Residents of subsidized housing complex have April deadline to move

The complex is only supposed to be subsidized housing for the elderly.

Published: Friday, January 8, 2010 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 7, 2010 at 11:02 p.m.

For the past six years, Mark Hopkins has made his home in a modest one-bedroom apartment in the Gainesville Housing Authority's 400 Building, a subsidized housing complex off Northwest First Avenue near downtown.

But Hopkins, who has successfully undergone a kidney transplant and heart surgery, has been told he must move.

In a letter to residents dated Dec. 21, the Gainesville Housing Authority informed Hopkins and more than two dozen other tenants that they would have to relocate by April 1 because the building, built in 1979, was intended to be subsidized housing for the elderly.

Hopkins, 48, said that after his transplant and surgery, he liked the apartment's proximity to Shands at the University of Florida, where he is a frequent visitor to the emergency room.

But then came the letter in late December.

"Two days before Christmas, it ruined my Christmas," he said.

At issue is that, at some point, the housing authority began allowing families and tenants under age 62 to live in the building, the letter stated. But now the building has to be converted back to elderly housing in order to comply with the housing authority's funding contract with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the letter stated.

"There's a lot of people in here who haven't caused any trouble at all," Hopkins said. "They're being thrown out with everyone else."

The letter states the housing authority intended to "make every effort" to put displaced tenants in its other properties. The letter also includes a list of nearly 40 other subsidized apartment complexes, including several in Marion County, that residents could contact.

Now, Hopkins and other 400 Building residents working their way down that list are worried because most of the complexes listed have lengthy waiting lists.

"I've made call after call, and I'm hearing the same story - anywhere from six months to a year," said Joyce Hayes, who has lived in the 400 Building for a year.

Staff at some subsidized complexes contacted by The Sun - Alachua Apartments and Sherwood Oaks in Alachua and Carver Gardens in Gainesville - said waiting lists for apartments were at least six months and that some extended out five to seven years.

Gail Monahan, executive director of the Alachua County Housing Authority, said she learned in October - the month before she took over dual duties as executive director of the Gainesville Housing Authority - that the 400 Building no longer was being used for housing the elderly. She said the building had been used for elderly housing for at least two decades before the GHA made that change.

"It appears to me that there was a significant disconnect" between HUD and the GHA, Monahan said.

She said allowing the building to continue to house residents under age 62 could jeopardize its HUD funding.

Monahan said she was "very confident" displaced tenants would find new homes either at another GHA property or another subsidized complex.

"I've made it very clear that everyone who lives there and qualifies for public housing will be accommodated," she said.

Monahan said GHA will not provide financial assistance with moving expenses but that staff will help residents move out.

Gordon Tremaine, chairman of the GHA board of directors, said HUD officials brought the 400 Building to the board members' attention at their October meeting.

"They (HUD) said this needs to be in compliance and we said we will work it out," said Tremaine.

He said the decision to move away from elderly housing was made before his time on the board and he is not sure why the decision was made.

"I have every confidence that we will be able to place these people," Tremaine said. "It's unfortunate that they have to move at all, but they will be housed."

Residents and Monahan gave conflicting numbers for those affected. Some residents said the number affected was between 55 and 60. Monahan said the number of tenants who will have to move out is closer to 30.

She said some tenants might have other people living with them who are not qualified for public housing assistance, which could lead to a discrepancy in the numbers.

Charles Davis, a disabled resident who said he has lived in the 400 Building for 2 1/2 years, said that in calling around to complexes, he too is being told there either are waiting lists or that no more applications are being accepted.

"My question is where am I going to go April 1?" said Davis, whose left leg had to be amputated because of a blood clot from diabetes. "There's no one in front of my apartment with the keys to another apartment."

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