The Word of God has always taught me to make sure I respect and honor my elders and the least of these who may not have a voice due to socio-economic status, disability and race. As a son of a very strong black woman who suffers from Alzheimer’s disease, I take that charge very seriously as a son, a pastor and a community leader to take care of the least of these.
But I write to you today in sadness, anger and disgust. Recently, I toured two very different housing complexes, the historic Jordan Park and the Palms Apartments, both in St. Pete. But here is where my sadness, anger and disgust came in.
There is a section of Jordan Park called the Jordan Park Senior Village. From the outside, these houses are very beautiful and were a seemingly respectful place to live with a porch, front lawns and a backyard that gave our seniors and disabled residents great pride to call it home.
But these most precious of our residents have been displaced by the St. Petersburg Housing Authority, and we want to know why?
The answers provided by the SPHA are that these houses are uninhabitable and must be demolished. They said the cost to rehab these homes would exceed the cost of demolishing them. This assertion was alluded to without any figures given to the residents supporting that, and to other community leaders who requested those reports from the SPHA.
We demand answers now! Quite frankly, I did not see homes beyond repair. I saw homes that gave residents pride and a sense of belonging. How dare anyone take their homes and their lifeblood, which they placed in their homes and put them in a disgusting slum-like environment.
Would you want your mother living in places like the Palms Apartments?
These displaced residents were given a Choice Voucher to surrender their homes within 90 days and move to other apartments who would accept Choice vouchers, which leads me to the Palms Apartments that I also toured.
No decent place to live would accept Choice Vouchers. Only places like the Palms Apartments, which were quite frankly disgusting. It appears that the SPHA knew this but could care less about the fate of these displaced seniors and disabled residents.
Recently ABC Action News reported that Pinellas County Housing leaders are in a desperate dash to find homes for 2,271 people on an affordable housing waiting list. The families are stranded because there aren’t enough affordable apartments willing to take Section 8 housing vouchers.
County leaders are trying to find landlords with vacant units willing to rent to families who need a second chance. The displaced Jordan Park Senior Village residents appeared to have suffered this fate without a voice for their blight.
As a pastor, who has seniors and disabled members in my congregation, I plan to be that voice. I’m pissed off. It pains me to say that this would not be happening if these residents were predominantly white in a predominantly white area of St. Petersburg.
I want to go on record as being against the demolition of the historic Senior Village at Jordan Park! We must do what we can to preserve Elder Jordan’s legacy! What SPHA is proposing for the historic Senior Village and the manner in which this has been handled is unacceptable!
We are in a housing crisis and SPHA has displaced our elderly and disabled residents to deplorable living conditions, and now the Senior Village has 31 vacant homes with construction fencing around it!
How can you plan to demolish the Senior Village when you have not even secured funding to do so?
I hear the cries of these lifelong St. Petersburg residents who only want decent and sanitary housing, which is every resident’s civil and human right. These precious residents need a voice and righteous representation.
I am calling on each pastor, each community leader in this city to join me in righteous indignation to this awful injustice being done to the least of these. My own dear mother would expect nothing less of me in this fight for justice. She raised me better than that.
Don’t tell us the lies and nonsense about “it’s their choice” to live in places like the dilapidated Palms Apartments when residents were given a Choice Voucher, a short period of time to find housing and limited options in accordance with HUD requirements for safe and sanitary housing, which is practically nonexistent.
If you missed the SPHA board meeting that addressed this issue, please write a letter to them showing support for the ethical treatment of our elderly and disabled citizens.
We are demanding the rehab of the Senior Village, and to bring the displaced seniors and those with disabilities back home where they belong.
Rev. Dr. G. Gregg Murray, Senior Pastor, Mt. Zion Primitive Baptist Church