Federal program to update public housing will take years in Birmingham

A $50 billion backlog of public housing repairs nationwide means thousands live in deplorable conditions.

Public housing projects delay

BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - Sharon Bracket loves her $300 a month apartment in Morton Simpson Village.

“I was born and raised down the street on 45th,” the Kingston neighborhood native said. “All of my people are around here.”

Bracket’s one bedroom unit has a new coat of paint, working plumbing and windows that function. Still she uses her oven to warm up the apartment on cold nights. Morton Simpson Village was built in the 1950s and has not seen major renovations in decades.

A federal program could one day bulldoze the apartment building to make way for new development by the Housing Authority of the Birmingham District. A town hall meeting at the complex Tuesday night explained how such a capitol project could happen.

“We have a predicament where we have to choose whether we’re going to put our money into windows or roofing on this site because of the limited funding that we get. That’s why RAD is important,” said Cory Stallworth, a Real Estate Project Analyst for HABD.

The RAD program, short for Rental Assistance Demonstration, is gaining momentum across the country. Presently seven of HABD’s 14 properties are approved for the program that allows for more flexibility in public-private partnerships. (Learn more about how RAD works.)

“Through the Section 8 platform, we’re allowed to tap into private capitol, as well as conventional loans to upgrade our public housing sites or even to redevelop,” says Stallworth.

Enacted in 2012 under the Obama administration, RAD aims to clear a federal backlog of chronically underfunded public housing problems. So far, Sydney Drive in Oxmoor Valley is the only completed RAD project in the Birmingham District. More units are slated to open in the Spring near Loveman Village in Titusville and a major renovation project is underway at Freedom Manor, a senior citizens community.

HABD’s President and CEO Michael Lundy says they intend to shrink the footprint of several housing complexes in the district. In three phases of construction for the first RAD project, Loveman Village will have about 220 fewer units available. Those residents could be eligible for housing vouchers, rather than living in the sprawling baracks-style public housing complex.

“In that model, you’re basically warehousing the poor which creates all sorts of social and economic challenges,” said Lundy.

Unfortunately, RAD projects are still several years away for most of HABD’s struggling properties. Morton Simpson, where Sharon Bracket lives, is unlikely to see reconstruction before 2021 if HABD can find private investors and financing partners in the next couple of years. In the meantime, their building inspection scores from the Department of Housing and Urban Development are frequently below the passing score of 60. Several other HABD properties such as Loveman and Marks Village also received failing inspections in recent years.

“Some of that has been strategic because if we know we are going to eventually tear down certain units, we don’t want to put our money into repairing old buildings,” said Lundy.

Despite the inspection scores, HABD insists that occupied units are decent, safe and sanitary. A Raycom Media national investigation found other housing authorities around the country cannot make the same claims and that the RAD program is suffering oversight woes and mismanagement.

Lundy hopes in the years to come RAD will contribute to a “renaissance” of Birmingham neighborhoods, revitalize troubled areas and present opportunities to provide more affordable housing in the long run.

“This is an exciting time to be in affordable housing if you’re creative.”

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