Entitlement Housing

Much has been made of the inconsistencies of the Tampa Housing Authority’s application of eviction guidelines. The THA answers to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which makes the (“One Strike”) rules. HUD, however, does permit housing authorities to use discretion in allowing for extenuating circumstances.

And where there is flexibility and less than uniform enforcement of rules, there will be disparities and, at the very least, perceptions of unfairness. It comes with the territory – and that territory includes the THA’s responsibility to do what it deems best to reduce violent crime and drug use.

Now cue Connie Burton, the poster tenant for public housing eviction melodrama.

She’s a former resident of the Robles Park Village public housing property who was evicted – after six years of legal resistance – in 2005. The eviction scrum dates to the 1999 arrest of her son, who was charged with selling drugs at Robles. He’s still in jail.

Along the litigious way, in which the THA incurred $472,000 in legal fees, she turned down the authority’s compromise – a move-to-the-front-of-the-line Section 8 voucher. Burton remains feisty and defiant. She thinks she was singled out because she’s an outspoken community activist who has publicly criticized THA president Jerome Ryans. She relishes having cost the THA nearly $500,000 to defend the legality of federal policy that ultimately involved the U.S. Supreme Court. She took it that far on principle, she maintains, and has no regrets.

Would that her eviction battle and the constitutionality of HUD’s rules were the only principles in play here. Putting aside the issue of whether HUD should have reimbursed THA and how THA could have better spent that money, there’s the whole concept of public housing itself.

Public housing – not unlike unemployment compensation and welfare benefits – was never intended to be anything other than a governmental hand – not a hand out. For those down on their luck and needing help getting through a tough time – not to be defined as decades or generations.

In the case of the ample and able-bodied Burton, now 50, she had been at Robles since 1987. Eighteen years. Taxpayer-subsidized entitlement housing for the majority of her adult life.

There would be a principle there too — were it not for the eviction of self-reliance and personal pride.

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