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Housing repair money delayed

By BRIDGET HALL

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 2, 2000


CRYSTAL RIVER -- Six months have passed since federal officials promised $1.4-million in loans to fix up the Atlantis Arms and Greenleaf Forest apartments, but the low-income housing units have yet to see a dime.

Officials from the Office of Rural Development, an arm of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the private management company that runs the two complexes blame each other for the delay.

USDA officials approved the loan applications Nov. 3, but before they will award the money, the apartment owner, Crystal River R.H. Inc., must submit the architectural plans for the renovations, said Charles Nichols, who runs the Rural Development field office in Ocala.

"They have to get out there and do specific plans on an item-by-item basis, and then go out and advertise (the project) for bid," Nichols said. "There is no specific time frame for someone to do that."

Nichols said his office is still waiting on those plans.

But Tashia Hale, vice president of Jotar Management Services, said the loan application included plans for the project, and the company is waiting for the USDA state architect's approval before moving forward.

"We have done everything that we can at this point from our end," Hale said. "We are waiting on them."

Hale said the renovation plans focus on refurbishing the interiors of the apartments at 9826 W Arms Drive in Crystal River. Some were built in 1976, others in 1981. The plans call for new drywall, appliances, carpet, sinks, and light fixtures, she said.

"It will make (the apartments) like new," Hale said. "Any time you deal with old properties, the age of the buildings is the biggest problem."

The plans also include some outdoor renovations, including new siding for some buildings, repaving the road that runs through the complexes, and installing a better drainage system, she said.

U.S. Rep. Karen Thurman helped arrange the USDA loans for the sister complexes last year after receiving several complaints about the federally subsidized housing units. Complaints ranged from allegations of mismanagement to concerns about cleanliness and crime.

Thurman's spokeswoman, Helen Machado, was not available Monday for comment.

Hale said the management company has already replaced some of the apartments' fixtures and appliances while waiting for the USDA money to come through, and said her company is frustrated by the delay in receiving the funding.

"We would have liked to have had an answer (from the USDA architect) by now," she said.

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