Westview tenants must move

July 21, 2002|by ANDREA ROWLAND

Twenty-four years ago, public housing employees helped Diane Thompson move into her apartment at Westview Homes in Hagerstown.

Today they're forcing her, and nearly 600 others, to move out.

The mandatory move is an inconvenience for most and an outrage to some. To public housing leaders, it's a less than ideal situation that is necessary to remove the public housing stigma from the ground up.

The brick cookie-cutter rows of government housing that are Westview Homes will be demolished later this year and replaced by a more pleasant, class-integrated neighborhood that Hagerstown Housing Authority officials hope will reinvigorate the West End community and better the city at large.

Construction of the $73.5 million Gateway Crossing is expected to begin within several months after existing housing units are destroyed in November or December, Housing Authority Executive Director Ted Shankle said.


Housing Authority employees began telling Westview residents about redevelopment plans soon after the agency learned last October that it was awarded the federal grant needed to help pay for the project, Shankle said.

"We've let the folks know this was going to occur," said Shankle, who expected soon to issue a formal notice to remaining residents that they will have 90 days to relocate.

Nearly half of Westview's families - 101 - have already moved, and the majority of the remaining 109 families have made moving plans with the help of Housing Authority social workers, Shankle said recently.

While a few of the remaining residents interviewed recently criticized the mandatory move as an unfair hardship, most said moving is an inconvenience that the Housing Authority has helped make easier.

"This is my home here. At my age, I don't want to start all over again," said Westview resident Raymond Swartz, 67. "But I think the Housing Authority people are trying to help as best they can under the circumstances."

Housing Authority social workers, who encouraged Westview residents to begin relocating earlier this year to avoid a last-minute housing crunch, have been helping residents find public housing elsewhere or giving them Section 8 vouchers to subsidize their rent from private landlords, Shankle said.

There has been plenty of suitable housing available in Hagerstown, he said.

"There are more than enough landlords to cover our Section 8 recipients," Shankle said.

In addition to helping residents find housing, the Housing Authority is paying relocation costs - including physical moving expenses and utility hook-ups and deposits - based upon the size of residents' current housing units and the services they now receive, Shankle said.

Housing Authority workers helped disabled resident Edward Reynolds and his family secure a three-bedroom apartment at Frederick Manor, Reynolds, 46, said.

Charles and Debra Bere and their two children are preparing to move to a three-bedroom apartment at Noland Village, thanks to assistance from Housing Authority workers, said Debra Bere, 50.

"Housing's been real good to us," she said.

Carol Morrison said preparing to move from her one-bedroom apartment has been stressful, but public housing employees have made the transition easier by finding her an apartment at Walnut Towers and helping with moving arrangements.

"I'm tired of this packing and I hate to move," said Morrison, 51. "But I have no complaints whatsoever about the Housing Authority."

Unhappy tenants

Diane Thompson and her next-door neighbor, Arlene Flora, do have some complaints.

"I think it's terrible the way they're doing people," said Thompson, 62. "I have no place to go."

"I'm too old to be moving all over Hagerstown," Flora, 60, said. "I'm not going and they can't make me go."

The women said if they must relocate, they should be offered two-bedroom apartments like the ones they've occupied for decades. They now live alone because other family members have moved out over the years.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development establishes such relocation requirements as housing size, which is based upon the number of occupants, Shankle said.

"People can't upgrade," he said. "HUD sets the guidelines and we can't do anything different."

Thompson and Flora have rejected the one-bedroom units the Housing Authority has offered them at other public housing sites, they said.

Thompson has health problems and needs the extra bedroom for her children and grandchildren who help care for her, she said. Flora's home is filled with furniture she inherited from her mother and other household items that require the extra space she now has, she said.

"I don't want to get rid of my belongings," Flora said. "I've worked years and years for what I have."

The women also fear their housing quality will suffer if they move to other public housing sites, they said.

"I don't have no roaches here and I don't want none," Flora said. "I'm not taking a dump."

"I don't live in a dump now and I'm not moving to a dump," Thompson said. "They said I could go to Potomac Towers, but I'm afraid of heights."

She and Thompson said they are on limited incomes and can't afford to rent from private landlords - even with Section 8 subsidies.

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