Sarasota Housing Authority Resident's Association

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Mothers and Fathers Support Group

"Understanding Parental Empowerment"

This group of about a dozen residents has been gathering on a weekly basis for several months in an effort to improve their community and their lives. They accept help but know that ultimately it is up to each individual to take control of their lives and find ways to improve. Wortking together as a group helps tremendously in this journey.

The group talks about living in a dangerous place in dangerous times. However they believe it is within their power to change their community - to make Sarasota’s public housing a safer community.

Organization, vision, communication and action are keys.

"We are capable people - there is too much out there, other people thinking we are not capable. We are capable. We want a better life and we will get there" says Jacqui Green on of the group's leaders (pictured on the left).

The group is discussing ways to identify resident's needs and how to find tailored help where required.

A mentoring plan is being developed for residents and willing volunteers in the Sarasota community. The Unitarian Universalist Church in Sarasota is helping to set up the mentoring program. Other projects include getting Florida Power and Light to pay attention to billing issues, looking at communication options like a newsletter, and looking for ways to wstablish reliable baby sitting when there are evening meetings that involve the residents.
The Mothers and Fathers Support Group is working toegther to address issues that will improve their community and their lives.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Housing Authority Monthly Meeting

The next regular meeting of the sarasota Housing Authority will be held on:

Wed, May 31 at 5:00 PM - McCown Towers (Blvd of the Arts, Sarasota).

Notes from last month's meeting (thanks to Jude Levy):

Highlights from Sarasota Housing Authority Meeting held in McCown Towers at 5 pm, Wed, April 26

Present at the table: Ric Gilmore (lawyer), Bill Russell (Director of Sarasota Housing Authority), Carmen Valenti (HUD Receiver), Valerie Buchand (resident representative)

Litter Eradication Policy approved.

Tabled - Admissions and Continued Occupancy Policy for Public Housing. Mr. Russell, Mr. Valenti and Ms. Buchand will meet before the next meeting to accommodate revisions from Ms. Buchand.

Story on Karen Curry, Director of Resident Opportunities & Self Sufficiency, in this week's Tempo.

Public Housing resident hired to help Brian, Janie Poe Property Manager.

Installation of an a/c unit has been renegotiated. The cost is now $25 instead of $50 for residents.

David Cornwell, President/CEO of Cornwell Associates, gave a report on budget prepared for Sarasota HUD. Things have improved fiscally from the year before. $10.8 million in revenues in 2005.

Capital Fund projects planned: Paint Bertha Mitchell & McCown Towers, address site erosion, potholes, handrails where needed, put in new ranges & refrigerators in family units where needed.

Valerie asked for some designation of funds for resident training. There's been an $272,000 increase in Section 8 vouchers.

Mr. Russell explained that though increased subsidies are welcomed, some of the increase will be going to local landlords who have not had an increase in years. Their rents are going up because their taxes and insurance costs have escalated. It is important to keep the landlord base for the important Section 8 program so this is necessary. Valerie reported that she knows of residents who have been looking for months trying to find a landlord who will accept their vouchers.

Bill Russell reported that there were no evictions in March and April. Only one vacancy out of 488 units (with Section 8 building the total is 550). (There are 388 low income family units in Janie Poe, Bertha Mitchell, The Courts and Orange Avenue.) The higher number of 488 includes 100 studios (seniors and disabled) in McCown Towers.

Mr. Russell said Janie Poe residents' rents are at the 95% level of being paid on time.

(As of March 14, in the 388 family units, there were 38 residents earning $20,000 or more a year. 350 households earned less than $20,000 per year. 90% of the heads of households are women.)

Karen Curry reported on last weekend's election for officers in the resident organization representing three developments: Bertha Mitchell, The Courts, & Orange Avenue. A third party was not present so the election was not valid. It has been rescheduled for this coming Saturday from 10 am to 1 pm. Jackie Diaz and Jackie Green are running for president. Karen will be walking around and accepting absentee ballots which she will put in a sealed envelope. Only ten residents came out to vote. The Supervisor of Elections will be present this Saturday.

A social worker will be made available to residents, possibly in the next week or so, reported Bill Russell. The old contract has been settled and a new one negotiated.

Valerie is concerned about Quisha Miller who spoke up at the last Housing Authority meeting. She is concerned about Quisha's safety. Quisha is frightened for herself and her children. The drug dealers who hang around her corner and sometimes around her house have ramped up their threats. They know she has complained to the police. The police told the drug dealers she complained. Because Quisha was relocated from Cohen Way and Carmen Valenti promised those relocated from Cohen Way the first opportunity to receive Section 8s, Valerie urged expediting her voucher. Bill Russell will be meeting with the local police lieutenant this coming week.

Follow up on the spider bite report from a Janie Poe resident at the last Housing Authority meeting: The resident's apartment has been inspected fully and no spiders were found. Her home was fumigated. The resident is recovering.

Concern was expressed that of the 282 public housing units being asked for in the redevelopment plans, 84 of those units are projected for seniors (seniors have efficiencies). That leaves only 198 public housing family units. The Public Housing Task Force has requested that all 388 public housing family rental units (2, 3, 4 bedroom) be returned.

Mr. Valenti said the figures are fluid; that demographics of this region suggest the need for more senior housing. He explained that low income families can access the second tier of tax credit apartments (frankly, this part I do not understand).

When asked how many are on the waiting list for public housing, the response was that each development has its own waiting list. Because Brian, property mgr at Janie Poe, was present he spoke up and said he has 150 on his waiting list. 150 families are waiting for fully occupied Janie Poe homes (128 of them). That's just one development. I am going to guess that there could easily be 600 families and individuals looking for low income housing if all the waiting lists were added together.

The need is huge. There are no alternatives for low income families in Sarasota.

Demolition is still a year away and all construction will not be completed for approximately five years.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Chrystal Brown and Her Family

Chrystal Brown is a single mom with three children and has lived in Sarasota’s public housing for six years. She recently moved from Cohen Way to Janie Poe. The Cohen Way building that was her home is scheduled for demolition and will become condos built by a Habitat for Humanity partnership.

Chrystal grew up in Miami and now both she and her mother make their home in Sarasota. Life has been a struggle for Chrystal as she recently lost her job and she battles illness. Her kids provide a light in her life.

The upcoming redevelopment of Sarasota’s public housing leaves her a bit fearful. She doesn’t know what the future holds for her. She really wants to be able to return to the redeveloped public housing. But her fear is two-fold; how will she manage during the "transition" period, when her unit is demolished and she lives in a different house while she waits for a new unit - if she gets one? This is the second part of her fear, will she be one of the families that can return?

Moving is difficult for a low income, single parent. Any time you move there are additional expenses such as first month’s rent, a deposit that can range from $500 to $1300, moving expenses like renting a truck, hookup charges for telephone, electric, etc., application fees, and other costs. If she moves off-site for a year or two, then back on-site, these costs become difficult.

While Chrystal has some friends in Sarasota, she spends much of her time with her kids - and watching out for their safety. The kids are not allowed to be out of her sight. There are too many distractions and safety issues (like other kids zooming through Janie Poe on mopeds at high speed) for her to be comfortable letting the kids roam around.

Has she seen much change since HUD took over the Housing Authority? Surprisingly she says not a lot has changed in her daily life. When Rudy Vazmina was in charge, he would come by every day or two and ask how things were going and would direct maintenance to work on problems identified by the residents. She doesn’t see much of Carmen Valenti or Bill Russell (the HUD Receiver and the Housing Authority Executive Director). It seems to her that they are less "connected’ now.

But life goes on, she worries that many current residents may become homeless during the redevelopment process, she looks for a job but can only work specific hours because someone needs to watch the kids, she thinks a lot about re-starting her own business - a cleaning service - since that would give her some flexibility in hours. But there are licence fees and insurance costs to pay.

She is very happy to have a roof over her family.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Redevelopment Process Moves Forward

About three weeks ago, the housing authority issued a "request for qualifications" to find qualified and interested developers for the public housing redevelopment project.

Ten companies responded - three with Florida experience and seven others.

The developers with Florida experience are:

A committee including Bill Russell and Karen Curry from the Housing Authority's staff; public housing residents Valerie Buchand and Marjory Mack; Gail Miller, chief finance officer for Sarasota County; John Hawthorne Newtown Redevelopment manager; and the Rev. Patrick Miller of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Newtown will evaluate the qualifications of the developers on a point system based on various factors such as experience with public housing, Florida experience, etc.

The housing authority and the consultant group hired to help select the developer will then negotiate with the top ranked companies to choose the best developer for the Sarasota project. Selection is targeted for early summer.

The SHT article about this process is linked here.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Laykisha Miller

Laykisha has lived in Sarasota’s public housing for a while. She some concerns, hopes and some good memories of living here.

As she contemplates the redevelopment of public housing here in Sarasota she is concerned that if better care is not taken of the facility that it will just begin to deteriorate again.

She indicates that now there is no privacy - no fenced yard that she can call her own. Others come and go near her apartment as they please and she fears about her safety and the safety of her children.

She would describe the homes as concrete blocks and thinks that a better design and more varied designs would provide significant improvement to her neighborhood.

While she hopes that she will be able to return to her hometown area in Miami, she fears that many of the current residents will become homeless during the transition to a redeveloped public housing complex. She has little confidence that she would be able to return to Sarasota’s public housing even if she wanted that. Questions of who would be "qualified", what would the income requirements be, will likely go well beyond the current simple background checks, she fears.

Laykisha says that the housing authority needs to do a better job of taking care of the residents - they should be more of an advocate for them when issues arise, helping the residents find the help they need.

But she also has good things to say about her life here. It is affordable, even for those with very low incomes. She likes the family setting and the fact that you can have your own place. She feels safe within her own home. She has made good friends within the public housing community and while she thinks that overall her life is good here, she knows that it could be better. Being in an established place gives her fewer things to worry about.