VENICE - Four years ago, the only public housing in South County was torn down. Today, area leaders breaking ground on a housing complex called Venetian Walk.
The first phase will cater to low-income seniors in need, and the work is well on the way.
The more than 20 million-dollar Phase 1 project will include 61 apartments for seniors in need.
In 2006, the Grove Terrace Housing Projects were falling apart. At the time, residents like 74-year-old Marry Smith talked to us about having to go. "Us poor people won't have anywhere to move."
The bulldozers soon came, and it was a hard and scary time for many of the 400 residents living on government assistance. "I was sad. I was heartbroken."
On Friday, Mary returned to see the new progress. "I feel wonderful just looking at it. I just feel wonderful."
Gone are the dilapidated buildings, and now there is construction on the 4-story Mediterranean style complex. It will have a mix of reduced subsidized rental units and public housing for seniors 62 and older. "We have an area here that is missing something. We don't have anything that is constructed or in place to provide for place who need a helping hand as they grow older," says Jim Kraut of the Venice Housing Authority.
The project has taken much longer than expected. Some had speculated the tear down was a plan to get poor people out. The Venice Housing Authority says they've been working on it the whole time, and were recently able to secure federal tax credits. "It's actually managing the maze of government regulations," says Kraut.
Nearly all of the money is coming from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Sarasota County pitched in and additional $500,000 in community development funds. The city of Venice just had to approve the plan. "We are so proud of this. Glad it finally came to fruition," says Venice City Council Member Emelio Carlesimo.
Venetian Walk is considered a pedestrian friendly community. It will be built green and linked to nearby parks and trails. "It is going to be great for the community. Great for residents. It is going to incorporate our parks system into this. It is a demonstration to what Venice is all about," says Carlesimo.
It’s a big need they say for those like Mary, who have very little. "I didn't think we were ever going to get back really. I thought they would put something else up instead of the projects for us poor people," says Smith.
Now, what they are working on now is just Phase 1 of the plan. Millions more are going to be needed to start construction on Phase 2. That will include around 50-multi-family units for people of all ages who need assistance.