Pimlico Apartments residents shaken by relocation decision

vhoneycutt @herald-leader.comMarch 30, 2013 

For Diann King and her neighbors at the Pimlico Apartments, the future is Option A or B.

King and about 170 other tenants have been told they must move because the Lexington Housing Authority is renovating the complex.

The $18 million to $20 million rehabilitation, which will take an estimated 14 to 15 months, is necessary because the apartments are "antiquated," Housing Authority director Austin Simms said.

King said residents were given a week to make a decision between Option A, a transfer to another public housing unit in Lexington, or Option B, accepting a federal voucher that allows them to rent from a private landlord.

King, 50, who works for a tax preparation company, has decided to rent on the private market. But, as of Friday, she said she did not know where she would go. She says she is feeling the pinch and says things have "gone a little too fast."

"We are not moving because we want to," said King, who has lived at Pimlico for eight years. "We are moving because we have to. We are having to come up with money we don't have."

Residents of the Centre Parkway complex, which is near Tates Creek Road in southeast Lexington, say they were told about the project a few weeks ago. In some cases, they have to find a new home within the next 60 days.

Some tenants said they were unsure where to make their next home. Others were concerned about how they will come up with moving expenses. And still others were worried about where to enroll their children for school.

The mass move from the complex has several implications. The anticipated loss of the Tates Creek Elementary students who are moving from the Pimlico apartments has resulted in one teaching position being cut at the school, said Fayette County public schools spokeswoman Lisa Deffendall.

Deffendall said she did not know of any children at Pimlico who were having to transfer before the end of the current school year.

Said Simms: "We're going to do everything we can to work with the families ... so that everybody ends up happy."

Simms said he had concerns about families being uprooted, but the apartments, which are about 35 years old, needed new floors and appliances "to improve the quality of life of those who rent from us."

The refurbished apartments will be like new, he said.

Essentially, Simms was able to immediately secure funding for the renovations, but not for tearing the buildings down and rebuilding.

There was some question about the buildings being razed last summer.

More than a year ago, brick had loosened at the corners of five buildings, and cracks appeared in mortar joints.

The corners were being held up with wooden supports, kept in place by two-by-fours propped against the sides of the buildings.

Last July, residents questioned the structural integrity of the apartment complex.

Twenty families were relocated.

Structural engineers from S&ME Inc. were hired by the Housing Authority to examine the future of the complex. That included whether it was worth making repairs and how much the work would cost, or, in a worst-case scenario, whether all the buildings should be razed and new ones built.

Simms said the rehabilitation was not driven by those findings. He said the other apartments were safe, although aging and in disrepair.

Building permits for the complex of 12 buildings with 206 units were issued in 1975 and 1976, according to property valuation administration records. The complex was completed in 1977. The Housing Authority bought the property in 1978.

Overall, the apartments at Pimlico have fallen into disrepair because the Housing Authority hasn't been given adequate federal money in the past to repair them, Simms said.

But a new program through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development called Rental Assistance Demonstration allows Lexington's Housing Authority to get tax credits from the Kentucky Housing Corporation. The Housing Corporation is a self-supporting public corporation attached to state government that helps create safe, affordable housing.

Moving forward

Simms said the Pimlico move is not as massive as the one that occurred several years ago when the Bluegrass Aspendale project was torn down. Then, 250 to 300 families were moved at once.

At Pimlico, residents were asked to make a choice within seven days because officials needed to move quickly with the rehabilitation. Some tenants are taking 14 days to make the decision, Simms said.

Still, Simms said, no one will be forced out if they can't move within 60 days.

If tenants take the housing voucher, they must pay their own moving expenses and find housing with a private landlord.

They also will be required to find an apartment within 60 days of signing their intent and waive the option of returning to Pimlico.

Simms said about 140 tenants have indicated they want to take the voucher.

The Housing Authority will pay moving expenses for those who decide to move into another one of its properties instead of accepting the voucher. Those tenants will have to move into an available unit, regardless of where in Lexington the unit might be located.

Families that move to another Housing Authority property in the interim can move back into the Pimlico Apartments.

Simms does not think there will be a problem finding housing for the families who want to remain in public housing, but they will have to cooperate with the Housing Authority on location and scheduling their move.

Simms said he would like to have all the apartments empty by "the summer months" so reconstruction can begin.

The voucher program, commonly called a Section 8 voucher, is the federal government's program for helping very low-income families, the elderly, and the disabled afford housing in the private market.

Participants can choose any housing in the United States that meets the requirements of the program. Housing choice vouchers are administered locally by public housing agencies, which receive federal funds from HUD.

A tenant that is issued a housing voucher is responsible for finding suitable housing from an owner who agrees to rent under the program. Rental units must meet minimum standards of health and safety. A housing subsidy is paid to the landlord directly by the Housing Authority. The tenant then pays the difference between the actual rent charged by the landlord and the amount subsidized by the program.

Whether tenants live in a Housing Authority property or use the voucher, they typically end up spending about 30 percent of their income on rent, said Lexington Fair Housing Council director Art Crosby.

Many questions

Debra Hughes, 54, who has lived at Pimlico for about 30 years, said she felt like she had no choice but to take the voucher, because Housing Authority officials said they did not have an apartment available for her that would accommodate the disabilities of her son and father. Simms said Friday that Housing Authority officials are working with Hughes.

Hughes said she has found a home to rent in another part of Lexington, but "I've got nobody to help me move my stuff." Hughes said she is concerned about having to pay for movers.

Hughes said she contacted the Lexington Fair Housing Council with her concerns.

Crosby, the Lexington Fair Housing Council executive director, said he couldn't talk about a specific case, but he said he was encouraged by the fact that the Housing Authority made sure that officials from fair housing were present at tenant meetings.

"They've been responsive when we have called them," Crosby said. "I feel certain the Housing Authority isn't going to put anybody out on the street just to get this thing done. They are going to try to work with people as best as they can."

Crosby said on a case-by-case basis the Housing Authority was open to talking about "how can we make sure that this person's needs are met."

But he said, "You've still got a lot of people that you've got to move, and there are going to be issues."

"Not every landlord will rent to individuals" with the vouchers, Crosby said, "so that creates additional problems for people looking for housing."

Judy Criswell lives at Pimlico with her 15-year-old son Ryan, who has autism and a seizure disorder and is considered non-verbal. She moved to Pimlico nearly 14 years ago, so the thought of leaving is disconcerting.

Criswell is wondering where her son will go to high school for the 2013-14 school year. He now attends Tates Creek High School.

"It was pretty quick and a little confusing," Criswell said of the options that the Housing Authority presented to her.

Criswell said Housing Authority officials had been working to answer her questions. She said she had looked at an apartment across town where she thought she would move with a voucher. She is waiting on more information.

"I'm a little stressed," Criswell said. " It's not easy in my situation. I just need to be sure that Ryan and I are going to be OK."

Valarie Honeycutt Spears: (859) 231-3409. Twitter:@vhspears

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