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Thursday, May 15, 2003 02:20 pm

Not in my public housing complex

A low point at SHA high-rises

art159
Sankey Apartments
Nick Steinkamp

Times are not good for the Springfield Housing Authority. About 25 percent of all SHA units are empty and federal funding has plummeted over the past five years, according to SHA director Willis Logan.

The feds briefly took over the SHA in 1996, as the agency struggled with financial woes and high vacancy rates. The authority regained control the following year, but it's still plagued by the very same problems.

Logan says the SHA is currently operating at $500,000 in the red. If President Bush's budget is passed by Congress in its current state, he says, the SHA will receive about $500,000 less this year. "We might be turning the keys back over to the federal government," Logan laments.

SHA manages about 3,000 residential units: 2,000 public housing and 1,000 Section 8. Logan estimates the SHA provides homes for 10,000 to 12,000 people. The agency's four high-rises are responsible for most of the vacancies. They are half empty, according to Logan.

Seniors make up largest group at these high-rises. But Logan says fewer of them need the SHA: "Seniors have more choices today. There are newer facilities with more amenities. They have air conditioning. Our buildings don't have air conditioning. They were built when air conditioning was considered a luxury. Seniors also have more disposable income and live at home longer."

To fill its vacant public housing units, the SHA is considering a few changes. Currently, applicants who committed a felony within the last 10 years are automatically rejected. Logan says the SHA is considering reducing the felony requirement to six years, with no history of violence or drug use within the past two years. Logan says even reducing the felony requirement from 10 to zero years has been proposed.

These proposals are upsetting to more than a few SHA residents, though they've noticed the drop-off in residents. "When I was working for an aldermanic campaign four years ago, I distributed 112 campaign flyers--this year, I distributed 88," says a resident at one of the two Sankey towers, 401 and 415 W. Allen. She fears Sankey will open its doors to ex-felons who will threaten the remaining residents. "The proposed change we're most concerned about really opens the door to sex offenders," says another resident.

"Senior high-rise residents believe that this change certainly contributes nothing to their interest in maintaining adequate security in these facilities," says Dave Kelm, president of the Historic West Side Neighborhood Association, which includes the Sankey apartments.

"There used to be someone on hand 24-7 for security. Today, there's a patrol that periodically visits all the high-rises."

SHA complexes already house felons as well as the mentally ill, says Logan, who added that security is the least of his agency's concerns right now.

"SHA might not be anywhere at all in five years," Logan says. "We're worried about how we're going to be able to maintain a roof over their heads at all."

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