Communication breakdown: Lexington Housing Authority should do better

Finding money for and building low income housing requires one skill set; helping low income families and individuals sort through a maze of decisions about when, where and how to move, requires another.

After a careful reading of Valarie Honeycutt-Spears' March 30 story about the wholesale relocation of about 170 people from the Pimlico Apartements, it looks like the Lexington Housing Authority has the former skill set but is weak on the second.

In what Housing Authority director Austin Simms now says was a miscommunication, his office told residents in mid-March they had seven days to select one of two future housing options. They could either opt to get a voucher to help pay for an apartment in the private housing market, or move to another public unit while the work was being done. Either option has its downsides: No assistance for moving costs with the vouchers; no guarantee where they'd wind up in public housing.

Simms has since said that his agency "would not put anyone out on the street" and that the seven days was never a hard deadline.

However the deadline was shocking for residents. "It was pretty quick and a little confusing," said Judy Criswell, who has lived at Pimlico 14 years, and was one of several tenants who spoke with Honeycutt-Spears. Criswell's 15-year-old son, who has autism and a seizure disorder, attends nearby Tates Creek High School.

The need to fix up Pimlico was clear. In addition to the general byproducts of age and delayed maintenance, for over a year wooden braces have been reinforcing the corners of five of the 12 buildings where bricks had loosened and mortar fallen away. Late last year the Housing Authority learned that it had been approved for a new federal program that will pay for rehabilitating the complex, which was built in the late 1970s.

Planning began immediately to completely overhaul the apartments, including working out the financing and design. Phasing the project to allow residents to remain in some of the buildings while others were being rehabbed was apparently rejected early in the process as too expensive.

We hope that in the future, the Housing Authority will take a harder look at phasing projects to avoid both the costs and disruption of potentially moving more than 100 households, including many school-age children, into different neighborhoods.

And, although the Housing Authority was on a tight schedule with this project, it could have served the residents and the community better by communicating earlier and more clearly about housing options.