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Officials call for federal review, leadership change at St. Pete Housing Authority

Megan Holmes

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Emma Stewart, a displaced resident of Jordan Park's Historic Village, stands in front of her former home.

The Carter G. Woodson African American Museum was packed Friday morning with politicians, concerned community members, media and displaced residents affected by the controversy that has ignited around the Historic Village of Jordan Park.

The morning’s press conference, called by St. Pete City Council Chair Lisa Wheeler Bowman, brought major city players together to rally the community and demand change from the St. Pete Housing Authority (SPHA).

As detailed by the Catalyst in an article Thursday, Jordan Park and its owners, the SPHA, have been embroiled in a controversy sparked by public outcry over the displacement of Jordan Park Historic Village residents while SPHA officials ready the property for demolition.

Jordan Park Historic Village is surrounded by chain link fence.

Numerous elected officials spoke at the press conference alongside Bowman, including Pinellas County School Board chair Rene Flowers and Deputy Mayor of St. Petersburg Kanika Tomalin. City Council members Gina Driscoll, Steve Kornell and Darden Rice were also in attendance but were advised not to speak under the conditions of the Sunshine Law, as the meeting had not been publicly posted.

Basha Jordan, Jr., the grandson of Jordan Park’s founder, was one of two SPHA Commission Board members present for the press conference. Ann Sherman White was also in attendance.

In an impassioned welcome speech, Pinellas County School Board chair Rene Flowers called for SPHA Chief Executive Officer Tony Love’s removal from his post for “dereliction of duty.” Flowers, who grew up in Jordan Park, was angered by the displacement of seniors and disabled citizens from Jordan Park’s Historic Village.

Bowman addressed the crowd, making demands for an investigation and review of St. Pete Housing Authority’s practices.

Council Chair Lisa Wheeler Bowman (center) and other leaders bow their heads in prayer in front of Jordan Park.

Calling on a representative of Congressman Charlie Crist who was in attendance, Bowman said, “I am now demanding, Congressman Crist, that you request that the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, including the office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity, initiate any appropriate federal review of all St. Pete Housing Authority properties, the conditions and the federal subsidies associated therewith.

“I am demanding that there be an investigation into the disparate management of St. Pete Housing Authority properties south of Central versus north of Central.”

Bowman also called on the Board of Commissioners, who oversee the SPHA, to do more for the Housing Authority’s residents. “They deserve commissioners that will stand in the paint for them and do what is right,” said Bowman.”

“They deserve commissioners that are not afraid to lead, that will challenge Tony Love and any other CEO.”

Deputy Mayor Kanika Tomalin shared a more measured speech, in which she emphasized the City’s need and expectations for an affordable housing partner, a role SPHA has long filled.

“We need those partners to be trusted agents of change,” said Tomalin. “We need those charged with providing for the vulnerable to build up those they serve…Too many feel that they’ve been victimized by the process.”

Tomalin also outlined the expectations she and Mayor Kriseman have for the city-appointed board members serving on the St. Pete Housing Authority’s Board of Commissioners.

“[Mayor Kriseman] does want appointees to gain subject matter expertise over time and then use it to make decisions that best serve the residents, not the entity,” said Tomalin. “He wants board members he appoints to ask tough questions that hold staff accountable.”

Tomalin argued for the moral accountability of the SPHA to the city and its citizens, saying “respect is non-negotiable.”

(left to right) Deputy Mayor Kanika Tomalin, Council members Lisa Wheeler Bowman, Steve Kornell, Gina Driscoll, and Darden Rice.

“Your success is a benefit to our city’s people and a key component to our city’s housing goals,” said Tomalin. “In fact, we cannot do it without the Housing Authority. But, if you are not up to the task, we are able to do it without you.”

The SPHA request for a soft-letter of support to send to the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) from the St. Pete City Council was rejected during the council’s May 17 meeting. In response to SPHA, Pinellas County also made clear that they would not have funds available for consideration until 2020. SPHA has also been denied by the Community Development Block Grants program, and their special meeting request with the South St. Petersburg CRA was “postponed indefinitely.”

These funding obstacles have left the Historic Village project stalled and its former residents displaced long-term.

The lone voice of dissent on the SPHA’s Board of Commissioners has been Commissioner Basha Jordan, Jr. “Why are my letters, text message, voicemails being ignored by the CEO?” said Jordan.

He also expressed concern over the SPHA workshop on Monday, which abruptly ended 30 minutes in when Love asked St. Pete Police Department to remove all attendees.

According to Jordan, the commissioners were advised not to attend the workshop by the CEO.

“For standing up, I have been almost ex-communicated,” said Jordan. “I’d like to see the board do what we have sworn to do, which is give direction to the Housing Authority, not just in Jordan Park, but to all of the housing developments they are responsible for.”

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