Forest Creek Apartments residents whose homes flooded in Hurricane Sally are being told they have to leave, and they're getting no help from their landlord as they move out.
The Warrington housing complex, which receives federal housing vouchers for low-income tenants, has a long history of flooding in high-rain events.
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The more than 20 inches of rain that fell after Hurricane Sally slammed into Pensacola last week was enough to bring waters as high as four and a half feet in some units in the apartment complex. The high water line was still visible on the outside of buildings Wednesday morning.
Residents whose units flooded told the News Journal they were being asked to move out, but the landlord was not providing any assistance, despite receiving taxpayer funds for their rent.
On Wednesday morning, Joseph Showers, pastor of New Life Christian Center Church, was helping move out the belongings of parishioner Mary Moore, who left the building when it flooded.
"You have families out here that really can't help themselves," Showers said. "When they tell us to evacuate and they tell us to leave, these people don't have no places to go. People don't have transportation."
Showers said his church has put together funds to put Moore up in a hotel room, but many other residents don't have that support. He said he once lived at Forest Creek and knows how severe the flooding issue can be.
"When it rains for a couple of hours, the rain will just sit up. It ain't nothing but swampland," Showers said.
Laprashia McKinney is another Forest Creek resident who was looking for a way out on Wednesday.
McKinney said she and her 3-year-old child have no car and no way to get out of the apartment complex. She said the landlord has offered residents jobs to help in the cleanup but she can't take the work because she has no one to watch her child.
"What can I do without help?" McKinney said. "Honestly nothing."
McKinney said her child has asked her when they will be able to go home again.
"The only thing I can tell her, 'Baby, we ain't got no home no more, not right now,'" McKinney said.
The flooding problems at Forest Creek have been an issue county leaders have tried — and failed — to resolve for years.
After the 2014 flood, Escambia County received a grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to buy the property. Last year, the county made an offer for $11.9 million to the Marquis Group, the Texas-based property management group that owns the complex. The company rejected the offer, saying it wanted more money and to keep the federal housing vouchers tied to the property.
While speaking to residents at the property Wednesday, the News Journal was asked to leave the property by Marquis Group employees. Employees said the company would send the News Journal a statement, but no statement was sent as of 5 p.m.
Escambia County wants Forest Creek to shut down permanently
Escambia County Commissioners said Tuesday night they wanted the flood-prone apartments to be closed permanently.
Commissioner Doug Underhill, whose district includes the complex, said the situation at Forest Creek was a continued embarrassment, and it was unacceptable that residents were forced to move out after a disaster without any help.
"Those citizens have rights, and none of that should be happening," Underhill said.
Underhill said he wanted to set up a town hall for residents where the county could provide answers and help.
Commissioner Lumon May said he supported Underhill's efforts to solve the problem. He said if Underhill didn't, he would push that the county ask the federal government to have the federal housing vouchers removed from the property.
"It's ridiculous that we have not called that out as a nuisance," May said. "It's a repetitive flooding issue that has happened five years."
Underhill said the housing vouchers being tied to the property, rather than the person, was a form "modern day slavery."
"These citizens are trapped there because those vouchers go to the building and not the citizen who needs it," Underhill said.
May said the county offered well above market value when it tried to buy the property.
"It was rejected because of the lack of not allowing for those vouchers to go," May said. "The bottom line is people pay $864 a month to live in Forest Creek in a housing project that floods every time it's a sprinkle, and it's ridiculous."
May wants the county to call on the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to investigate the complex for the living conditions and development well beyond its life expectancy.
"It's well beyond just the citizens of Forest Creek," May said. "It costs us hundreds of thousands of dollars every time it rains because we know, because of development, that they live in a bowl. There's no way to create any type of engineering or water flow or inlets or drainage or stormwater control that will relieve those citizens of the conditions that they're in."
May said the property owner is making too much money not to do something for the residents when it floods.
"For what those vouchers are worth, they could move downtown to Southtowne for as much as they're being paid at Forest Creek," May said.
Commissioner Robert Bender suggested billing the property owner for the cost of the rescues because they didn't take the county's offer to buy the property.
"We tried to go about it the nice way," Bender said.
Jim Little can be reached at email@example.com and 850-208-9827.
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