lowincome_homes_web.jpgSpecial to South Florida Times

RIVIERA BEACH — When a bus load of Palm Beach County dignitaries rolled up to the large beige single-family home situated on a corner lot near the Intracoastal Waterway in Riviera Beach, nearly everyone had the same reaction: surprise.

“This is one of the homes? You’ve got to be kidding!” called out someone from the back of the bus. “This looks better than my own home!”

The three homes along the bus tour sponsored by the Riviera Beach Housing Authority remain the talk of the community. The city’s housing authority, which was disbanded several years ago due to alleged mismanagement, has been reinvented, with new staff and a new vision. The new team headed by Board Chairman J. Jerome Taylor and Executive Director John Hurt has underscored its mission with the purchase of these homes, along with a fourth, that had been in foreclosure. The agency is now allowing low-income families to lease the houses.

The homes will be primarily available to families through the Section 8 housing program or to those who have vouchers for subsidized rent.

But they do not look like the usual Section 8 property. A couple of them seemed to be upscale homes.

“Someone is going to be extremely happy here,” said Rivera Beach Council Chairwoman Judy Davis, as she got off the bus and walked to the spacious yard of the “flagship” house. “I wish it was for me,” said Davis, jokingly.

In fact, the homes are for someone like Jessica Thurmond, 34, a single mother who works two jobs to make ends meet.  She has been in the Section 8 housing program for some years, she said during an interview as she stood in the middle of one of the spacious rooms at one of the homes on the tour. She is likely to be the tenant of the three-bedroom two-and-a-half-bath home, according to Sharon Jackson, deputy director of the Housing Authority. The home has hardwood floors and the master bedroom is fully tiled, with a sliding glass door and large windows overlooking the backyard. The driveway loops around the entire span of the house. A week earlier, a man identifying himself as a resident of both Italy and Canada was eyeing the house, hoping he could purchase it.

But the homes are not for sale and are available for rent only for those who meet income guidelines.

The houses were purchased by the authority under a program with Palm Beach County, said Joe Greco, the county’s Community Development coordinator. The Riviera Beach Housing Authority was made a sub-recipient. As a stipulation of the program, all of the homes were required to be foreclosures. The houses were then refurbished.  The initial grant was a federal grant through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD.)

“Riviera Beach is about affordable housing,” said Mayor Thomas Masters. “People like [Councilwoman] Billie Brooks have been fighting for that for years. We’ve all been fighting for affordable housing and this is the epitome of the battle.”

Masters cut ceremonial ribbons at the homes as a symbol of their new status.

A fourth home is located in a gated community known as Thousand Oaks in Riviera Beach but the housing agency was not granted permission to take the bus tour group on the grounds for a visit.

Hurt, who has experience as a housing director in other cities, said as part of the new housing administration his goal is to revitalize the authority so it can fulfill its mission of providing affordable housing for low- to moderate-income families in the city. “It’s about the vision of the city,” he said at the end of the tour.

The Housing Authority’s vice-chairwoman, Delvin Thomas, said the agency wants to shed its image of an agency that deals just with large apartment dwellings with sometimes hundreds of tenants.

“We’re trying to give a different look to the Housing Authority, showing that we can maintain a home and maintain a yard and all of the other things associated with being a part of the neighborhood,” Thomas said. “Maybe these families can start here and then one day own their first home.”

For more information on the Riviera Beach Housing Authority or to inquire about the homes, call 561-845-7450.


HOUSE VISIT: Low-income residents and officials of Riviera Beach's housing authority visit one of four homes the agency has acquired and is planning to rent to needy families.