Shelecia Harper is alone on her street.
Among the many vacant buildings with boarded-up windows, the 54-year-old’s home inside the Roger Williams housing community is the only one occupied on her block and one of only a few still occupied throughout the 453-unit complex. She said she will be moving soon.
“I’m supposed to be going to South Bay Apartments,” Harper said. “It’s hard because they couldn’t put you nowhere in 90 days.”
The Mobile Housing Board has worked to help move residents out of the development since July, in anticipation of redeveloping the property for mixed-use, mixed-income housing, using tax credits.
Some residents, like Harper, were given a Housing Choice Voucher, commonly referred to as Section 8, to move to another apartment. While board employees have been helpful lately, Harper complained residents should have been given more time to move out in order to find better options.
“At the last minute they put people where they don’t want to be,” she said. “They should’ve had a better situation.”
MHB Executive Director Dwayne Vaughn confirmed through email they began moving the final families out of Roger Williams Homes on July 19, but it hasn’t quite been completed yet.
“There were 110 families on site when the relocation effort was announced to the community … ,” he wrote. “MHB hopes to complete the relocation by the end of October 2016 or early November 2016 at the latest.”
Currently, there are about 37 families remaining, Vaughn wrote. Those families include Harper and her mother, who lives in another unit in the complex. The majority of families used the vouchers to move into Section 8 housing,
“All families were offered Housing Choice Vouchers, and the overwhelming majority of resident families used or expects to use their vouchers for the relocation,” Vaughn wrote. “Some families, mostly elderly, chose to move to other MHB properties. The families who chose to move into other MHB properties were given priority to move, and once units were available, MHB used professional moving services to move the family to the new unit.”
The redevelopment of Roger Williams is a priority of MHB, as it moves forward on its Transformation 2020 plan. Plans for the project began with a $375,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The Choice Neighborhoods planning grant paid for community meetings, which helped the board take steps toward a master plan for the entire Three Mile Trace neighborhood.
The board recently took another step in the redevelopment, entering into a master development agreement with Hunt Properties. According to that agreement, MHB has asked the developer to replace Roger Williams, built in the 1950s, with a 1,014-unit complex.
Of those 1,014 units, a third will be considered public housing, a third will be considered affordable “workforce housing” and 338 will be market rate. The public housing units will most likely be paid for through tax credits, distributed through the Alabama Housing Finance Authority.
The redevelopment project will have an overall budget of $126,750,000, according to the agreement. The budget breaks down into $18.2 million of HUD’s Rental Assistance Demonstration supported debt, $27 million in low-income housing equity, $50 million in “conventional debt” and another $30 million in “other development sources.”
Vaughn told MHB commissioners the agency has asked for permission for early demolition of the complex. He added the authority would attempt to reclaim land in the area that has previously been in the floodplain.
As he watched a moving truck next door being filled with boxes, 82-year-old Aubrey Perkins said he is ready to move out of the complex he helped build. He said he’s moving into a home he owns in Toulminville.
“This project has a lot of history,” he said. “It’s got a story to tell, to me.”
Perkins said he’s lived at Roger Williams “off and on” and has been saddened by its decline over the years.
Neither Perkins nor Harper plan to come back once the new apartments are built, even if they are eligible.
“I don’t want to come back,” Perkins said. “I might come back and look, if God’s willing.”
The remaining residents at the complex this weekend had to deal with the aftermath of a shooting during a street party, which injured five. Vaughn and Mobile Police Department spokeswoman Charlette Solis said the shooting occurred at an unsanctioned party at the housing complex.
Renovations and vacancies
Roger Williams is set to become the third completely empty property owned by MHB. Currently, MHB is working to demolish or sell the Josephine Allen complex near downtown. Last year MHB also closed a 39-unit assisted living facility at Central Plaza Towers.
The assisted living facility could come back online, Vaughn said, as a Boykin Tower on Michigan Avenue is renovated for the RAD program. RAD will allow MHB to partner with developers to improve its complexes. All of the housing, once converted to RAD, will be managed through the Section 8 voucher program. Boykin, for instance, will be renovated using 4-percent tax credits.
During the renovation, affected seniors at Boykin would be moved to the assisted living facility. Vaughn said.
Despite the news of the renovations, some commissioners had concerns over vacancies at the soon-to-be-renovated complex. Specifically, Chairwoman Kimberly Pettway asked about a rise in vacancies at Central Plaza Towers. She asked Vaughn if the complex would be renovated soon.
“My priority is housing residents … ,” Pettway said. “So, if we have to be inconvenienced in order to do that, we’ll have to be inconvenienced.”
Of Central Plaza Towers’ 465 units, 119 are vacant, Vaughn said. He told Pettway a “modernization” of the complex was coming in May of next year and would use 4-percent tax credits.
In addition, Vaughn told commissioners the agency has promised a certain level of occupancy to HUD, and has fallen just short of that goal. In fact, MHB needs to turn over 48 apartments at Central Plaza Towers to reach the goal.
One of the issues for MHB is there are currently 34 properties and some 3,500 units in Mobile County built using tax credits, board attorney Raymond Bell said. That means many of them are open to residents, and specifically seniors, who can use Housing Choice vouchers, he said.
“Our product does not compare to products you see in West Mobile,” he said. “The RAD conversions will improve our products.”