Residents criticize security cutbacks


Published: Saturday, January 20, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 20, 2007 at 12:26 a.m.
Cutbacks in security and maintenance staff at some Gainesville Housing Authority buildings drew sharp criticism from dozens of residents Friday who met with the authority's board of housing commissioners.
For Jane Morris, 52, who lives at the 400 Hi-Rise at 400 NW 1st Ave., the cutbacks have resulted in a "demoralizing" experience for residents - many of whom are disabled and elderly, she said. The building, which previously had a security guard, no longer has security and all the doors in the building lock at 5 p.m., Morris said. The laundry room also gets locked at 5 p.m., a new policy that is a major inconvenience to residents, Morris said.
"This is unacceptable," Morris said. "We aren't children; we are valuable human beings."
Morris was among more than 30 residents who packed a room at the Housing Authority office to air their complaints - mostly about security and maintenance issues.
John Cherry, executive director of the Gainesville Housing Authority, said the cutbacks were necessary after the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development slashed the city housing authority's budget for public housing by 18 percent. That resulted in five layoffs of security, maintenance and other staff, Cherry said.
The commissioners, who make the policies for the housing authority, organized the meeting to address residents' concerns, Cherry added.
"The commission is not involved in the management of the properties," Cherry said after the meeting.
Several managers of the housing authority's properties were at the meeting and promised to look into some of the complaints ranging from loitering and drug dealing near the buildings to mounting trash and unfulfilled maintenance repairs.
For more than six months, chunks of paint have been peeling off the kitchen ceiling of Freya Smith's home in the Woodland Park housing authority complex, Smith said.
And despite repeated calls to management, Smith, 35, said nothing has been done about the problem.
"I shouldn't have to live with paint falling into my pot when I cook," Smith said. "It's ridiculous."
When one of the commissioners, Anthony Gordon, heard Smith's complaint and other complaints residents made, he responded with disbelief.
"I find that hard to believe," Gordon told Smith in regards to the peeling paint. "We have 635 units for public housing and there's less than 50 people here complaining. I think we're doing an OK job."
Smith invited a Sun reporter into her home where, in fact, large chunks of paint were not only peeling from her kitchen ceiling, but in her small dining room and parts of her living room, too. Smith also said she has seen few police patrols in her neighborhood and that she "doesn't feel safe."
The next residents' meeting with the commissioners will be on Feb. 16 at 10 a.m. at the Oak Park Hi-Rise at 100 NE 8th Ave.
Deborah Ball can be reached at 338-3109 or balld@gvillesun.com.

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