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Thursday, September 20, 2007

After Meeting Nothing Changes with Dunbar Village Officials

*cross posted at Essential Presence*

West Palm Beach City Hall is in such a nice scenic area isn't it? The title of the post is something we all know but maybe we just don't want to believe it. I don't know. So my morning started how they all start...I was tired. As if that wasn't bad enough it was raining. But enough whining. I arrived in West Palm Beach around 10:30 Wednesday morning. I met Stephanie Dukes at the channel 12 (CBS) station and then followed her and her cameraman to Dunbar Village.

It was the middle of the morning so it was quiet. I couldn't wrap my head around the fact that something so brutal happened where I was standing. We walked through the development as she interviewed me. I'm apparently the only one who didn't know I was going on TV first thing that morning so bare with my roughness if you see the video, lol.

After my son and I had lunch we went over to city hall where I sat in on a meeting between Commissioner Kimberly Mitchell and West Palm Beach Housing Authority Executive Laurel Robinson and one of the WPBHA board members.

This was beyond a mess. If I had a stronger word I couldn't use it anyway because I would need to save it for the city commission meeting (good grief talk about a mess). It was back and forth with the Housing Authority not wanting to take responsibility for their lapses and instead wanting to talk about everything else. I've said it before and I'll say it again. If you acknowledge your part in a problem first you shut down the other sides' criticisms and you can move forward. Anywho...

Before the 3:30 meeting Kimberly introduced me to channel 5's (NBC) Jamie Holmes. He told me he wanted to meet with me after the meeting. Okay, that's fine. I try to remember its not about me (I wanted to say no) and there is a message that needs to be communicated.

The Meeting

The meeting was under way and it was bureaucratic ridiculousness. The West Palm Beach Housing Authority (WPBHA) didn't bring the budget with them other than a boring spread sheet of the percentage of the money they have lost over the years.

Now, the spreadsheet didn't give the AMOUNT of money they get so basically it was a worthless spreadsheet meant to convey they have been losing money.

As far as the money goes the WPBHA receives $1.2 million subsidy from HUD, $1.02 million in capital improvement (building repair and improvements) from HUD, and about $200,000 in rent from residents. WPBHA is responsible for several housing developments that total up to 684 units.

It was like a battle between lawyers or politicians where they actually debated what is security. The federal money they stopped receiving from Congress, that $160,000, was not going towards private security. What they did was give it to the West Palm Beach Police as, I suppose, a subsidy for them to patrol the area more. I call that security, but Laurel Robinson didn't.

What the WPBHA didn't seem to get is that if they had a problem, and Commissioner Ike Robinson wanted to know how in the world did they NOT know they were having a problem, then why didn't they say anything when they lost the $160,000 if that was such an issue?

Basically, the city wants to know how much the WPBHA has and what it goes towards if they are going to help them. Remember the city has nothing to do with the housing authority that shares its name. Housing authorities are funded through HUD/federal government.

Of course there were no answers for that. Basically, it didn't take a meeting for the WPBHA to know they had a problem but they chose to not aggressively handle it. Apparently, they once had problems at Robinson Village (another development under the WPBHA) and Commissioner Robinson mentioned they got rid of the problems, evicting them in some instances ten days after it was decided they needed to leave. That was not happening at Dunbar Village.

What I noticed is that like so many professional athletes and their agents, the WPBHA has the order of who works for who wee bit backwards. The CEO answers to the board. Well, the WPBHA Commissioner answers to, executes the order of, the WPBHA board.

They sat there like chumps while Laurel Robinson answered questions and stalled. It was obvious they seemed to care about a title (the board isn't paid for their position) so they don't really give a crap about making things better. I don't care what they say.

There are certain positions you take that cause you to do more, that demand more, than a regular 9-5. The time of whining about people shouldn't have to do is over. You are working for a Housing Authority where you are dealing with the poorest of the poor. You are apart of their transition from struggling to uplifted. You are not just providing a place to live and thats it. So thats the deal, your job isn't a simple one and if you cant handle the hard work it takes then step aside and let someone else do it.

The Residents

The meeting went off to the social problems as the issue of Dunbar Village. Zenobia Scruggs, a WPBHA development resident is on the board, stated its the young girls with their nails, hair, dirty living and taking care of men before their children that is the problem.

Social issues are a problem (a BIG one) but thats not going to be handled by the Housing Authority or the city. Thats community activism, family, neighbors, friends knocking people upside their heads saying,"You're hurting us, you need to get your crap together."

Are they a problem, are there social problems, of course but the meeting wasn't the place for it and I'll tell you why. They aren't going to fix any of those issues and they'll use it to deter attention from what THEY are not doing. Not knowing there are problems within the community is on the WPBHA. Not doing something about that is their fault, too. (But for the record: they knew. This is the result when people don't call officials on the carpet and make them accountable. Thats why watchdog groups, blogs and activists are important.)

There was the point that the WPBHA has programs but the young women don't attend. Well, if they don't attend these self-sustaining classes and programs that must mean there is a reason, that they don't know how these things will help them, they aren't getting anything out of it. Obviously these self-sustaining classes aren't working because the average stay (says the WPBHA) in their developments is six years.

There was a lot of moaning and groaning about that from the crowd. Commissioner Ike Robinson said he knows people and families who have been there for 30 years. When I was talking to Stephanie Dukes after our interview she told me about a third generation Dunbar Village resident she met.

And let me tell you why all these self-sustaining, help me to help you Jerry Maguire classes don't mean squat and most people can't use public housing for transitional rather than permanent living. The average annual income for the WPBHA residents: $9,000.

You can have all the classes you want. It might make you a better resident but you'll still be a WPBHA resident when your salary is $9,000. Like I told Stephanie, minimum wage and West Palm Beach just don't go together. She told me there are teachers, police officers and firefighters who struggle to make it everyday. But people want to blame the poor for living in public housing--where else are they going to live? The Everglades?

Most of the poor are working poor. People who work hard should be able to live with the basic needs. A survey talked about ten families. It said something like at least 5 and sometimes more of the 10 families needed baby items, shoes, clothes, even laundry detergent. We should ask our government why they squabble over a minimum wage of $7 when thats not a livable wage?

Those moments that make you turn to the person next to you like you know them and smile and shake your head

Laurel Robinson saying, "Dunbar Village residents have been traumatized by the media attention." Sorry, its more like YOU have been traumatized because you're feeing the heat.

Commissioner Bob Moss stating the lack of AC units is a "social issue." The fact that they don't have AC is not the biggest issue (though for me it would be because I'm spoiled like that). The issue is that they must sit in a sweltering hot box because they can't open their windows at night for fear of the CRIME that surrounds them.

When Commissioner Mitchell asked the resident on the WPBHA, Ms. Scruggs if the gang rape victim had ever gone to the housing authority about the crime in the housing development. Laurel Robinson interrupted quickly with a "don't answer that" and said the WPBHA lawyer wasn't there but wouldn't want them to answer that. Maybe the residents should sue their landlord.

There is no need in sight for the problems in West Palm Beach, at least no time soon

And with all these problems there are 3,500 on the Housing Choice Program (Section 8) and 600 on the waiting list for public housing.

Let me go back to Laurel Robinson and why she is a true fool. "We had a man shot dead in Dunbar Village and none of this was generated," Robinson said. People who can't think beyond what is in front of them (like Delsa Bush) can't understand that focusing on this one tragedy is a way to highlight ALL the tragedies. And these people are in positions of leadership? Who appointed them? Oh yeah, Lois Frankel.

There isn't one fix, there isn't a quick fix. It takes time, it takes sweat and a whole lot of tears. I left that meeting near tears and at one point lost it because I knew it was all for nothing. I knew this before the meeting but to see it play before your eyes is more than overwhelming.

Tearing down the buildings aren't going to improve the lives of the residents. Mixed-income housing always ends up being gentrification and the displacement of the residents. Dunbar Village is very close to City Place. Nice, beach property folks with The Cheesecake Factory, Macy's, a theater and the likes. My son and I went down there for dinner last night. (That's where we had dinner four feet from Ann Coulter, that was a trip). They tear down Dunbar those people aren't going to move back in. I'm not buying it. I've seen it done in Orlando.

After the meeting I was interviewed by channel 12's Chuck Weber and Jamie Holmes. Jamie introduced me to Citoya Greenwood who has been pretty outspoken since the rape. Good for her. When something happens, take advantage of it to make your concerns known...strike while the iron is hot. She probably always felt strongly about this but before a gang rape no one was willing to put her before a camera and let her talk.

The WPBHA could take a lesson from Ms. Greenwood because when the gang rape first occurred they should have been out screaming, "See? See? We need money for security?" But they didn't. Because it wasn't an issue.

Having said that I also think giving more money to housing authorities is a waste. Those social programs should happen the way we want to handle schools. Choice and competition. Take the money the government would use to run the programs and let private organizations take care of the social issues. Community activism.

Oh, and I almost ran off the road when I saw the West Palm Beach Urban League is in walking distance of Dunbar Village. I've talked a lot if there is any questions you have just ask away.

More reading about the meeting:

Dunbar meeting fails to move past budget questions

Dunbar Village security discussed by West Palm commissioners, Housing Authority
Dunbar Village's future at stake as boards meet
City and Housing Authority Spar