EVERETT — Plans to relocate the residents of the Baker Heights public housing project have hit another snag, and it now looks like it will be at least July before the first of them will be able to move.
Baker Heights is a 244-unit housing project owned and managed by the Everett Housing Authority. Most of it is composed of converted barracks that date from the World War II era.
Because of its poor condition, the housing authority is unable to use federal funds to renovate the housing. Its only real choice is to relocate the residents with Section 8 vouchers that they can use to pay rent in other public housing or privately owned buildings that accept the vouchers.
The residents have known this for more than a year, and the Housing Authority has held periodic community meetings to keep them abreast of the progress.
The Housing Authority had hoped to apply for the vouchers from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in October. That way the first people could start moving out in December 2016.
That didn’t happen.
“We had some delays with our environmental review,” said Rick Dorris, the housing authority’s director of acquisitions and development.
The application finally went out Dec. 30, he said.
“We might hear back from HUD in March or April, and then we have to give a 90-day notice,” Dorris said.
Residents of the neighborhood have been kept abreast of the delays, but it’s unclear how much of it has registered.
Michael Hill, who has lived in Baker Heights since 2006, has been meeting with officials and acting as an unofficial liaison with his neighbors.
Many Baker Heights residents haven’t been very engaged in the process, Hill said.
“This is a complacency, really, that I see on people’s faces and in people I talk to,” Hill said.
Many people who live at Baker Heights are elderly, disabled or don’t speak English fluently. Some of their apparent lack of interest may be due to a language barrier or cultural norms, he said.
“People aren’t really asking questions, they’re not researching,” Hill said.
Hill said his own worry was that the change in presidential administrations will slow down the process of issuing the vouchers.
“We could be put on hold for three or four years,” he said.
The Housing Authority can only do so much, Hill said. “We need HUD.”
Dorris said the Housing Authority hasn’t heard anything from the federal government about the process or the voucher approval schedule changing.
Once HUD approves the vouchers, the plan is to start distributing them to people as they prepare to move out, Dorris said. But people need to wait for the vouchers before they move, or else they would lose the ability to qualify for them.
“We’ve made it clear to the residents so far that if you’re going to be involved in this disposition, please do not move,” Dorris said.
It may take a couple years to move everyone. Afterward, the Housing Authority likely will demolish the older houses. It has plans to build 60 units of housing on the south end of the property and sell the rest of the land.
The Housing Authority manages 1,700 units citywide, Dorris said, and turnover is high enough that there should be enough housing to absorb the former Baker Heights residents.
“I think we have a reasonable handle on it,” Dorris said.