one for the bigger space. Her kitchen now has a window that she and her husband, William, sit next to while they eat breakfast.

Rosalie Wells, 77, who has lived at Palm Lakes since 1987, said her mobile home wasn't well-insulated against outside noise.

"You could hear everything," she said. "I thought I'd go nuts with the tractors in the streets."

Although she said she wouldn't go back, Dorothy Hoefler said there were some advantages to living in a mobile home. "My bathroom was twice the size of this one, and I had cupboards galore."

She also lived closer to her neighbor, Bill Miller, who did odd jobs around her house.

Some other residents complain about the lack of landscaping and the uneven grading of the land, which causes rain to wash into some porches. Stafford said he has sodded some areas but it will take time for plants to take root.

Stafford also said some residents don't like walking to their group mailboxes instead of having their mail delivered to their door.

Anna Falzon, 79, said her mobile home was "higher and the ventilation is better." She wishes her house had steps so ants couldn't crawl into her living room. But Ms. Falzon, like most Palm Lake residents, said she wouldn't move back to a mobile home.

"When it rained or thundered it was too powerful," she said. "You could feel it."