Public Housing Improvements Continue City's Oldest Complex Soon to Be Replaced

By Saunders, Jim | The Florida Times Union, November 4, 1996 | Go to article overview

Public Housing Improvements Continue City's Oldest Complex Soon to Be Replaced


Saunders, Jim, The Florida Times Union


When the Jacksonville Housing Authority received a $21.5 million

federal grant last month to replace the Durkeeville complex, it

took a major step in the turnaround of the city's once-squalid

public housing program.

The Durkeeville replacement caps a series of projects in which

housing officials have tackled the system's most-serious, and

costly, problems.

Those projects have included replacing the old Blodgett Homes

complex, spending millions of dollars to renovate the Brentwood

Park, Pottsburg Park and Ramona Park complexes and planning to

sell the almost-vacant Golfbrook complex.

"We're a long way from a housing authority where people used to

visit each other by walking through holes in their walls, which

literally used to happen," said Ronnie Ferguson, the authority's

executive director.

Only four years ago, Jacksonville's public housing system was

one of the worst in the country.

Lead-based paint covered the walls of old, dilapidated

apartments. Vandals tore through vacant units. And a

congressional panel heard testimony about the desperate

condition of the city's public housing.

But with the major projects moving forward and the transfer of

control from City Hall to an independent authority two years

ago, the city's public housing system has rebounded. Last year,

the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development removed the

system from its list of the most-troubled agencies in the

country.

"It's almost immeasurable how much they've improved," Mayor

John Delaney said.

Authority Chairman David Hicks, however, cautioned that the

agency still has a lot of work to do. For example, Hicks said

the authority's next major project will be to install air

conditioning in places such as Brentwood.

Also, the authority is facing opposition from a group of

Westside residents over plans to put a 60-unit complex on the

site of a former speedway. The residents argue that the site

could be contaminated with oil; environmental tests are expected

to be finished this week.

The Durkeeville grant, which was announced Oct. 8, will allow

the authority to replace a 280-unit complex that is the oldest

and most rundown in the city. The project will involve tearing

down Durkeeville, adding rental apartments and single-family

homes on the site and helping build single-family homes in a

nearby neighborhood.

But the grant also is important on a broader scale, because

Durkeeville was the last of the city's most-troubled complexes

to be addressed. …

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