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Craig Romano

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Slow pace, limited options for Baker Heights residents

EVERETT — Tenants in the bungalows that make up the 244-unit Baker Heights public housing project are in the final stage of what has been a very long goodbye. 
Those who wanted to move have had to stay put for over 18 months awaiting federal housing vouchers to help them afford a new place, and those who wanted to stay have known their homes were under a 2005 decision to sell by the project’s landlord, the Everett Housing Authority (EHA).
Upheavals in the economy, bank financing, the real estate market and funding sources stalled the sale process until 2015, when the EHA began proceed-
ings to have the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) declare the Baker Heights’ World War II-era homes too costly to replace. Securing such a determination also secured the ability to rent elsewhere as HUD would award federally funded Section 8 housing vouchers to tenants facing displacement.
“If you moved, you’d lose,” said one unnamed Baker Heights neighbor about having to stay put to qualify for the vouchers, which finally came through at the end of this summer.
EHA’s executive director, Ashley Lommers-Johnson, said the vouchers “have been made available to all, but the processing has not been completed and some households have not completed the paperwork.” 
Baker Heights’ tenants now have slightly less than two years to find available Section 8 housing.
“The end of the relocation period will be Sept. 2, 2019,” said Lommers-Johnson.
Some tenants, like Linda Fox, wanted to get an early start. “I’m just going through (finding an apartment) right now,” Fox said a couple of weeks ago. Baker Heights has been her community for 20 years and she has lived in three of its units because “I raised three kids here and now they’re grown, so, you know, the space needs kept changing,” she said. 
She knew it was time to consider senior housing, so she found and applied for a privately owned 55+ senior apartment homes complex that accepted Section 8 only half a mile away.
“It was hard to know what was really going on,” Fox said about the past few years at Baker Heights, but with her voucher in hand, she was motivated to submit her request for tenant approval early because of the relocation deadline.
Other tenants, like 7-year resident Jerome Vold, interviewed by the Tribune last year, and an unnamed female resident of 10 years, haven’t begun looking yet, despite having also received vouchers. They believe the EHA will help them find new housing in one of its other properties.
The good news is that early last year, the EHA passed an amendment to its annual plan giving tenants displaced from Baker Heights selection preference for five of its properties with project based voucher waiting lists: Bakerview Apartments, Grandview Homes, Pineview Homes, Wiggums Park Place Apartments (formerly Twelve Pines, which bordered Baker Heights on the north), and Broadway Plaza Apartments.
“We anticipate between 20 and 30 households will be placed on waitlists for Everett Housing Authority-owned units,” Lommers-Johnson said. “It is our intent that residents who wish to continue renting with the Everett Housing Authority have the opportunity to do so,” adding that it’s a way to increase housing options in a tight rental market.
EHA has also contracted with Evergreen Moving Services to provide relocation services free of charge as several of its Baker Heights tenants are seniors,
disabled or non-native English speakers. Twenty-three households have been provided with relocation assistance so far. Another seven were anticipating to vacate by the end of the year.
Out of the 23 households already vacated, four have moved into Everett Housing Authority-owned units.
All vacated units will remain vacant until everyone is gone.
Except for some homes along Poplar Street, all the old houses will be demolished. The housing authority’s plan is to sell off 11 acres of the 14.6-acre site and build 60 to 80 new units on the remaining 3.6 acres, concluding the chapter on the Baker Heights housing project at long last.
Vold seemed fairly unrattled at the prospect of finding a new home at his stage in life. What would he do if he was unable to find satisfactory Section 8 housing?
“Move back to North Dakota and live in a snowbank,” joked the 80-year-old retiree and Korean War vet.

 

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