Just as the City of Plant City continues to grow and change, the Plant City Housing Authority has made it its mission to modernize despite the growing obstacles headed its way.
The clock is ticking on housing authorities across the country. Ever vigilant, Plant City is stepping up to the plate and making changes that will put them in a position to one day withstand the storm brewing on the horizon.
The issue is simple: The government is continuing to cut funds for the program. Whether it’s reduced funding to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) or a decrease in grants, money is beginning to reduce.
“The well is drying up,” Pat Dexter, executive director of the Plant City Housing Authority, said. “They want us to run this like a business. When the time comes, Plant City will be ready.”
The first step toward becoming self-sufficient is to make sure the local housing authority is using its funding in the most effective method, Dexter said. The key is to “run a tight ship” and pinpoint which changes can be afforded now that can make the biggest difference in the long run. That innovative mindset has already led to several changes made around the properties. New mailbox units were recently installed at all three complexes and laundry rooms are currently being built to update the units.
Each year, they receive capital funds designed solely for capital expenditures. It took three years of capital fund money to build 35 laundry rooms. The total construction cost was more than $1.3 million.
“We try to encourage everyone to keep a good perspective in case the funds dry up,” Dexter said. “Each year, the budget gets tighter and tighter for these programs, but we’re doing everything we can to ensure we will be able to continue to make a difference in these people’s lives. We’re preparing for the future.”
Dexter said as long as she is director she plans to spend the money on what she feels the Plant City community needs to not only remain a high-quality institution, but to also prepare for an inevitably harsher tomorrow. She joked her “to-do” list is a mile long, but next on the agenda is to bring exhaust fans into the bathrooms and then get new counters for the units.
Omayra Vanderpool, public housing manager, said one reason the Plant City residents have such a good relationship with the local staff is because their team, including she and Dexter, have been in their shoes before. Both have lived in public housing and both know firsthand the importance of ensuring their residents live in a safe, high-quality environment. Their entire team is highly trained to weave in and out of the world of the housing authority so they can make sure they’re getting the best for those under their care.
“We are a spirit of excellence here,” Vanderpool said. “We look good, we treat each other with respect and dignity and we require our residents to do the same. We know everybody by name here. We take our job very seriously and we plan to continue to pour everything we have into this job so that we are where we need to be no matter what hurdles are thrown at us.”
The name of the game in Plant City is modernization. Dexter said she has people tell her nearly every week that they didn’t realize the brick homes she manages were public housing because of their quality.
Paul Buchman was the first executive director of the Plant City housing authority back when the homes were originally built. Dexter said roots run deep here in Plant City and one of Buchman’s sons recently retired from being their lawyer after he took over from his father in the 1980s.
That kind of dedication from the community has helped the housing authority carve a new path in town. The approximately 200 units are always full and there’s a massive waiting list of residents who wish to get in.
Dexter said the ever-evolving nature of the program in Plant City echoes the change she sees all over the town. Plant City is growing and as it grows it pushes the envelope to achieve monumental change. It’s becoming a landmark in its own right and Dexter said she’s proud to say her tiny sliver of the community is a mirror of that progress.
Dexter’s dream, she said, is to build a senior development community on a piece of land the City of Plant City gifted them. It’s something she hopes they’ll be able to use mixed finances to acquire before she one day retires.
“We are fortunate to have so many dedicated partners throughout the city,” Dexter said. “They see what we’re doing here and they support us. There’s a lot going on despite the obstacles we face. I’m looking forward to seeing where we will be in five years or so.”