This Old Housing Project

Page 6 of 11

Murphy describes the current situation in the neighborhood as "very awkward."

About forty people attend the voucher meeting at the Thomas Bean Towers. East Villager Eddy Vigil suspects that if it weren't for the free food and drink, the crowd would be even smaller. Over the blare of fans and the noise of children playing in the corner, people try to follow a presentation by John Parvensky and Joyce Alms-Ransford, both of the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless, and Teresa Duran of the Colorado Division of Housing.

Because the fliers that Barros and Sanchez passed out mentioned Section 8 vouchers, many attendees believe they will be receiving theirs tonight. They'll need the vouchers to find a new place to live. Among East Villagers, vouchers elicit three different responses. Some believe that with one they will be able to easily find a new home, regardless of the fate of the neighborhood. Others worry that even with vouchers, the chances of finding a new home range from slim to none.

Then there is Shark's reaction. She sees vouchers as a tool to clear the residents out of East Village. "Why struggle when you can take something and go somewhere else?" she says. "I'm concerned that people will take these vouchers, find some other place to be and find out that's not where they want to be. They could go out and be totally alone."

Collectively, though, the crowd is upset when they are told by the panelists that no one will be getting vouchers tonight. And things get noisy when Alms-Ransford says that the 167 families on Section 8 will get first crack at the vouchers, while the remaining 32 families paying a flat rate have to wait. She assures people that HUD has set aside enough money to provide vouchers for everyone at East Village, but there are procedural hurdles to jump through.

"We have to wait?" says one woman. "I might as well cut my throat and slash my wrists."

"I really believe everybody will be served," Alms-Ransford responds. "It's just a matter of timing."

The only good news is when Duran tells residents they will not have to undergo the usual Colorado Bureau of Investigation check to get cleared for vouchers. This is a relief to those with a criminal background, even a minor one. But that doesn't mean that private-sector landlords can't demand such a check. (East Village manager Jackson says CBI checks screen mainly for serious crime such as assaults, domestic violence, felony thefts and destruction of property, and that searches go back only three years.) After families qualify for vouchers, they have sixty days to find a new place. If they don't succeed, they can apply for a sixty-day extension. After that, time's up.

Wearing dark glasses, with a leather backpack slung over her shoulders, Shark addresses the three panelists. Other people who are asking questions either face the crowd or no one in particular, but Shark leans over the speakers' table, in their faces. She wants to know how the state Division of Housing got involved in this, anyway.

"We don't want to hear that!" someone behind her snaps.

"I'm asking a question!" Shark shouts back.

Parvensky asks people to raise their hands to show whether they want to stay at East Village or leave. Most indicate they want to leave.

"The market's not very hospitable right now," Parvensky says.

Barbara Reed asks her eleven-year-old nephew, Marcus, to fetch another heavy oxygen tank from her bedroom. Her doctors like her to have one hooked up when she's watching TV, in case she dozes off. Right now she's watching The New Detectives. When Marcus returns, he retires to a neighboring couch, the new Harry Potter book in hand.

Reed attended the voucher meeting. "It's just a big to-do over nothing," she says. "They haven't asked no one to leave. It's not a situation until we know what's going to happen."

A former morning cook at the long-ago-demolished Cosmopolitan Hotel, Reed has lived in East Village for 23 years. She likes that she's within walking distance of her health clinic. Marcus has a short walk to Ebert Elementary, where he will begin the sixth grade this fall. She can walk downtown when she wants to, but it's not something she does frequently, given her health. Her ailments range from carpal tunnel syndrome to asthma to diabetes. She lives off a disability income and pays $310 a month in rent.

Five or six years ago, Reed was a member of the East Village Resident Council, which sounds like it was larger than it is now. Back then there were elections and by-laws; buildings appointed "captains" or "co-captains" to represent them. With help from a $100 HUD grant, the council raised a few dollars and was able to find organizations to donate supplies. There was a meeting space, computer training, a food bank, a clothes bank and daycare.

KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
T.R. Witcher