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With Weeks Left On Lease, Gardner Family Still Not Moved To New Units At Taft Homes

direna family.jpg
Hannah Alani

Direna Gardner's lease at Taft Homes ends soon.

But as of Wednesday, Gardner, her husband and their five elementary school-aged children do not know whether they have a home.

Following weeks of protests, the Peoria Housing Authority leaders promised Direna Gardner they would fix issues inside the units where the Gardner family is expected to live during the redevelopment of Taft Homes.

The Authority gave Gardner a paper stating her move date would be 9 a.m. Tuesday.

But by Wednesday afternoon, no one had communicated with her. A WCBU reporter was told that was only a tentative date.

Gardner said a staffer from PHA had tried contacting her since Tuesday morning, but Gardner has missed her calls because the staffer called while Gardner is at work.

In an email Wednesday, the Housing Authority's deputy director Melissa Huffstedtler told WCBU that repair work was still taking place in units 63 and 64.

"The PHA has been working to complete the additional repairs to the unit in question," she said. "While tentative dates may be provided, no moves will be scheduled until the work is complete."

Between working her job at Casey's and making sure her five children get to school every day, Gardner said ongoing communication issues with PHA has been a huge stressor on her life.

"It's just a headache," she said. "It's like they're not even taking it seriously."

Family Of 7 Fights For Better Living Conditions At Taft Homes: 'You Can't Treat A Dog Like This'

Construction at Taft Homes must be done in phases as the 1950s-era low-income housing complex is demolished and rebuilt.

Taft residents must be relocated during construction.

While most residents were moved to the front end of the complex, the Gardners were asked to live in two combined units, 63 and 64, at the back end of the complex.

Gardner was initially told to move Aug. 23, but refused after finding maggots inside a toilet, water damage, uncapped outlets and other issues at 63 and 64.

After sharing her story with WCBU, community members rallied to support Gardner. The Housing Authority agreed to perform a mold test in units 63 and 64, repair water damage and rip out damaged cabinets.

Peoria Housing Authority Board Responds To Taft Homes Concerns During Board Meeting

Following the WCBU news report and a protest outside Taft Homes, Cannon acknowledged substandard conditions at Taft.

In a Peoria Journal-Star op-ed, board chairman Carl Cannon wrote the Housing Authority would take the following steps:

  • Immediately inspect all units that will house tenants during reconstruction
  • Create a sub-committee of the board focused on addressing Taft tenant concerns as they arise
  • Train all PHA board members and staff in customer service

The Housing Authority is working with Wisconsin-based Bear Development on the $43 redevelopment project. Pending final financial closing, work is expected to begin this fall.
Gardner's public housing lease ends Sept. 30.

As a part of the Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD) program, Taft tenants must sign new leases starting Oct. 1.

Gardner said she is nervous the new units won't be ready — or still won't be adequate — by Oct. 1.

Gardner is in the process of formally re-starting the Taft Homes Resident Council, which dissolved in 2014. She asked interested residents to message her on Facebook or call or text her at 309-222-7329.

Gardner hopes to connect with other Housing Authority tenants by inviting them to join her Facebook group, Victims of PHA.

Are you a resident of Taft Homes? Share your story with WCBU.

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Hannah Alani is a reporter at WCBU. She joined the newsroom in 2021. She can be reached at hmalani@ilstu.edu.