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Neighbors dread 2nd Park Richey

Wary of the low-income apartment complex opened 1{ years ago in Port Richey, area residents stigmatize Lake Lisa, a similar project.

Ron Osborne moved into Park Richey Apartments on a Saturday afternoon. His neighbor was stabbed to death the following Sunday night.

With 11 months left on his yearlong lease, Osborne no longer considers Park Richey home sweet home.

"It's deceptive," Osborne said. "When you drive by, you say, "Hey, that place looks nice.' That was before I knew the cops came out here every day."

He isn't alone in feeling that way.

The 1{-year-old apartment complex west of Little Road on San Miguel Drive in Port Richey has struggled with one of the lowest occupancy rates among the 16 Pasco complexes offering government-subsidized, rent-controlled apartments.

Sheriff's deputies have visited Park Richey hundreds of times during the past year, so often that the sheriff installed a substation in the complex's clubhouse.

The vacancies _ about 50 of the 200 apartments were unrented last month _ are partly due to high eviction rates as management tries to purge the property of troublemakers.

Park Richey's problems might have remained obscure had it not been for a County Commission vote last month to support construction of another affordable housing project one mile west of Park Richey.

Lake Lisa Apartments at Maplehurst Drive and Regency Park Boulevard promises 160 units reserved for low-income renters.

Neighbors point out that Lake Lisa developer Randy Rieger has made many of the same promises that Park Richey developers Tom Tompkins and Wayne Rich made three years ago:

We're going to build a high-quality project. We'll be an asset to your community. Expect little trouble from residents.

At a public meeting in 1998, Tompkins promised Park Richey would be "very, very nice," before adding, "as nice as anything around there."

Residents in the Embassy Hills and Regency Park neighborhoods insist that adding another low-income apartment complex on San Miguel Drive will lead to "1,000 for sale signs."

Among the biggest fears is that both apartment complexes will become havens for tenants receiving rent vouchers through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's Section 8 program.

Section 8 recipients usually live below the poverty line, in some cases well below. Families can make as little as $10,000 a year, an income level stigmatized in neighbors' eyes as one that brings crime to the area.

To quell neighborhood fears, Lake Lisa owners vowed not to rent to Section 8 enrollees. But neighbors insist that when they sought the similar assurances of Park Richey, they were told not to worry about it.

By last month's count, one-third of Park Richey residents were HUD recipients. Some pay less than $100 out of pocket for an apartment that rents for $625. More than a few neighbors consider the complex a welfare hotel.

"The county is turning a nice area into a slum," Regency Park resident Steve Irenze said. "We've got to defend our property from the scum floating through here."

Park Richey residents Leigh Ann and Daniel Simpson said that they share many of the neighbors' frustrations.

Mardi Gras every night

Although many of the police calls in the complex are noise complaints, non-violent domestic squabbles and minor vandalism, some have been more serious.

The worst was the Feb. 5 stabbing of 27-year-old Jesse James Nacarlo. Deputies blamed his death on a parking lot drug brawl. His killer presumedly still is on the loose.

The Simpsons keep their 7-year-old daughter and 2-year-old son inside. Daniel Simpson doesn't leave the apartment more than he must.

"To their credit, maintenance people sweep clean the parking lot every morning," Simpson said. "It's like Mardi Gras went through every night."

The night after the Simpsons spoke to a reporter, deputies accused two 13-year-old girls of brawling in the parking lot. One girl threatened to sic her "gang" on the other, a sheriff's report said.

Rich, the head of the Orlando-based business partnership that owns Park Richey, said managers have made an "aggressive effort" to evict "undesirables" but stressed that fair housing laws limit what they can do.

"What we're providing is safe, decent, affordable housing. That's our business," Rich said.

As for the February stabbing, Rich said he trusts that his management company, Leland Enterprises of Orlando, is on top of things.

Company president Emily Badger refused to speak with the Times. "We don't talk to the press," she said.

Neighbors also accused Rich and his colleagues of disguising their intent to rent to people using Section 8 vouchers.

During Park Richey's approval process in 1997 and 1998, when it requested and received $8.5-million in publicly backed, low-cost bond financing, developers didn't highlight the fact that they would accept Section 8 vouchers.

In the hundreds of pages that make up Park Richey's application for $8.5-million in publicly backed bond financing in 1997 and 1998, the Times found one paragraph referencing Section 8.

That was in a Nov. 27, 1997, letter to Pasco officials in which developers mentioned that "at least 20 percent" of apartments were reserved for people receiving rent assistance.

County Commissioner Steve Simon said he always was under the impression Park Richey wasn't supposed to house those clients.

"It never came up by way of discussion to my recollection," said Simon, who wasn't on the board when commissioners first considered the project.

His colleague Ann Hildebrand agreed. "I didn't know it was Section 8," Hildebrand said. "I don't remember it being an issue at the time."

Rich said he has no choice but to accept Section 8 residents. At last count, there were about 50 Section 8 households in Park Richey.

Karen Turner, interim head of the Pasco County Housing Authority, the agency that dispenses Section 8 rent payments, was unsure about Rich's accuracy.

"We don't force any landlords to take Section 8 people," Turner said. "It's up to the landlord, and it's up to the tenants if they want to live there."

Lest San Miguel Drive neighbors believe that the people using Section 8 are complacent about the problems at Park Richey, Turner points out that more than 10 of them recently called her office requesting to move out.

"They're afraid and don't like the drug activity over there," she said. "Just because people are Section 8 and have low incomes, they're not bad people and they're not drug dealers."

"Palace of Prosperity'

The Park Richey complex is a series of tidy beige-colored three-story buildings surrounding a park and in-ground swimming pool. Queen palms sway in the breeze.

The interiors of some of the units are a different matter. The apartment Simpsons rented two months ago with their two children is showing signs of age 1{ years after the complex was approved for occupancy.

A door frame has split from the wall. A flick of a finger on wall paint sends white flakes fluttering to the floor.

The window to their daughter's street-level bedroom doesn't latch properly. The wall-to-wall carpeting ends half an inch shy of the baseboard, exposing the children's feet to sharp tacks.

"I can't believe I pay $627 a month in rent for something like this," Leigh Ann Simpson said.

Embassy Hills and Regency Park neighbors fear Lake Lisa Apartments won't be much better, despite developers' assurances that they won't repeat Park Richey's mistakes.

Once county commissioners signed off on Lake Lisa in February, developers competed in Tallahassee with dozens of other proposed projects for tax-credit financing. Whether they will win financing won't be known until later this year.

The two neighborhoods will plot strategies at a meeting at 6:30 p.m. Saturday at the Embassy Hills community building.

"Anything I can do to stop this project, I'll do it," said Irenze, the Regency Park resident who vows to erect a sign reading "Peter Altman's Palace of Prosperity" on the Lake Lisa site.

Altman, a county commissioner, angered neighbors by casting a decisive vote in favor of the new apartments.

Osborne doesn't blame the people who look down their noses at Park Richey.

"I can see why neighbors are upset about another apartment building going up. They feel trapped," he said. "I don't know how they are going to sell their homes."