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Sunday, March 07, 2021

It was raining late Tuesday afternoon. Calvin Bryant, 66, sat on his porch with his 2-year-old grandson on his lap.

"If I leave I can't take them, where are they going to go until their mother gets situated?" Bryant said, referring to his 2-year-old grandson and 9-month-old granddaughter.

Bryant lives in Seminary Lane Apartments, which will be closed by Friday. Residents have to move out before the subsidized housing project is closed down due to inadequate floor plans, development and management. The closure was announced earlier this year, and Bryant said that he still does not have a place to go.

Bryant said that he qualified for a Section 8 voucher that would pay rent, but has yet to find anyone that will rent to him at voucher prices.

He received the voucher a little more than two weeks ago.

The public housing project, 1019 NW 5th Ave., is scheduled to be torn down on an unknown date.

"Hopefully soon," said Karen Godley, vice chairman of Gainesville Florida Housing Corporation, Inc., the nonprofit organization that owns the complex.

"The construction was not adequate in the very beginning," Godley said. "The repair issues cannot be fixed easily."

Repair issues included uneven floors, lack of insulation and leaky roofs.

"I had a leak that lasted for four years," Bryant said. "It was wood rot."

However, Bryant felt that the more than 50 units at Seminary Lane were habitable, despite uneven floors and lack of insulation.

"I think we could live with that," he said.

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But after five years of debt, the organization that owned the project decided not to renew its contract with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for 2009, which expires this month.

"We decided to take these buildings down and build something simply more usable," said Godley.

Several residents think that they are being evicted to make room for student housing.

"Personally, I think they are going to be another University House," Bryant said, pointing to the top of the University House building on NW 13th Street. The student apartments are visible from his yard.

Demetrick Watson, 30, another Seminary Lane resident, agrees.

"This is prime real estate, five minute walking distance to everything."

The subsidized housing is located several blocks north of the UF campus.

"More student housing is too much," said City Commissioner and UF Assistant Vice President of Student Affairs Jeanna Mastrodicasa. "Student housing people will say it's a bad idea because they have trouble filling them already, that's why there's a very large market."

Although Godley said that the site will not be used for student housing, she is not sure what will be built there once it is torn down.

"We're working in partnership with [the Gainesville Housing Authority] and the City," she said.

However, there is no record of the organization formally asking the city for assistance, according to Bob Woods, the City of Gainesville spokesman.

City commissioners Mastrodicasa and Jack Donovan said that the organization declined help that the city offered.

Many Seminary Lane residents, however, are asking for help.

Bryant, his 19-year-old daughter and his two grandchildren are not the only residents who haven't found a place to live. Another such resident is Lee Lopez, 35, Bryant said.

"She had three kids, and they put her out, boarded up the house this morning," said Masheria Mitchell, an 18-year-old Seminary Lane resident.

Brittany Lopez, 20, came to Seminary Lane from Arredondo Farms on Archer Road to look for her mother and 13-, 3- and 2-year-old siblings.

"You see what they did," she said, pointing at the boarded up house. "They threw all my mom's shit out!"

Bryant said he saw the Gainesville Housing Authority put clothes on the porch that morning.

Lopez did not qualify for a voucher because of the eviction, Brittany said.

Godley said that those with criminal records, substantial income or those who haven't paid rent did not qualify for a voucher.

"They just need to help people," Lopez said of the Gainesville Housing Authority.

Lorenzo Johnson, 50, questioned the Housing Authority's actions.

"How can you do that, put kids out? Look at this weather," he said, motioning toward the pouring rain. "Ain't no answer for that, whether you pay rent or not."

According to Godley, Housing Authority is doing a "stellar job" and has a list of places for residents to go.

Donovan, however, thinks that they did a less-than-stellar job.

"They did not handle it well," he said. "If you're Housing Authority, your job is to get people safely into housing and if you're not doing that, you're not doing your job."

But Donovan also said that the blame should not all be on Housing Authority. "Housing authorities in general don't have enough money for maintenance."

Still, Bryant, who has lived in Seminary Lane for more than 20 years, feels that if they are kicking them out, "they are supposed to replace us."

Johnson wonders "who is going to help these people if Housing is not?"

Gainesville Housing Authority could not be contacted for comment.

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