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Public deserves answers on apartment problems

In mid-July, Jan Shadburn, the state director of Rural Development, which oversees the Atlantis Arms and Greenleaf Forest apartments for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, told the Times, "This project is in bad need of major renovation."

Three weeks later, Shadburn is no longer employed by the agency, and the public is waiting to learn the extent of the problems and to see what will be done to remedy them.

The inquiry emerged amid growing concern that the federally funded housing program for low-income families in Crystal River has gone awry. Accusations were made by the former resident managers of the apartments that the company hired to manage the projects, Jotar Management Services, refused to allow repairs to the buildings and that the government may have reimbursed Jotar for apartments that had no tenants.

Those allegations, which are unresolved, were the latest in a series that has generated notoriety for the apartments in recent years.

Efforts by Citrus County Sheriff Jeff Dawsy and nearby residents to curb criminal activity there made headlines late last year. The sheriff wanted to occupy an apartment on site so his deputies could respond more quickly to the high number of complaints his agency received (600 calls during the first 10 months of 1998), many of them related to the trafficking and use of illegal drugs.

But Jotar denied that request, even though a group of nearby residents endorsed the plan. That group organized cleanups and began a neighborhood crime watch to assist the sheriff's deputies, who set up a substation nearby. By most accounts, the combination of efforts has paid off in less crime.

But it also has resulted in fewer tenants. Last month, a Rural Development representative from Ocala termed the vacancy rate at the apartments "shocking."

The bureaucratic morass of federal housing programs is legendary, and reports of abuse across the nation have been the target not only of law enforcers, but of politicians who seize the opportunity to argue for decreasing funding for such important assistance. That is why it is crucial for oversight agencies to conduct thorough and prompt investigations when questions are raised about the effectiveness or operation of any such programs.

In Crystal River, residents in and near Atlantis Arms and Greenleaf Forest apartments have waited long enough. They deserve to know how Rural Development intends to improve the properties, and whether Jotar is administering the program in accordance with federal guidelines and in the best interest of the poor people it is designed to serve.

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