Urban Removal

It's the same old story, critics say: displacing blacks to make way for whites

Cleveland headed the Pleasant City Homeowners Association until it disbanded a couple of years ago, when many of the members accepted the Housing Authority's buyouts. He was so adamantly opposed to the project that the Housing Authority excluded his land from it. Plans call for the new homes to be built surrounding Cleveland's house.

For Bennett, she consulted the seven kids she raised in her home before considering whether to sell. They agreed she had little chance of fighting the Housing Authority. Instead of cash, Bennett agreed to give up her home in exchange for a new one in Merry Place. The Housing Authority, sure the plans would be approved soon, stipulated in a contract signed with Bennett that it would have her new home built by June 2003.

Bennett was still living in her old home when Hurricane Jeanne struck last September. The storm took off every shingle left on her roof, and rain came in unstopped in her bedrooms. She slept on her couch for a few months until one of her sons found out. Because fixing the soon-to-be-bulldozed place would be a waste, the Housing Authority agreed to move Bennett into one of its properties off Belvedere Road. Her kids helped her pack up the old home and move into a tiny, two-bedroom duplex with beige siding and a door covered in bubbling paint. She filled a wall full of photos of the kids she raised. Her sectional and recliner barely fit in the tiny living room. "It's fine here," Bennett says indifferently. "I try not to be a nuisance to them, but I'm sick and tired of waiting for my house. Are they waiting for me to die? Because they have to build my house even if I'm not around, you know."

She doesn't go by her old house anymore. The windows and plumbing and anything of value has been pilfered by vandals. The floors are strewn with trash mixed in with things Bennett left behind when she moved. There's a malt liquor can, sheet music, and an old trophy lying near the living room window. "It makes me cry to see my old house," Bennett says. "I can't go by there. I can't look at what they've done to it."

Still, Bennett's hopeful that Merry Place will be better. She hopes some of her old neighbors will return, but she's doubtful. "You know, they revitalize the neighborhood, so they say it's going to be better," she said. "We'll see. I'm not holding my breath that it's going to be any better than what we had."

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