Delray Housing Authority finds new home after storm destroyed old one

Delray Beach Housing Authority’s new office space on Northwest Fifth Avenue in downtown Delray Beach. (Contributed)

DELRAY BEACH — After Hurricane Wilma destroyed the Delray Beach Housing Authority’s offices more than a decade ago, the organization exhausted its resources putting roofs over the heads of families in need, and long ignored its own roof.

The housing authority, which provides homes to low- and moderate-income through government assistance, bounced between various rental properties after the 2005 storm.

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“I sometimes used that irony in talking to the people we help,” said Dorothy Ellington, president of the housing authority. “I tell them, ‘We know what it’s like to be homeless too.’ ”

(Staff photo by Chris Matula/The Palm Beach Post)
DELRAY BEACH – Carver Estates resident Jerry Franklin (cq) stands in his bedroom after the ceiling in his apartment collapsed during Hurricane Wilma in Delray Beach Friday, Oct. 28, 2005. Almost every bit of his apartment’s ceiling and its insulation are on the floor and furniture, causing Franklin to sleep in his car in the complex’s parking lot at night. Although the buildings have already been condemned and the residents will be moved, the damage suffered through the last storm rubbed salt into the wounds of many living there.

But the department is homeless no more.

The housing authority opened a 4,800-square-foot office on Northwest Fifth Avenue in downtown Delray Beach’s West Settlers Historic District this month.

It is permanent and, more importantly, Ellington said, closer to the families it serves in lower income areas west of Swinton Avenue.

The housing authority was in the midst of planning a much-needed redevelopment of a public housing complex called Carver Estates in the mid-2000s when Hurricane Wilma hit Palm Beach County, destroying the offices, condemning the homes and displacing some 200 families.

“Our main focus was to make sure that the families we served had homes,” Ellington said. Wilma, a Category 2 storm, collapsed the roofs of many Carver Estates homes, forcing the housing authority to pour their money into moving families and, eventually, replacing the homes with new ones.

Carver Estates became Village Square apartments, on Auburn Avenue north of Southwest 10th Street, with 144 public housing units, and it’s still growing with plans to build housing for the elderly.

Finding land and building a space for the housing authority itself fell by the wayside for more than a decade.

Without a home and a focus on finding homes for others, the authority turned to renting office space. It was costly and inconvenient – neither of the two rental properties had a front office, leaving visitors lined in chairs in the hallway outside the door.

The new office, with white walls and wide windows, includes a lobby, boardroom and break room for employees. The atmosphere puts families at ease, Ellington said.

“Just because families are low-income, does not mean they should be treated like they are low-income,” she said. “They should feel good about coming to this building and they shouldn’t feel embarrassed about coming to us.”