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Jordan Park suit seeks new housing leadership

Alleging mismanagement, the residents want Housing Authority leader Darrell J. Irions replaced.

By LEONORA LaPETER

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 28, 2000


ST. PETERSBURG -- A group of Jordan Park residents who sued the St. Petersburg Housing Authority earlier this year is asking a judge to replace those who run the agency.

The amended lawsuit, filed Monday in federal court by two dozen past and present Jordan Park residents, seeks to remove Housing Authority executive director Darrell J. Irions and have someone else take over the agency and its $50-million demolition and rebuilding project at Jordan Park.

"I think that is the only angle we can move for that brings to the attention of the court that we have some major misdeeds in the way of finances," said Geneva Forrester, the group's new lawyer.

Delores Fletcher and Felesia Trammer, residents of Jordan Park, filed the initial lawsuit against the Housing Authority without a lawyer. The lawsuit accused the authority of neglecting residents' safety and mismanaging the rebuilding of the public housing community.

They sought to halt the project until better management could be put in place. Forrester said the Housing Authority never answered the original complaint, filed initially in January and again in March after a judge dismissed the first case.

In April, a second group of residents hired attorney Jonathan Alpert of Tampa and sued the Authority, asking to stop the demolition of Jordan Park. U.S. District Judge Henry Lee Adams Jr. ruled in May that the demolition, then halfway complete, was too far along to stop. The suit was filed on behalf of Shirley Blake and the organization she led, the Residents' Management Corp., which the Authority no longer recognizes.

The amended lawsuit filed by Forrester on Monday also includes as plaintiffs members of the Residents' Management Corp.

It reiterates previous complaints about the Authority and adds in the findings of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's Office of the Inspector General. The agency's May 24 audit found the agency mismanaged thousands of dollars, participated in questionable bidding practices and needlessly left many poor families without housing.

Irions could not be reached for comment Tuesday. But he has repeatedly said that the residents complaints are without merit and has characterized the auditors concerns as minor.

The lawsuit also accused the Authority of disregarding the needs of residents displaced by the Jordan Park rebuilding project. Many were moved into inadequate housing and not prepared for additional expenses, including water and electric bills.

The suit told of one resident who paid $70 while living at Jordan Park and now must come up with $100 alone for her water bill. The home she lives in "has a roof that caved in, holes under the kitchen sink, rats getting into the refrigerator through rusty holes and a toilet that didn't work properly."

Forrester said she expects a judge to join her lawsuit with the one filed by Alpert because they are similar. The Housing Authority must respond to Forrester's lawsuit before it will be considered by a federal judge.

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