Sarasota Housing Authority Resident's Association

Sunday, April 30, 2006

Seeking Shelter

The Veice Gondolier has a story today about rebuilding public housing and the factors involved:

Low-income, affordable, subsidized, workforce -- four housing terms that are often used interchangeably but actually have very different meanings.

For Sarasota County residents making $20,000 or less a year, it's the "low-income" housing they're most worried about. Both of the county's public housing authorities are attempting to win large-scale redevelopment deals that could -- potentially -- mean fewer housing units for the poorest of the poor.

That worries people like Valerie Buchand, president of the Janie Poe Residents Council and Residents Task Force with the Housing Authority of the City of Sarasota.

Add in the idea of creating a regional housing authority that combines cities like Venice, Sarasota, Arcadia and Punta Gorda and the concern only increases. The Miami office of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development will have a meeting on the topic Monday at Venice City Hall.

"I would hope they're not trying to combine it just to get rid of it," Buchand said. "When I first heard about it, that was my thought. ... It's almost like we're up for grabs with all these political people, but none of the people I know running for public office even want to take a stand for our rights."

City Manager Marty Black suggested the idea while attempting to resolve controversy about Venice Housing Authority's redevelopment proposal. Every aspect of Venice's project from quality of design, the number of units dedicated to the poor, public input and overpricing has been questioned.

Suggesting a partnership with HACS means Venice could potentially inherit its $137 million redevelopment, and history of multiple failed redevelopment proposals.

I seriously doubt the City of Venice would "inherit" Sarsaota's public housing redevelopment project. Never the less, the article is worth reading.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

What Happens to Relocated Public Housing Residents?

The Urban Institute is a research organization focussing on public policy issues. According to their web site:

In the mid-1960s, President Johnson saw the need for independent nonpartisan analysis of the problems facing America's cities and their residents. The President created a blue-ribbon commission of civic leaders who recommended chartering a center to do that work. In 1968, the Urban Institute became that center.

Today, we analyze policies, evaluate programs, and inform community development to improve social, civic, and economic well-being. We work in all 50 states and abroad in over 28 countries, and we share our research findings with policymakers, program administrators, business, academics, and the public online and through reports and scholarly books.

Recently they published a study on what happens to relocated public housing residents. The following summarizes their findings:

1. What was the impetus for the HOPE VI Panel Study?

I had been studying public housing for a long time, including a longitudinal study in Chicago. When HOPE VI came in and began demolishing one of the developments we'd been tracking, I became interested in the question of what would happen to all of the residents. There was a lot of exciting talk about HOPE VI building back something wonderful, but it really wasn't clear what was going to happen to these people living in the developments, most of them using this as housing of last resort.

So we started to put together the idea for a study and took it to HUD [Department of Housing and Urban Development]. The late Art Naperstek took the idea to Barbara Mikulski [Democratic Senator from Maryland], who got the study written into HUD's authorizing legislation in 1999. Once HUD was committed to this study, we were able to bring in a number of private foundations to support the project.

2. What findings surprise you most?

We went into this study with concerns about what was going to happen to the residents. One concern was that a lot of people might fall out of the system and lose their assistance. We were all surprised at how positive the findings were. The neighborhoods where people now live are dramatically better than where they started. They are much safer. They are lower poverty.

A quarter of the sample is now living in low-poverty neighborhoods, which we did not anticipate. There has been a big improvement in housing quality, which was somewhat expected. But the magnitude of the change was more than we expected.

On the negative side, we were surprised that the people who received vouchers in our sample were living in housing of lower quality than other poor African-American central city renters. No matter how we cut it, there's something about the housing that they're moving to that still isn't as good as it should be. And that really surprises me.

It was also staggering to discover how many people said they were in poor health. We had included a few questions about health, primarily asthma, in the baseline survey because asthma is associated with poor housing conditions. The rates of asthma were two, three, four times the national average. We added a much more comprehensive list of items in the second survey, including depression and obesity. The results are just shocking. We found that 75 percent of the sample is overweight or obese. The rates of hypertension and diabetes go along with that.

To me, the most disturbing part of those findings is the number of working-age adults who are in extremely poor health. They're being targeted for all these efforts for self-sufficiency; they're expected to be improving their lives in HOPE VI, and really, they can't. Even those that are working, about half of them, earn so little money that the idea that they're going to become self sufficient and earn theirway out of public housing is unrealistic for most of them.

3. How much do outcomes vary among the five sites?

We have two very large sites, Chicago and Washington, D.C., and I expected these sites to look much different in terms of the resident population and level of physical distress. It wasn't true. The five sites look very similar across the board. We had grandparents taking care of grandchildren at every site. Health problems are similar. I think the site where people were complaining the most about crime at the start of the study was Durham, which really surprised me.

In terms of differences, Richmond is the only really ethnically diverse site we have—about half Hispanic. Also, Richmond and Washington have very hot rental markets, which make relocation much more difficult. Because of the rental housing situation in Washington, D.C., they've wound up relocating many families to other public housing.

Atlantic City has casino redevelopment, so they have a lot of resources for their redeveloped housing. Chicago has had the biggest improvement in poverty rates. Families came from a place that was 60 to 70 percent poor and moved to communities that are 20 to 30 percent poor. So that's a huge improvement.

4. How are children affected when families move?

Disruption is bad for kids. Changing schools is enough to set them back six months. On the other hand, these kids were living in terrible places that were also really bad for them. So, you could argue that it was worth the trade off.

Certainly I would say we're seeing more positive than negative, especially for those families who took vouchers and went to the private market. They're still in schools that are majority poor, but they're not 100 percent poor like the schools they were attending in public housing. Parents say the schools are safer. That has many implications for children's physical and mental health.

However, many kids moved to other public housing, where the behavior of the kids got worse. With gang and turf issues, when you move families around you risk a strong negative response from the people already living in the development. We heard stories from respondents of bullets being shot into their son's windows right after they moved to their new apartment. Gangs are a real problem and must be considered in relocation.

For those with vouchers, we hear that people are having a harder time making it financially in the private market. In public housing, families don't have to pay utilities. When they get out in the private market, suddenly they are paying huge gas bills. It looks to us that some families may be making tradeoffs that may not be good for the kids. People might pay their rent on time, but they reported hardship in paying for food.

5. What's the outlook for the HOPE VI program?

Last year, the Bush administration zeroed out funding for HOPE VI. Because there has been tremendous bipartisan support for this program in Congress, they reinstated it, but at much lower funding levels than before. It's not just the HOPE VI program.

The voucher program is also being threatened with cuts. To a large extent, the success of HOPE VI depends on the availability of replacement housing.

However, the money that's already been allocated for HOPE VI in the form of five-year grants is still there. The housing authorities have the money. So, there's still the opportunity to take that money and use it for something like a greater focus on health. There are still opportunities to do creative and innovative things with the funding that's out there.

More information about relocation of residents can be found here.

SHA in the News

SARASOTA -- This city's Housing Authority may as well post a "no vacancy" sign.

This week, for the first time in years, the authority that manages public housing had just one of its 563 apartments vacant and being prepared for a new tenant.

A year ago, when the federal government took over the troubled agency, it had 49 vacancies.

Getting the vacancy rate down has been "a huge priority," William Russell, the authority's executive director, said.

Apartments were not empty and in disrepair because of a lack of need. More than 300 households, mostly families with children, tend to be on the projects' waiting lists.

Yet the previous authority had let apartments remain vacant for months before getting repairs completed and moving in new low-income tenants, Russell said.

This is from Dale White's recent story about this weeks Housing Authority board meeting.

The Sarasota Housing Authority has indeed done an excellent job in making need repairs to occupied units as well as dramatically reducing the turn around time to prepare recently vacated units for the next occupants. With many people on the waiting lists for public housing, it is nice to know that in Sarasota the vacated units are re-occupied as fast as possible.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Housing Authority Board Meeting

The Housing Authority Board met on April 26.

Among the items discussed were:

1. Continuation of the discussion of the policy for "Admissions and Occupancy"

2. The proposed budget for 2007 was presented and accepted.

  • $10.8M in expected revenues and $10.6M in expected expenses.
  • An increase of about $200,000 in Section 8 voucher allocations. This will increase the number of vouchers as well as provide higher amounts for current vouchers.
  • Increased maintenance funding for many needed improvements including painting the exterior of McCown Towers.
  • More employee training funds.
  • It was stated that the Housing Authority is in a much better financial position compared to a year ago.

3. Program updates included

  • Currently there is only one vacancy in the entire 530 unit complex (includes McCown Towers). Much improved compared to lasty year.
  • There is in place a quick turn around process for getting a unit ready for the next tenant when a current tenant moves out. Typically the turn around time is 2-3 days.
  • All outstanding tenant iniated work orders have been completed.

4. Elections for officers of resident neighborhoods will be held this coming Saturday. The elections were postponed when a representative from the supervisor of elections office did not show up as expected. This third party oversight is needed to assure fair elections.

5. There was a "heated" discussion of an article that appeared in the Venice Gondolier last weekend in which the attorney recently hired by the Resident's Association was quoted.

Parent Support Group

Dale White, SHT reporter, wrote an excellent article about the new Parent Support Group that has been formed at the Janie Poe Public Housing site.

"When psychiatrist Marion Goldberg, a part-time Sarasota resident and member of the Public Housing Task Force, started getting acquainted with the tenants more than a year ago, she encountered an almost defeatist attitude.

Goldberg, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, has long worked with inner-city families in Philadelphia on self-sufficiency programs. Two months ago, she volunteered to launch the support group in Sarasota's projects.

Laykisha Miller, Tina Knarr, Crystal Flores, Ayisha Carter, Chrystal Brown and others started attending and spreading the word. The tight group has slowly grown to eight members.

The women share confidences, advice and fears.

Topics in a recent discussion included child bullies, a mother who feels threatened by lawbreakers who gather outside her apartment, neighborhood relations with police, the risks of eviction if a visitor to their apartment breaks the law without their knowledge, and what they have to do to someday become homeowners.

They are becoming more open about their limitations, more assertive about asking for expert help."

The recently formed Sarasota Public Housing Residents Council Association Inc and the Janie Poe/Sarasota Public Housing Task Force have been actively involved in finding ways to improve conditions at Sarasota's public housing complexes and the lives of the residents living here.

For more information call 941-366-6100.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Upcoming Meetings of Interest

The April Sarasota Housing Authority Board meeting will be held, Wednesday, April 26 at 5 pm at McCown Towers on Blvd of the Arts.

The next Public Housing Task Force meeting will be Tuesday, May 9 at 9 am in the Newtown Redevelopment Office on MLK.

"Churches pushing for affordable housing plan"
A coalition of 21 churches expects about 300 supporters to attend a forum in which it will call for the City Commission to commit at least $25 million towards affordable housing.

Sarasota United for Responsibility and Equity (SURE) will meet at 7 pm this Thursday at St. Martha's Catholic Church, 200 N. Orange.

For more information, call SURE at 954-6553.

How Many Public Housing Units?

An editorial in today's Sarasota Herald Tribune says in part:

.... federally owned land on which dilapidated public housing now stands is an important asset, in short supply.

It was meant to serve the poorest Americans, and that purpose should remain at the forefront as the projects are transformed.

For this reason, the Housing Authority should set a high goal for replacing public- housing units on site.

To be sure, that's a tough challenge. Financial and zoning limitations make it hard to replace every public-housing unit within the on-site mix of market andsubsidized units.

But if the lowest-income units aren't provided there -- on land already in public ownership -- where else would be less expensive?

As Commissioner Atkins would say: Amen!

We know the waiting list for public housing is long and the need for "attainable housing" for the lowest income segment of our community is great.

A recent Sarasota City Commission decision fast tracked a change giving developers a 400% density bonus if they would include making 10% of the units attainable to families within 60 to 120% of the Area Median Income, in our case about $35,000 to about $72,000. Nothing in this plan would be attainable for people earning less than about $15 an hour.

The Housing Authority has issued a Request for Qualifications to find capable firms that can redevelop the Housing Authority land. The RFQ indicates a feasibility view for what may be possible in terms of number of units, income segments to be served, sources of financial help and other information a potential developer may need.

The potential redevelopment would reduce the number of public housing units from 388 to 282. Other low income rental units included in the feasibility discussion could be attained with Section 8 vouchers.

In an article concerning the RFQ process, Valerie Buchand, the Resident Association President indicated "I have a question to pose to the public, developers and elected officials of this city and county," Buchand said. "Are they behind (in support of) the lowering of the amount of public housing units?"

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Non-Profit Organization Formed

Sarasota Public Housing Residents Council Association Inc. has filed as a non-profit organization and can now accept tax deductable donations. Checks should be made out to the Sarasota Public Housing Association, 2228 Janie Poe Drive, Sarasota, FL 34234.

The organization is an out growth of the Janie Poe Task Force and includes all the public housing sites in Newtown. Interested community activists, leaders and public housing residents make up the organization that seeks to improve the quality of life for public housing residents.

A SHT article covering this can be found here.