The Pasco County Housing Authority had a blueprint six years ago for improvements it could make to stop flooding at Dade Oaks.
An engineer who conducted a drainage study of the 35-year-old public housing complex said the agency could do a better job of cleaning drainage ditches, repair a berm on the southern boundary of the site, replace undersized pumps and possibly build another drainage pond on adjacent TECO property.
But the previous board and ousted director Karen Turner never followed through on the recommendations.
Now the housing authority is considering razing the 69-unit complex and starting from scratch, either at Dade Oaks or another location.
Executive Director Dianne Morris met privately this week with residents to discuss the future of the complex.
"We were mainly there to hear their concerns," Morris said.
The main thing she wanted residents to know was that they wouldn't lose their housing benefits regardless of what happens to Dade Oaks. And if the complex is renovated or rebuilt, they would be able to return.
"There are a lot of different opinions and fear of the unknown — what's going to happen to me," Morris said. "I'd feel the same way. I think their concerns are valid."
The housing authority is looking for a private developer to replace or renovate the dilapidated complex, which failed an inspection by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development earlier this year.
"There are lots of different avenues to fix this, and the housing authority is pursuing all of them," affordable housing attorney Christine Allamanno said. "They could renovate the existing buildings, but that is the least attractive option."
Allamanno worked with the residents to form a tenant association at Dade Oaks. With the community's future uncertain, some residents have applied for Section 8 vouchers to move out.
"Others take the long view and want to fight for Dade Oaks, so it will be there for future generations," Allamanno said. "In a community like this, there is never consensus. It's no different from any other neighborhood association."
Next week, Dade City Engineer Gordon Onderdonk will release the city's long-awaited drainage master plan, which includes several improvements to the Dade Oaks area. The 10-acre complex, which is not in the city limits, was built at the low point of a 160-acre drainage basin. Topographic maps show sharp elevation changes — as much as a 55-foot difference in about five city blocks.
"It's a bowl," Onderdonk said. "If you look at old aerial photos, you can see it used to be a lake."
Morris said that if the Southwest Florida Water Management District had reviewed the plans for Dade Oaks back in 1973, the agency never would have approved it.
It's unclear if the housing authority would even be able to get a permit to redevelop the site today.
"We don't know if we can rebuild there," Morris said. "We're looking at other sites in Dade City and Pasco County."