Woman’s frustrating housing ordeal exposes Boynton’s crime issue

Lasendra Wilson has asked Boynton Beach officials to install speed bumps on Northwest 12th Avenue — but not to slow drivers or make it safer for children to cross the street.

“It’s hard to do a drive-by if you have speed bumps in the neighborhood,” Wilson told city commissioners in October.

Wilson, a married mother of three, has owned her home in the Cherry Hills neighborhood in the Heart of Boynton for 10 years. She says there’s been so much crime on her street that she won’t allow her children to play in the front yard. She’s found drugs in her mailbox and guns behind the house.

She wants out.

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But she bought the house through the Community Redevelopment Agency’s Homebuyer’s Assistance Program, which she says is stopping her from making a move.

The CRA in 2007 awarded Wilson $47,000 to buy the $157,926 home. The program agreement says Wilson must be a full-time resident in the property and cannot lease it — otherwise pay what she was granted plus 4 percent interest. If she were to sell, she’d have to pay the CRA 50 percent of the equity, according to documents.

“I feel trapped,” she told the commission. “I feel like a prisoner in my home.”

After Boynton commissioners met as the CRA boardthis past week, they decided to break the contract and let Wilson rent out her home. And if she does sell it, the board agreed the CRA wouldn’t accept more than the $47,000 it loaned to her.

“For anybody to live under these kind of conditions… it’s almost like ludicrous,” said Commissioner Mack McCray, who represents Wilson’s district. “If I lived there my nerves would be a wreck.”

But what’s next?

Wilson said she just needs time to get her family out of the neighborhood.

“My daughter knows how to get on the ground and duck when she hears firecrackers because she thinks it’s gunshots,” she said.

But Commissioner Christina Romelus said the situation presents a “conundrum” because they are allowing one family to leave this crime-ridden area, while knowing another family will be living in the same conditions.

The Heart of Boynton is a community at Seacrest and Martin Luther King Jr. boulevards and the surrounding streets where the median household income is less than $30,000. Officials have had little success for decades trying to rebuild the area. Two years ago, the neighborhood got its first commercial development in 40 years — a Family Dollar store.

Inside the Heart of Boynton is the Cherry Hills neighborhood. The Wilsons’ home is two houses away from the Cherry Hill Mini Market , at the corner of 12th and NW Fourth Street. Police have been called to the market to investigate possible crimes more than 20 times since January.

On Oct. 29, officers investigated a report of shots fired, according to police reports. In September, Adam Wood, 30, according to police, was found in his car shot to death at the corner of Northwest 12th Avenue and Northwest Fourth Street.

Commissioners agree there is more to be fixed than Wilson’s contract.

McCray has called for more of a police presence and Commissioner Christina Romelus wants the city to look into some of the properties through the city’s Chronic Nuisance Property Code .

Commissioner Joe Casello has called for a new police station to be built in the neighborhood as part of the city’s Town Square redevelopment project , but has not received support.

“We’re missing the point here,” he said after Wilson presented her concerns. “We have good people like this lady standing before us who’s not feeling safe in her own home and I’m sure there’s hundreds more like her. And this is not about a contract that the CRA holds on properties. This has been a problem down there. There is no handle on it. We’ve got a great police force who can’t seem to remedy the problems down there.”

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