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Romano: Homeless kids matter more than a schedule

This is a story in need of a hero. Or at least a conscience.

If you've been following the saga of the Mosley Motel, you've probably had a difficult time choosing sides. That's because no one seems completely virtuous, no matter what their intentions.

It's a story entangled by economics, bureaucracy and legalities. It went through one courtroom last week, is due in another this week and has a looming deadline that will allow a developer, Altis Cardinal of Miami, to shut it down.

So here's a suggestion:

Forget who's right and who's wrong. Forget what can be proven, and what can be enforced. Forget who is ultimately responsible for this mess and instead focus on a single image:

Homeless children.

No matter what you think about the adults or laws involved, there is no escaping the possibility that dozens of children might not have suitable housing if the Mosley shuts down on Friday as scheduled.

That should not, and cannot, happen.

So it's up to Altis to do the right thing and give the residents more time to find alternate housing. Altis could be magnanimous and agree to the Oct. 31 extension that's been discussed, or it could be barely merciful and add a few weeks to the Sept. 16 deadline.

Either way, the developer needs to stop wasting time and money with courtroom arguments and throw some of our most vulnerable neighbors a lifeline.

Is this fair to Altis?

Absolutely not.

The developer did not create the conditions these residents find themselves in, including those who inexplicably have more children while living in poverty. And it did not allow the property to fall into disrepair and commit the multiple code violations that got the motel's previous owners in trouble.

And it certainly isn't responsible for St. Pete's namby-pamby excuses about the previous owners throwing up roadblocks when it came to meeting with residents to discuss future housing.

None of those problems were created by Altis.

But they were all inherited by the developer when it acquired the property. So it is up to Altis to make sure that a business deal does not leave childhood scars in its wake.

"It's super unfortunate,'' said Altis spokeswoman Leslie Valentin. "We're doing all that we can, but it's a difficult situation to be in.''

Valentin said the original plan was for Altis to take over the property after all the residents had moved on. Once it became clear that wasn't going to happen, she said Altis has adhered to the letter of the law, including beginning the process of issuing three-day eviction notices for non-payment this week.

For a city in the midst of a downtown rejuvenation, this is also a tricky situation for St. Pete officials. They can't appear to be unfriendly toward businesses interested in investing in the city.

But in the end, all of these other concerns have to take a back seat to the thought of children and destitute seniors getting caught in a temporary housing merry-go-round.

Valentin said Altis is still open to discussing an extension, but would not hazard a guess as to whether it will happen before the deadline.

"We like St. Pete, and we're thinking long-term when it comes to St. Pete,'' she said.

If that's the case, then a short extension shouldn't be a hardship. It's the neighborly thing to do.