Photo |Lagniappe

Work to demolish the Roger Williams housing development continued last week in Mobile, as the Mobile Housing Board averages 300 days filling vacant apartments.

The Mobile Housing Board of Commissioners shared its concern over the authority’s waiting lists and its decreasing occupancy rate at its Wednesday, April 11, meeting.

Currently, the number of families waiting for traditional public housing through MHB sits at 2,700. Another 932 families are waiting on housing choice or Section 8 vouchers from the authority.

While the number of move-ins has increased and the number of move-outs decreased, the latter is still outpacing the former, causing an issue for the board.

“Based on our meeting with HUD [the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development], it’s very clear we need to increase the number of units we have,” Board Chairwoman Kim Pettway said. “This isn’t new. We dealt with it all of last year.”

At issue is the amount of time it’s taking to get apartments move-in ready, which is up to about 300 days, Executive Director Akinola Popoola said.

“We’re looking at apartments that are easy to turn,” he said. “We’re looking through the inventory to find the ones that are the least amount of money.”

He added that HUD has told the authority to stop preparing apartments that will soon be demolished or redeveloped in the future. This mandate directly impacts units at Thomas James Place, Popoola said.

“They’re thinking in the redeveloping areas, why spend any money there,” Popoola said. “Don’t put any money in areas where you might be demolishing. That has a negative impact on occupancy.”

The authority is already in the process of tearing down Roger Williams Homes and the lack of work at Thomas James strains the area’s housing stock further. Additionally, Popoola said the authority is bogged down making repairs to aging units residents currently live in.

More alarming to Pettway, however, is that the voucher waiting list has been stagnant since September.

“That’s incredibly concerning to me,” she said. “It just doesn’t seem logical to me.”

Popoola explained the voucher program is spending 100 percent of its budget and must first secure funding to release more vouchers. The authority must first continue to build up its reserves.

“It’s a slippery slope now,” he said. “We can go over, but not too much. We plan to open more vouchers in the couple of months when we feel more comfortable with the reserve fund.”

In other business, the board gave retirement resolutions to two former Mobile Development Enterprise employees. Former MDE Vice President Adline Clarke and Cole Appleman were honored for their service to the authority’s nonprofit arm.

“The work was demanding, but I’ve never been afraid of work,” Clarke told commissioners through tears. “There’s a lot of work to do here, there always has been, but you’re not afraid of work either.”

Appleman joked about having the shortest retirement ever, as he is one of the MDE employees rehired through the merit system under MHB.