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Palm Beach Post - December 5, 2006

Riviera Beach housing project coming down
By William Cooper Jr.

RIVIERA BEACH — As far as groundbreakings go, this wasn't your typical sort. Instead of using the standard gold shovels and hard hats, Annetta Jenkins called in a crane.

"We thought the best thing we could do was to knock something down," said Jenkins, standing where the city's 29-year-old housing project, Ivey Green Village, will be replaced with 166 new townhomes.

Jenkins, senior program director with South Florida Local Initiatives Support Corporation, a nonprofit agency that helps develop affordable housing, has worked with the city and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to come up with plan to replace the 153-unit housing project after it was severely damaged by Hurricanes Frances and Jeanne. The nonprofit has put up $750,000 in order to demolish the aging structure as well as come up with the townhome concept.

The goal is to take Ivey Green from being a typical housing project to a community that's a mix of homeowners and renters, Jenkins said. The new housing will cater to people of varying incomes, ranging from $17,000 for renters up to $80,000 for homeowners. Those closer to the lower end of the income scale may receive tax credits or subsidies from Palm Beach County or the city in order to live in the new housing, she said.

"The idea is to develop a project, where you can't tell who's renting from who's owning," she said.

Out of the 166 townhomes, 58 will be sold to private owners, said Anthony Britto, an operations specialist who works out of HUD's Miami office, which oversees the city's housing project. Overall, the cost to build the new housing and to renovate the remaining 50 senior citizen units is about $18 million, he said.

Demolishing Ivey Green will take about six months, Britto said. During that time, HUD plans to pick a developer for the project and finalize the price of the townhomes, he said.

Built nearly three decades ago, Ivey Green was constructed as a place of opportunity, where poor families could have decent living conditions and run by the Riviera Beach Housing Authortiy. At its peak, more than 500 people called Ivey Green home, but like many public housing projects across America, years of neglect, crime and mismanagement took its toll on the project off Congress Avenue and south of Blue Heron Boulevard.

Resident Margaret Shepherd, who has lived in the senior citizens' building for six years, was a vocal critic of how the local authority was operating the project. Shepherd, who said residents suffered through everything from floods to an infestation of rats, celebrated Monday that the new housing was finally on its way.

Councilwoman Liz Wade, whose district includes Ivey Green, said she is optimistic that new housing will improve the community and give residents an opportunity to improve their standard of living.

"In my adult life, I've seen this project go up," Wade said. "In my adult life, I've seen it go down."

In 2001, the authority was on HUD's list of the most troubled housing agencies in the country. By 2004, HUD took over running the authority after Riviera Beach officials were found to be mismanaging the project.

With recent improvements, including the hiring of Philip Goombs as executive director of the housing authority, the next step is to create a new housing authority board.

"Everything about Ivey Green will be new," Jenkins said.

Even its name will change, said Jenkins, who plans to have a contest among local elementary and middle school children to rename the complex. "We're trying to involve the entire community.