Despite vehement protests from residents of the White City neighborhood, the Tulsa Housing Authority voted last Tuesday to approve the construction of a proposed four-story, 76-unit, $15 million facility for the mentally ill and homeless at 10 S. Yale.
About 100 White City residents attempted to turn out to voice their opposition to the project, but building codes prohibited most of them entering the at-capacity room where the meeting took place.
The facility, which is the product of "Building Tulsa, Building Lives," an initiative inspired by a report called "Tulsa's Strategic Plan to End Chronic Homelessness by 2012," which was developed as a result of a study by Mayor Taylor's Chronic Homelessness Strategy Taskforce, will provide housing to some 70-plus people living in downtown's YMCA, which has been condemned and will close at the end of 2009.
According to the Building Tulsa, Building Lives Web site (www.buildingtulsabuildinglives.com), "The opening of the BOK Center and other Vision 2025 projects are important components in securing the economic future of downtown Tulsa. But before downtown can become the vibrant destination it has the potential to be, developers and investors must be assured of its inviting and family-friendly environment. Eliminating homelessness will attract further development and investment to downtown."
Some would argue, though, that a new facility would not eliminate homelessness but simply transfer it from one location to another. Those who live and work near Admiral and Yale fear a decrease in safety and in their property values as a result of the new housing facility.
The permanent housing facility will cost tenants $300 per month in rent, will be staffed around the clock, will include on-site security and will be similar to senior living apartments, according to Building Tulsa, Building Lives.
The organization cites a lack of affordable housing as the number one reason for homelessness in the city and assures that a new, permanent housing facility will help remedy that problem and keep residents close to the amenities that downtown Tulsa affords them.
The organization has made a number of claims for not keeping those residents in downtown, where they will be much closer to bus lines, day centers, shelters and food banks. It states that a similar facility constructed downtown would be cost prohibitive to those it aims to serve, meaning it would cost too much to build and therefore rent would be too high. It also claims "close proximity to public transportation, a grocery store, shopping and employment opportunities is critical to residents' abilities to be self-sufficient."
Building Tulsa, Building Lives claims that "community re-integration is shown to be more successful when residents live alongside others in the community."
Opponents of the new facility argue that the city simply wants to keep the homeless out of downtown in order to bolster new businesses that will result (they hope) from the BOK Center's construction.
Before the Tulsa Housing Authority and the Mental Health Association of Tulsa planned to build the facility at Admiral and Yale, they first sought its construction at 10th and Utica but were impeded by neighborhood opposition to a parking variance they had to get from the Board of Adjustment.
When THA filed for that variance, someone at the city alerted then councilor Maria Barnes, who informed Pearl District neighborhood leaders. One neighborhood resident, who wished to remain anonymous for fear of harming her neighborhood's efforts with the city by speaking out, told Urban Tulsa Weekly that Ruth Kaiser Nelson, THA chairman, said at a meeting between THA, MHAT and Pearl District leaders that 10th and Utica was an ideal location for the residence because it was between a QuikTrip, which residents could use as a grocery, and a pawn shop. When asked to elaborate on her reasoning, Nelson said nothing, according to our source. She also said that Nelson said something to the effect of "We have to get these people out of downtown."
According to Building Tulsa, Building Lives, the housing complex at Admiral and Yale is just one step in eradicating homelessness in Tulsa, with 511 total units of affordable housing in the works. The goal, according to Building Tulsa, Building Lives, is to disperse those living in downtown's YMCA to neighborhoods across Tulsa, stating the "number of formerly homeless people living in any one location will always be less than 50 percent of the total units. This is called the mixed income model. The housing will also be located with good access to public transportation, shopping and all goods and services that are necessary to maintain a high quality of life."
The organizations Web site also states, "A percentage of the units at each site will be dedicated to persons who are formerly homeless and/or have a disabling condition. The remainder of the units will be available at the prevailing market rate to anyone who is interested in safe, secure, affordable housing. This is called the mixed income model for community integration."
UTW planned to question Building Tulsa, Building Lives representatives about who will be living in 10 S. Yale's complex, to what degree they will be supported, where the rest of the YMCA's tenants will reside and where and when other neighborhood units will be constructed, but a representative from the organization could not be reached before press time.
Angry residents are circulating a petition to recall City Councilors Eric Gomez, District 4, and David Patrick, District 3, from their seats on the council. The two approved a resolution declaring the project in the public's best interest so that it would be eligible for a $4 million state grant. The state legislature approved $2 million in state funds, and $13 million more came from private donations.
Although they say all of the laws regarding public notice about the construction of this type of housing were followed (the item was placed on the City Council's agenda 24 hours prior to their meeting and the Tulsa Housing Authority published a public notice in the daily paper 19 days prior), Gomez has said that he'd like to examine whether those laws are in the best interest of the public.
He has proposed forming a subcommittee to examine whether or not the laws regarding public notice should be amended to better serve the public. That issue was discussed at the Council's Urban and Economic Development committee meeting Tuesday morning after this issue went to press.
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