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Your lease which expires on 11/30/02
will not be renewed
and you must vacate your apartment
no later than 12/31/02.

Now what?

photo
[Times photo: Chris Zuppa]
Elease Hall faces eviction from the home she has lived in for 30 years in the Jordan Park public housing community in St. Petersburg. She is not sure why. Although Landex, the Baltimore corporation that manages the community could not discuss specifics of Hall's case, a representative says she violated the terms of her lease.

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By ELIJAH GOSIER, Times Columnist

© St. Petersburg Times
published October 22, 2002


The document Elease Hall pulls from the satchel that holds all the important papers in her life is too limp for its age.

The birth certificate of her baby born shortly after she moved into Jordan Park more than 30 years ago should take two hands to read. Time does that to paper.

The letter she fished out of the satchel arrived barely a week ago. It should still be firm, bending only at the two folds that allowed it to slip into its envelope. It should still be crisp.

Unless the words on it were hard to understand, even after they were read and reread. Unless they're even harder to believe, even after neighbors and strangers have read it and confirmed what they say. Somewhere along the line -- perhaps in the 10th pair of hands, maybe in front of the 15th or 20th set of eyes -- the paper went limp.

Elease Hall's spirit likely didn't hold up that long.

The words on the page add up to one sentence -- and no heart:

Your lease which expires on 11/30/02 will not be renewed and you must vacate your apartment no later than 12/31/02.

That is all it said. No explanation. No respect. Nothing resembling courtesy. No offer of assistance in making other arrangements. No mention of avenues of appeal.

It was signed by Randal C. Papai, property manager.

Jordan Park is the public housing community in St. Petersburg that's undergoing a major renovation and management shift. The city's housing authority handed over management of the 230-unit complex to Landex Corp., based in Baltimore.

Hall said she doesn't know why she's being kicked out of her home of 30 years, but said the letter comes after a police officer showed up at her door about a month ago. He told her he had found plastic bags in her yard like the ones drug dealers use. She said he came back a couple of times and each time had bags in his hand that he said he picked up in her yard.

Police records say that an officer went to the residence after he was alerted that drugs were being sold from the porch. When he arrived, according to the officer's report, several young people ran away and he found several plastic bags with marijuana or marijuana residue in the yard and near the porch.

Hall thinks the suspicion that drugs were being dealt from her property is the reason her lease is not being renewed, but said she is not sure that's the reason.

"If I knew, I'd be feeling better. Lord knows I'm not selling any drugs," the 68-year-old great-grandmother said. "I go out there and I don't see any bags, but he walks up here with a hand full of them."

Hall said she shares the apartment with the 18-year-old granddaughter she raised from the age of 6, when the child's mother died, and two great-grandchildren.

"I've been on my own so long I don't worry about where I lay my head. There are three other people in this house I worry about," she said.

Hall's lack of answers for why she is being forced to leave is puzzling at first, testing believability. Then I called the housing authority seeking to speak with Papai, the man whose signature appears on the letter. My call was referred to Ken Hart, in Baltimore.

Hall's predicament became a little clearer.

Hart didn't have much to say. For privacy reasons he couldn't discuss specifics of Hall's case, only that the corporation was opting not to renew because she violated a term of the lease agreement.

He said he was sure Hall had been informed of the specifics of the violation. She could go to the local property manager's office, or she could catch Hart on his weekly trip to St. Petersburg.

And what if she strongly holds the conviction that she did not violate the lease and wants to appeal the decision? Where does she find out where to begin the appeals process?

"I doubt that there is (a process for appealing)," Hart said.

There should be. When an action so punitive as kicking someone out of their home is taken without due process, there should be, at a minimum, a panel of peers to hear claims of innocence. Without it, the stability of too many lives is imperiled by dictatorial whims.

Hall, then, is pursuing the only option she thinks is available to her. On an income that allows her to pay housing costs only with a subsidy, she is seeking the assistance of an attorney, which, of course, she can't afford.

All of it is new territory for Elease Hall. For 30 years, her housing arrangements were assumed. Jordan Park, in a world that has become increasingly transient, was her stability.

Now that has changed. Jordan Park has changed. Its streets are more pleasant. Its homes are more attractive. But something is missing.

Something is missing when an agency administering subsidized housing for poor people kicks out a 68-year-old woman with a letter consisting entirely of one blunt, rude sentence. Something is missing when a dope bag found in a yard that hundreds of people walk past each day is enough to assign guilt and put a family on the street. Something is missing when an agency that exists to make life easier for poor people views that as a secondary mission.

Something is missing when you have to call a man in Baltimore to find out what's happening in St. Petersburg.

"I respect this place," said the 30-year resident who's leaving.

It's hard not to wonder if her landlord can make the same claim.

-- To reach Elijah Gosier, call (727) 893-8650 or e-mail gosier@sptimes.com.

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