Housing complex sale worries some

Housing advocates say the $12.3-million deal for Graham-Rogall Park will put affordable housing for the elderly, disabled and handicapped at risk.

Published September 27, 2006

ST. PETERSBURG - The long-planned sale of the Graham-Rogall Park public housing complex near Tropicana Field is nearing completion.

The St. Petersburg Housing Authority is selling the property to Vector Realty & Management Inc. for $12.3-million. Closing is not expected to take place for several months.

Affordable housing advocates are concerned about the sale of the complex that provides housing for the elderly, disabled and handicapped. A housing authority spokesman says, however, no residents will be displaced.

"The commitment from the board is to maintain affordable housing and the assistance for those residents," communications officer Tim Shepherd said.

He said the housing authority's "expectation" is that Graham-Rogall will continue to offer affordable housing under its new owners. Calls to Vector Realty were not returned. Shepherd said residents will be able to choose to continue living at Graham-Rogall by using housing choice vouchers or they will be able to take the subsidies to other housing.

Jane Trocheck Walker, executive director of Daystar Life Center, which distributes USDA food to Graham-Rogall residents, is skeptical that the plan will work. "There's nothing that says (the new owners) have to accept vouchers. It's like having money from another country, but where are you going to spend it. I want to see a solid plan. I want to see some guarantees," she said."

Walker, whose downtown agency assists the needy, said she is concerned about what will happen if residents have to move. "They are going to have to go out and find a place that's taking housing vouchers and then they're going to have to make the physical move and we're dealing with people with limited capacity," she said.

"If there's no housing available, what are they going to do? We already know that there's an affordable housing crisis, so where are they going to go and who's going to help them find housing?"

The Rev. Manuel Sykes said there's a problem with privatizing public housing and keeping it affordable, especially when it involves seniors. Sykes is vice chairman of FAST, or Faith and Action for Strength Together, an interfaith Pinellas County effort to tackle social justice issues.

The Baptist minister and president of St. Petersburg Theological Seminary said he is worried that a move will disrupt the lives of those who live at Graham-Rogall.

"They are a vertical community with long-term residents that they have learned to live with for a long time," Sykes said.

"You're displacing people from a community that's not going to be readily replaced. It's a link to sanity, emotional well being. It's something that I think needs to be thought out on all levels if you want to do this thing in a way that's humane."

The housing authority board started talking about selling Graham-Rogall in 2003.

"The decision was made to sell that property as part of a strategy to transition out of public housing units and into other types of housing," Shepherd said.

The agency noted that the buildings had numerous problems, including hallways that were too narrow for wheelchairs and scooters and elevators that broke down. The problems were too costly for it to fix, it said. The proposed sale was delayed through the years because of lawsuits challenging the bidding process.

Shepherd said housing authorities are being forced to divest from public housing because shrinking funding from the Housing and Urban Development Department has made it difficult to operate and renovate developments.

Selling public housing doesn't mean that affordable housing will disappear, he said.

Instead, housing authorities have adopted a three-prong effort, using money from the sale of properties, housing replacement dollars from HUD and housing vouchers to provide even more places for people to live.

Shepherd said the demand for affordable housing in Pinellas County cannot be met by housing authority agencies alone. Last week, he said, when St. Petersburg Housing Authority opened its waiting list for people seeking housing choice vouchers, hundreds showed up.

"To really work on the whole affordable housing issue, it is not just something the housing authority can do alone. Everybody has got to work together," he said.




Public housing developments owned by the St. Petersburg Housing Authority:

* Graham-Rogall Park, 325 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. St. S, consists of two apartment buildings. Graham: 336 units, studios, 1 and 2 bedrooms. Rogall: 150 studios and 1 bedrooms.

* Clearview Park, 3200 37th Ave. N, 22 units, 1, 2 and 3 bedrooms.

* Disston Place, 3940 55th St. N, 33 Units, 2 bedrooms.

* Jordan Park, 1245 Jordan Park St. S, 237 units, 1, 2, 3, and 4 bedrooms.

* Romayne Apartments, 8601 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. St. N, 20 units, 1 and 2 bedrooms.


Public housing in Pinellas County:

* 1,731, public housing units in the county, 649 in St. Petersburg.

* 6,837 housing choice vouchers available in the county, 2,760 in St. Petersburg.

* 1,662 additional affordable housing units owned by housing authorities, none in St. Petersburg, 236 units at Crystal Lake Manor in Pinellas Park for people 62 and over.