MOBILE, Ala. (WALA) — Local housing officials Tuesday announced a plan to demolish a pair of public housing units and move a little more than 500 residents elsewhere.
Mobile Housing Board officials broke the news to residents at a meeting at Williamson High School.
The move will take place over the next five years at R.V. Taylor Plaza and Thomas James Place. Officials said they do not believe anyone will have to leave for almost a year.
“We don’t anticipate any of the residents having to move within the next eight to 12 months at the very earliest,” said Michael Pierce, the executive director of the Housing Board. “And then, we’re gonna be looking to partner with private developers, as well as nonprofit developers, to build replacement housing.”
Residents will receive vouchers to rent new privately owned houses or apartments. They will contribute up to 30 percent of their incomes, with the federal government paying the rest.
Tearing down the housing units was not part of the Housing Board’s plan. In fact, Pierce said, the agency had planned to invest new money into renovations in order to build up the occupancy rate. But HUD Secretary Ben Carson has made a priority of transitioning away from under-used, government-owned housing to private sector homes.
More than half of the R.V. Taylor and Thomas James complexes are vacant.
“You’re gonna see a cascading of developments like this across the country coming down. … That’s the new wave of public housing for HUD, is to own less real estate and manage more vouchers,” Pierce said.
State Rep. Barbara Drummond (D-Mobile), who was among a group of local elected leaders briefed on the plan earlier Tuesday, expressed concern that the decision has been dumped on residents without adequate warning.
“And I’m hoping that we can maintain that community as a minority community,” she told FOX10 News. “Because throughout – we see throughout the city, minority communities are losing their identity. We’re seeing gentrification throughout.”
Some of the residents coming out of the community meeting at Williamson, however, said they are eager to move on to something better. They complained about crime – including a shootout with police that occurred just last week at R.V. Taylor – and housing that’s in bad shape.
“It’s deplorable. Should have been gone,” said Jamita Alphonse.
Resident Deborah Stewart she hopes for better housing, but she sounded a bit skeptical.
“I think we were told this, like, five years ago,” she said. “But this time, it looks like they’re getting ready to start it.”
Pierce agreed the conditions are less than ideal.
“The housing that they’re in now is really not the safest,” he said. “It’s certainly not the best. And that’s the result of decades of neglect, and just the property, itself.”
Pierce said several options are on the table for the future of the sites. The Housing Board could redevelop them as affordable housing. If that occurs, the current residents will receive “tenant protection vouchers,” which will allow them to return.
The Housing Board could sell the property or subdivide it and have a mix of housing, retail and industrial uses.
One potential buyer is the Mobile Airport Authority, which owns the adjacent Mobile Aeroplex at Brookley. Chris Curry, the authority’s president, told FOX10 News earlier Tuesday that the organization – because of the growth at the Mobile Downtown Airport – would be interested in purchasing the land if it became available