By: Benjamin Stevenson, Executive Director at the Housing Authority of the City of Lakeland
Since being designated as a Financially At Risk Public Housing Authority, we at Lakeland Housing Authority (LHA) are turning things around and pushing towards our mission to provide quality, affordable housing and self-sufficiency opportunities in Lakeland and Polk County, Florida. We not only completed a Corrective Action Plan and Recovery Plan with HUD in 2012 and 2013 respectively, but we have also received four consecutive years of High Performer designations for our Public Housing and Section 8 programs by HUD from 2014 to 2017 and were named the 2018 Housing Authority of the Year for the state of Florida.
Facing the stigma of being classified as a financially troubled agency forced us to get in front of many challenges and difficult decisions. We began shifting our focus to solutions and learning how and when to spend the few funds available to continue moving development projects forward. Not to mention, the need in our region is great; there are only three affordable housing units available for every ten families that need it.
We have been actively involved in the affordable housing industry seeking ways to create additional affordable rental opportunities for low-income families. Because of our negotiations, a vacant lot of nearly 20 years next to an LHA site was turned into a Circle K and opened in 2017. It features a hot kitchen and has provided employment opportunities, scholarships to a neighborhood school, and a local job fair. In 2018, our newest development, the Micro-Cottages at Williamstown, opened. It is an innovative community design of 48 tiny homes for the elderly with a preference given to veterans and provides health care services on site thanks to a community partner. Finally, Youth-Build Lakeland is a program we’ve facilitated for 10 consecutive years offering education and job training opportunities.
The LHA staff has worked very hard over the past few years to turn the agency around. While we celebrate these successes, we still face a severe shortage of affordable housing in our area. We continue to seek ways to create additional affordable rental opportunities for low-income people in our communities.
Among organizations who were nominated for this year’s NLIHC Organizing Awards, some were nominated for best practices and services in their community. Lakeland Housing Authority was among these. Check out previous years’ blogs from Organizing Award winners and nominees.
To learn more about the Lakeland Housing Authority’s work, please visit: https://lakelandhousing.org/
This post is part of a series featuring blogs from NLIHC Organizing Awards winners and top nominees.