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    Dunedin housing units could be demolished

    Officials say lead paint and asbestos in the Highlander Village public housing complex may force cleanup or closure. But residents would be relocated.

    By LEON M. TUCKER, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published March 16, 2002

    DUNEDIN -- For months Peggy Downey had heard the rumors.

    So the 66-year-old walked down the sidewalk outside her Highlander Village apartment to a recent tenants' meeting to see what to make of them.

    Rumors they were not.

    Downey and about a dozen of her neighbors learned that because their public housing complex has problems that include asbestos and lead paint, the Pinellas County Housing Authority could level it. If that happened, the authority would provide tenants money to relocate.

    Housing officials have known about the problems for about three years, said Angel Tua, housing authority deputy executive director. But they didn't have the money to do anything about them, he said.

    Downey hopes the housing authority makes a quick decision.

    "Don't keep us hanging by a string," she said. "Get us started on the Section 8 vouchers so we can be prepared and settled."

    Downey added, "Really, none of us want to get up and go but you can't live in this mess."

    Even with the asbestos and lead paint, the health of the tenants is not at risk, Tua said.

    The problems, coupled with the fact the complex sits next to a wastewater treatment plant, lower chances the county could sell the property.

    "The issue also compounded itself by it being situated next to the (Dunedin wastewater) treatment plant with humidity, mold, mildew and the smell turning the property into an unmarketable place," Tua said.

    Removing asbestos from 20 of Highlander Village's units and eliminating lead and mildew from the entire complex could cost as much as $2-million. Rebuilding the complex could cost $5-million to $12-million. The housing authority only has $400,000 available to help pay for the work.

    "Our major problems is the cost because we can't find money to replace (the development)," Tua said. "And we can't issue bonds to rebuild it because there is not enough revenue (from leases) to repay the bonds."

    Housing officials are asking residents to be patient while they figure their next step. They plan to discuss the matter in greater detail by mid April.

    "We haven't established a timetable because we want to make sure the people doing the analysis have the time to do them thoroughly and appropriately," Tua said. "(Residents) will be taken care of, they will not be left out in the cold and we will see to it that they will be receiving the same services if not better services."

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