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Residents cling to hopes for housing
By WAYNE WASHINGTON
© St. Petersburg Times, published May 7, 2000
TAMPA -- The hopeful among those living at Riverview Terrace have seen the plans before.
They've seen the drawings for new buildings to replace the grubby ones that stand now as a monument to public housing decay.
Still, when the Tampa Housing Authority held a community meeting Thursday to once again go over plans to raze and rebuild Riverview Terrace, residents were there.
"I love it," resident council president Claudia Clemons said of an artist's depiction of the renovation plan. "I love it."
Now, all the housing authority has to do is get the money to build it.
THA is again applying for a HOPE 6 grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to raze and rebuild Riverview Terrace. It's the second year in a row THA has applied for the grant for the World War II-era complex. HUD rejected last year's application.
This year's application, due May 18, also will call for the demolition of Tom Dyer Homes, the staid duplexes across Broad Street from Riverview Terrace. The housing authority expects to know if the application is approved by July or August, with a formal announcement in September.
All of the Riverview Terrace's 360 apartments and the 76 duplexes at Tom Dyer Homes would be torn down under THA's plan. Those apartments and duplexes would be replaced by 200 public housing units and 300 private housing units. The private units, including single-family homes and a 76-unit senior citizen center, would be available to poor residents who have federal housing vouchers.
H.J. Russell of Atlanta will build the new housing if THA wins the HOPE 6 grant. Former THA Executive Director Art Milligan Jr. is a vice president at Russell, which finished second in the bidding for the College Hill Homes and Ponce De Leon Courts project. That project is well under way, with most residents moved out and much of Ponce De Leon already demolished.
Milligan made an impassioned plea to the THA for his company to get the Ponce De Leon/College Hill contract, even though he had previously said he was not heavily involved in Russell's quest to get work from his old employer. Black community members touted Russell's minority ownership and prominence in the development field and pointed to Milligan's old ties to the housing authority as a plus.
Leroy Moore, THA's director of planning and development, said Milligan's employment at Russell, and the community clamor for the firm, played no role in its selection to rebuild Riverview Terrace.
Moore said having a firm already in place should improve the chances for success. He said another plus is the fact that THA expects to include as much as $63-million in non-HUD funding to go with the $20-million to $25-million in grant money THA is applying for.
Tax credits sought
This time, the THA plans to combine borrowed money and tax credits with the HUD funding.
Of course, applying for tax credits and actually getting them are two different things. The housing authority is learning that painful lesson now even as it puts the finishing touches on its Riverview Terrace grant request.
THA's application for tax credits for the College Hill-Ponce De Leon project has been rejected by the Florida Housing Finance Corporation.
That decision will be appealed, said THA Executive Director Jerome Ryans. He said he doesn't think the rejection will hurt the Riverview Terrace application.
A financial commitment from the city would help THA's chances, Ryans said.
It has drawn up a wish list: street improvements, a loan program to spur economic development and home ownership in the area, and the construction of some type of garden or park along Florida Avenue.
Steve LaBrake, director of the city's Business and Community Services Department, promised that the city will be committed to augmenting the housing authority's plans for the area.
Some items on the wish list, however, are truly wishful thinking, he said.
The housing authority wants the city to repair and be responsible for streets opened up by the project. LaBrake counters that the city would be willing to take over responsibility for the streets -- once the housing authority gets them up to city code.
The housing authority wants the city to connect the project to the Hillsborough River by a pier or lookout point. LaBrake said the city is working to do that on the other side of the river.
Those disagreements aside, LaBrake said the city wants to see the THA win the grant.
One thing THA won't have to worry about is convincing HUD that Riverview Terrace needs to come down.
"Hands down, people will tell you that Riverview Terrace is worse than the conditions at College Hill and Ponce De Leon," Moore said. "Those developments had had some modernization."
Crime, poverty at complex
Crime and poverty is rampant at Riverview Terrace, located along Florida Avenue in Seminole Heights.
Even though the complex comprises only 7 percent of Seminole Heights geographically, it was where 20 percent of the area's crimes took place in 1998, according to the grant application. Half of the murders committed in Seminole Heights in 1998, 20 percent of the drug arrests and 30 percent of the larceny arrests took place at Riverview Terrace or Tom Dyer.
More stunning than the crime is the intense poverty of the residents. The grant application, using U.S. Census Bureau figures, shows that the average income in 1999 for Seminole Heights households was $26,929. At Riverview Terrace and Tom Dyer homes, the average income was $1,200.
About 11 percent of the residents of Seminole Heights were unemployed in 1999, according to grant application figures; 96 percent of Riverview Terrace and Tom Dyer residents were unemployed.
Virginia Butler, 46, has lived in Riverview Terrace for 12 years. As bad as things are there, she said they actually were much worse before the housing authority tore down some of the most drug-infested buildings.
The problem, Butler said, is the number of young residents.
"Young girls who get pregnant and drop out of school, young boys who drop out and become dope dealers -- they don't care about morals," Butler said. "They don't care about the place being a decent place to live."
Asked if she thinks the Riverview Terrace grant application will be approved, Butler sighed.
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