The infamous 8-foot iron fence that for two decades has separated Dunbar Village from the rest of the city is slowly coming down.
In about six months, nine modern townhouses will line Tamarind Avenue in the public housing community, which drew national attention in 2007 as the site where a mother and her 12-year-old son were gang-raped.
Housing authority officials are optimistic that the 73-year-old community is finally entering the 21st century. City commissioners and residents inside the fence are more cautious, hoping change has come to Dunbar Village but waiting for proof.
Later this year, the West Palm Beach Housing Authority will hold a lottery for Dunbar residents to move into the new townhouses, which cost about $1 million to build. The townhouses, which will have either one, two or three bedrooms, represent the first stage of rebuilding Dunbar completely.
Wilnide Wroy, a Dunbar resident since 2006, isn’t excited about the lottery. She believes residents should be able to move there based on seniority and not a random drawing.
“In reality there are 137 units right now,” Wroy said. “You think a lottery is going to work? Let’s get real about this. Some people are going to be left behind and some people are going to be hurt.”
Wroy, who lived in Dunbar Village during the 2007 rape investigation and who regularly attends meetings there, said “everything they say sounds good on paper.” But she and others in the neighborhood aren’t holding their breath for major changes, she added.
Laurel Robinson, director of the West Palm Beach Housing Authority, said the plan remains in place to clean up Dunbar Village.
On Monday the city commission agree to rezone 4.2 acres there to allow 99 multifamily residences oriented to seniors, along with an adult day-care center that will be open to others in the community, not just to Dunbar residents.
“The senior housing is going to look very nice,” Mayor Jeri Muoio said. “I love the idea of a senior day center over there. We get so many requests from that area for places for seniors to go during the day.”
Robinson said she hopes that project comes out of the ground this year and is completed by the end of 2014. But it’s a $14 million project and Robinson said the housing authority is still awaiting some funding, which includes tax-exempt bonds and tax credits.
“We are still plugging along and getting all the funding in place,” she said.
Once the senior project is done, Robinson hopes to tear down the entire Dunbar fence and connect Adams Street from Division Avenue to Tamarind Avenue. That would complete her goal of incorporating Dunbar back into the community — a project that is planned but needs major funding that is not currently available.
The Dunbar fence was built in 1993, after police and residents complained that drug dealers on Tamarind would flee officers and duck into the apartments of Dunbar residents, who have said it makes them feel as though they live in a concentration camp.
While the housing authority is independent of the city, aside from the mayor selecting the board members, the city would have to approve an extension of Adams Street through Dunbar.
“It would be good for the community to have an integrated street pattern here,” Robinson said.
Mayor Jeri Muoio says there are “pros and cons about opening (Dunbar) up” to the community, but that her first impression is that it would be in everyone’s best interest to connect the street.
“We want it to be part of the neighborhood,” Muoio said. “Right now it’s a walled-off community. We want the street to go through. We want houses facing the street and they all face in now. Some people think that’s good and some people don’t.”
Commissioner Ike Robinson — no relation to Laurel — said extending Adams Street through Dunbar “may be a priority, but it’s not my priority right now.”
He said he’s more concerned about revitalizing Coleman Park, Pleasant City and the historic Northwest, three of the city’s historic black neighborhoods.
“I don’t know what (the housing authority) is doing — they don’t tell us,” Ike Robinson said. “We only see them at requests for money.”
Keith James, who joined the commission in 2011, said relationships between the city and housing authority appear to be improving, which would benefit Dunbar.
“If this is the first step, in not only taking down the fence literally but in a figurative sense of taking down the fence between the city and housing authority, that’s certainly a good thing,” James said. “I think we have more in common than we have differences.”
- Opened in 1940 and located in West Palm Beach’s Coleman Park neighborhood. It originally consisted of 246 residences. It was named after Paul Laurence Dunbar, a 19th-century American poet.
- Currently consists of 138 residences with nine new townhouses being constructed
- Made international headlines in 2007 following the gang rape of a mother and her 12-year-old son in the complex.