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Former Westview residents happy with new apartments

May 04, 2003|by ANDREA ROWLAND

andrear@herald-mail.com

Less than one year ago, neighbors Diane Thompson and Arlene Flora were fretting about their impending move from the Westview Homes public housing complex in Hagerstown.

The women were among nearly 600 residents who had to move before the rows of government housing were demolished to be replaced by the $73.5 million Gateway Crossing neighborhood - a class-integrated community that Hagerstown Housing Authority officials hope will reinvigorate that part of the West End.

Longtime friends and Westview residents Flora and Thompson didn't want to go. They feared they would be separated, and forced to live in smaller, dirtier apartments.

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"I'm not going and they can't make me," Flora said last July.

Today, she and Thompson are happily living in the same downtown Hagerstown apartment building - two of 210 former Westview families who were successfully relocated with the help of housing authority social workers.

"I love this place. It's safe here. It's close to everything. And it's bigger than my place in the projects," said Thompson, 62. "I got everything I wanted - thank the good Lord above. Housing really came through for me."

"It worked out," said Flora, 61. "We don't have no bugs here."

Housing authority social workers helped residents find public housing elsewhere or gave them Section 8 vouchers to subsidize their rent from private landlords.

Some landlords, including the person who owns the building in which Thompson and Flora live, offered slight rent reductions to accommodate residents' limited incomes, said Dianne Rudisill, director of family services for the housing authority.

The agency also provided some residents moving to privately owned buildings with loans to help pay security deposits, and paid relocation costs - including physical moving expenses and utility hook-ups and deposits - based upon the size of residents' housing units at Westview, Rudisill said.

Two-bedroom unit tenants such as Thompson and Flora were eligible for $800, she said.

Rudisill and case manager Teri Hansberger took Thompson and Flora to look at about a dozen apartments before they found their new homes on Summit Avenue.

"Without them, we wouldn't have got nothing," Flora said. "They helped us a lot. They were nice people."

Rudisill said the relocation process was a successful collaboration among housing authority social workers, residents and landlords.

"It was a real team effort," she said. "The residents were great, and the landlords were wonderful throughout the whole process."

The last family moved from Westview Homes on Oct. 31, 2002, and demolition began last December, Rudisill said. Social workers remain in regular contact with former Westview residents to make sure their needs are being met, she said.

Construction on the first phase of the Gateway Crossing project is now under way, said Bruce Gigeous, housing authority deputy director.

Workers are recycling building materials from Westview Homes to create aggregate that's being used as fill on the building site. Employees of Philadelphia-based Pennrose Properties and Harkins Builders of Marriotsville, Md., are now framing homes that will be both rented and sold, and preparing to lay the foundation for the new neighborhood's community center, Gigeous said.

"We hope to have homes under roof in June," she said.

Former Westview residents will have the option of moving back to the revamped neighborhood - again with support from the housing authority, Gigeous said.

West End natives Thompson and Flora plan to look at Gateway Crossing, but won't move back to their old neighborhood unless the housing quality rivals that of their current apartments, they said.

"This is heaven for me," Thompson said.

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