ST. PETERSBURG — Pinellas County School board chair Rene Flowers was fired up Friday. She talked about growing up in Jordan Park, the city’s first public housing project and a sentimental and historic marker of St. Petersburg’s African-American community.
She spoke of residents forced to move from the only remaining original section of the property — known as the Historic Village — because the St. Petersburg Housing Authority has plans to demolish it and replace it with an apartment building for seniors.
"And now they are living in conditions that you nor I would want to see any of our family members living in," Flowers told the crowd of about 50 people at the Carter G. Woodson African American Museum, which is next door to the Historic Village and was once part of the Jordan Park property.
Flowers directed her anger at Tony Love, CEO of the Housing Authority, who was not present.
"You don’t even have the money to do what you need to do over there, so there’s no reason to move those residents out. How dare you? Bad planning. Bad planning," she said.
"You don’t have the money in the bank. You can’t write a check. You can’t cash a check, but you are going to attempt to say that you are doing what is best for the community."
And for his failure to provide the seniors and disabled residents who had to move and other Jordan Park residents with affordable, clean and safe housing, Flowers added, "I am asking that the board of directors remove Tony Love for dereliction of duty."
The racially mixed audience cheered.
Flowers was the first speaker Friday at a news conference called by Council member Lisa Wheeler-Bowman to express her anger about the issue.
Love has engendered further hostility by producing documents appearing to discredit the treasured history of Jordan Park — built between 1939 and 1941 near 22nd Street and Ninth Avenue S. Instead of land for the project being donated by Elder Jordan, a revered pioneer African-American businessman, Love says the land was cobbled together from various sources.
Wheeler-Bowman said it’s not about the land.
"It’s about the residents," she said. "But I refuse to allow anyone to disrespect the legacy of Elder Jordan. Our history is not their history. ... We are going to do whatever we have to do to protect it. Gone are the days of just accepting what is taken from us."
Wheeler-Bowman said Jordan Park residents "deserve a commission not afraid to lead and that will challenge Tony Love" and give him direction.
She vowed to speak with Mayor Rick Kriseman, who appoints housing authority commissioners, about reviewing whether "any or all should be removed from office."
Council members Darden Rice, Gina Driscoll and Steve Kornell attended the meeting.
"I’m here because Tony Love has completely lost my trust," Rice told the Tampa Bay Times.
"I care deeply about the issue of affordable housing and in order to make significant change in our city, we have got to have a functioning housing authority. He and the board have failed in almost every respect and it’s an intolerable situation. The cracks first started to show with a lack of preparedness and a lack of strategic thinking when approaching council for support and for significant sums of money."
In May, the City Council rejected a request from Love for a letter he said would help the agency proceed with a $43 million makeover of Jordan Park, where Academy Award nominee Angela Bassett grew up.
Rice also wondered what Love has to gain "by making an inflammatory and hurtful statement that Elder Jordan really didn’t donate the land?"
Terri Lipsey Scott, executive director of the Woodson Museum, told the Times she had found information about the provenance of the land "to be extremely insulting and a total distraction, because that has nothing to do with preserving the community."
Elder Jordan’s grandson, the Rev. Basha Jordan, who learned about the history of the Jordan Park land from his father, said the information was meant to get back at him and Scott, because they oppose the plan to demolish the Historic Village.
"My grandfather’s legacy is not going to be diminished, but enhanced, because when you sling mud, you get dirty," he said.
Joe Reed, a member of Preserve the ‘Burg, who attended the meeting, said the group supports the Jordan Park community "and particularly, we support saving and preserving this Historic Village and we support the other issues of fair housing."
He added, "We are not just trying to preserve St. Petersburg’s history in downtown, but the entire city."
Love, who could not be reached for comment, has said it would be too expensive to renovate the 31-unit Historic Village.
Flowers has other ideas.
"Fix the things that are wrong in those units and bring our people home," she said.
Contact Waveney Ann Moore at [email protected] or (727) 892-2283. Follow @wmooretimes.