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Belle Glade, Pahokee strive for housing solutions while many turn blind eye to crumbling buildings

40% of population below poverty level, Commissioner Melissa McKinlay says
Posted at 6:00 AM, May 13, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-13 06:00:52-04

BELLE GLADE, Fla. — An hour west of downtown West Palm Beach, rural real estate comes into focus.

The Glades have always had a huge impact on Palm Beach County's economy.

Dense crops and sugarcane are firmly planted in the muck that wraps around Lake Okeechobee. About 60,000 people call this area home, including 26-year-old Mikeria Evans.

"I grew up in Pahokee," Evans said.

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She's been homeless for a better part of four years.

"I never thought I'd have to go through something like this, but unfortunately I'm in this situation, and I'm trying to get out of it," Evans said.

Mikeria Evans, homeless Pahokee residents
Mikeria Evans explains the struggles she has experienced to find permanent housing in western Palm Beach County.

She's living in Lake Village at the Glades, which is the only Palm Beach County-owned transitional housing in the area that offers a temporary roof over her head.

"It's very hard, everything is moving very slow right now," Evans said.

Each person in need works with the local housing authority to find a rental unit or a home. But it's not as easy in this area of the county, considering many turn a blind eye to a big problem.

"When I go and talk in Washington, and say, 'I'm from Palm Beach County,' nobody believes this [type of poverty] is here," Palm Beach County Commissioner Melissa McKinlay said. "Nobody from the coast really travels out here, so out of sight, out of mind."

McKinlay has seen the worst of blight in her district, like the "Joe Lewis apartments" near Pahokee.

Commissioner Melissa McKinlay speaks about housing crisis in the Glades
Commissioner Melissa McKinlay speaks with WPTV anchor Jay Cashmere about the housing problems that residents in western Palm Beach County are facing.

She and the county recently condemned the apartments when black mold and sewage dripping into kitchen sinks made a toxic situation unlivable.

The landlord racked up $350,000 in fines and has yet to pay, according to McKinlay. Fifteen families were displaced when the apartments were condemned.

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"The housing here is old," McKinlay said. "The families out here are living in poverty, and there's not a lot of inventory."

The commissioner said a multitude of problems makes this crisis different from the issues that residents on the coast are experiencing.

She said 40% of the population is below the poverty level, most of the housing here is old and built before 1979, plus a base of residents are seasonal who work in the fields every year.

"The problem that I have here is if we shut something down, we're limited in where we can place somebody temporarily until we can find a new living situation for them," McKinlay said.

Abandoned Glade View Elementary school in Belle Glade, sight of new affordable housing site
The property where the abandoned Glade View Elementary school sits will soon be the site of affordable housing.

However, that could be changing long term.

Across town, the location of the abandoned Glade View Elementary school will soon become affordable workforce housing.

Jonathan Brown, Palm Beach County's Director of Housing and Economic Development, said the project is an example that can save the Glades from the housing crisis.

"We estimate that there are going to be about 65 single-family homes, 10 acres. [It will be a] $29-million to $30-million project," Brown said.

Jonathan Brown, Palm Beach County's Director of Housing and Economic Development
Jonathan Brown explains the push to help alleviate the affordable housing crisis in the Glades.

Palm Beach County's School District no longer needed the land. It's about to be demolished and bidding for a developer is underway.

Multiple agencies are coming together so that in two years the site will unlock the door to homeownership, bringing real opportunity to people like single moms who currently can only fantasize about the "American Dream."

"To be able to know that I don't have to struggle, I don't have to worry about living in a shelter," Evans said. "I don't have to worry about where me and my child are going to lay our heads at for tonight. I got a place. I got the keys to go to sleep at night peacefully."


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