Housing Authority Taking 90 Day Break on Graham-Rogall Deal BY ROXANNE ESCOBALES

02/06/07
WMNF Drive-Time News Friday

After waiting two and a half years, over 300 public housing residents in St Petersburg will have to hold on just a little bit longer to learn of their fate. The St Petersburg Housing Authority held a special workshop to discuss a heavily criticized deal to sell the Graham-Rogall public housing project close to Tropicana Field to private developers. The board of commissioners decided they needed a bit more time to sift through the messy details of the deal.

 

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Commissioner Deveron Gibbons says going through with the real estate deal would mean the agency charged with providing homes for the area’s neediest would in effect make the elderly and disabled living at Graham-Rogall homeless.

 

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At the workshop where the authority’s board heard from its attorneys, commissioners decided it needed more time to decide on the best course of action. Commission chair Harry Harvey called for a moratorium of around 90 days.

 

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ST Petersburg Housing Authority attorney Arthur Tepper told the commissioners that the contract between the authority and the Vector group, which wants to buy Graham-Rogall, effectively has run out of time, according to deadlines written into the documents.

 

ACT: “The contract has expired. Time was of the essence, no closing was held”

 

Commissioner David Welch sees this as an opportunity to end all dialogue, and keep Grahah-Rogall in public hands.

 

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But the prospective buyers of Graham-Rogall insist they want to contribute to the affordable housing stock. Guy Burns is a partner in KEGB, which with the Vector Group wants to see the contract through. He says they would turn the public housing project into condos selling for between 140 thousand to 200 thousand dollars each.

 

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The Housing Authority’s executive director, Darrell Irions, describes the public housing situation as a “strange animal”. He explained that cuts from the federal level means that the authority has lost a quarter of its funding, and Graham-Rogall is in desperate need of modernizing, which would cost around 22 million dollars. If the housing project stays in public hands and is renovated to bring the 36-year-old buildings up to scratch, residents would still have to move during the building work. Irions said no matter what happens, the housing authority will meet its responsibilities to its residents.

 

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But those who provide social services to Graham-Rogall residents say Irions cannot see the big picture.

 

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Jane Walker is the executive director of Daystar Life Center, which provides food and clothing to the elderly and disabled at Graham-Rogall.

 

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The housing authority most likely will institute the moratorium on any action regarding the contract to sell Graham-Rogall at its next board meeting at the end of the month. Until then, the residents at the public housing project who have been living in limbo for the past two and a half years, will have to hang on just a little bit longer.

 

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