On Sept. 25, the Orlando Housing Authority (OHA) held meetings for the residents of Reeves Terrace in the Lawsona/Fern Creek Neighborhood to answer questions and gain input on revitalization efforts. Vivian Bryant, president and CEO of the OHA, gave a pre-recorded presentation addressing common concerns and questions. Residents, then, had an opportunity to provide input.
The OHA is not an agency of the City of Orlando and receives most of its funding from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). As reported in April by the Orlando Sentinel, HUD no longer has the money to rehabilitate public-housing developments that need extensive repairs.
According to Bryant, long-term costs, such as replacing roofs and electrical systems, will be more costly than building anew.
OHA is applying for HUD funding to demolish and rebuild Reeves Terrace into either single-family homes, duplexes, townhomes, midrise apartments or a combination of them. Plans have not been decided, nor have the number of units been determined. One possibility is that residents will receive Section 8 vouchers to live in other places, if the same amount of housing isn’t built.
Thornton Park resident David Desforges has been working on finding solutions for low-income housing in Downtown for several years. He and other neighbors are concerned that the number of low-income units could be decreased if some of the land is used to build market-rate housing that is unaffordable for lower-income residents.
“Downtown already has a lot of middle- and upper-income housing being built, but there is not enough housing being built for working-class folks,” Desforges said. “If Reeves Terrace doesn’t build at least as many units as they have today, workers will be pushed out of Downtown.”
City Commissioner Patty Sheehan echoes Desforges’ concerns.
“Reeves Terrace residents work at Target, Publix and other downtown restaurants and businesses. They can often walk to work or use public transportation,” Sheehan said. “To find comparable housing with Section 8 vouchers, many residents would probably have to move to the suburbs, where public transportation is less reliable. Car ownership is not an option for many of these folks.”
The various social services the residents rely upon are also mostly downtown. Research shows that there are benefits to having a mixed-income neighborhood.
According to StrongTowns.org, in addition to improved facilities, “mixed-income developments give lower-income residents the opportunity to live in higher-income neighborhoods. When the government was constructing entire facilities dedicated to low-income residents, political and financial realities typically ensured the projects were located far from the wealthiest and safest neighborhoods.”
Mixing in lower-income housing in a wealthier Downtown neighborhood also provides a labor supply for stores, restaurants, hotels and other businesses. Reeves Terrace is also close to the new Lake Como Elementary School along with Orange County Public Schools’ magnet programs at Hillcrest Elementary and Howard Middle School, providing students with excellent educational opportunities they may not otherwise have.
Bryant says that the OHA has procured McCormack Baron as the developer, although an agreement with them has not been finalized. They will not be able to move forward until HUD approval is obtained. McCormack Baron has a long history of improving low-income housing and rebuilding central cities across the United States. Bryant reminded residents that none of this is happening soon and will take years to become reality.