MOBILE, Ala (WKRG) — The R.V. Taylor Homes on Michigan Avenue is a neighborhood with a death sentence. In the next couple of years, 191 units in the Mobile Housing Authority (MHA) complex will be emptied out and demolished. It’s the latest development in the changing face of public housing in Mobile.
“Change is coming,” said Michael Pierce, Executive Director of the MHA. “It’s inevitable and so we have to embrace it.”
The nearby Thomas James Place, better known as Birdville, has a similar fate. R.V. Taylor and Thomas James will join other public housing tracts in Mobile that have closed or been substantially reduced in the last 15 years. Boykin Towers on Michigan Avenue closed last year. The Roger Williams Homes on St. Stephens Road closed in 2016. The Josephine Allen Homes in Happy Hills closed in 2011.
Orange Grove, just north of downtown, once was Mobile’s largest project with close to 800 units, was dismantled following flooding in Hurricane Katrina and replaced with a limited number of homes and apartments.
So what has happened to the hundreds of low-income families who would have once lived in one of these large public housing projects?
“They’ve been dispersed throughout the city,” Pierce said. He says that the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development, the federal agency that oversees public housing, has been moving to get rid of large housing projects in cities across the country.
“They’ve decided that the concentration of all low-income individuals in small areas simply hasn’t worked, and it does create pockets of poverty, and also crime,” Pierce said.
Instead of living in a large housing project, many low-income people are being given vouchers to subsidize the cost of living elsewhere — in apartments and rental properties throughout Mobile.
“They can go anywhere the voucher is accepted,” Pierce said.
3,500 voucher recipients are now living in just about every neighborhood in Mobile. The five complexes with the most voucher recipients show the geographical disbursement of those who, just a few years ago, would have been living in housing projects on the city’s east and north sides: Clearview Apartments on Azalea Road, Summit Woods Apartments on Hitt Road, Cottage Hill Place on Cottage Hill Road, Tyler Ridge Apartments off Schillinger Road, and South Bay Apartments on S. Washington Avenue.
This has better integrated the city, and, Pierce says, provided more opportunities for low-income people.
“Many of these developments that our clients move into will be mixed-income, so they won’t all be low-income individuals living in that particular complex or development,” he said. “Also, one would hope there would be some assimilation that will take place; people learning to live with each other.”
Pierce says the move to the voucher system is saving taxpayers money and encouraging the private sector to provide updated, affordable, rental properties.
Mobile’s Public Safety Director Lawrence Battiste says crime has not followed voucher recipients into their new neighborhoods but has remained clustered near the former projects
“From a geographical standpoint, (criminals) gravitate back to those neighborhoods, even though they may be living in another part of town,” Battiste said. “They’re comfortable going to Plateau, Orange Grove, off (MLK) Avenue.”
When R.V. Taylor closes soon, residents can move to other units in the city’s dwindling public housing portfolio. Pierce, however, expects most will take vouchers and move to other parts of town, looking for better schools, transportation options, and job opportunities.
“We want people to be able to improve their overall quality of life,” Pierce said.”The fact that they’re public housing residents should be inconsequential.”
Pierce says the housing authority will market the former Birdville and R.V. Taylor property. He says a private developer could build affordable housing on the land. Another possibility is a commercial development, with the nearby Brookley Aeroplex soon to be home to Mobile’s commercial airport.