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Homes of hope in Bradenton

BRADENTON — Like many single mothers, Jennifer Spilker found it difficult to make it on her own after leaving the father of her children about a year ago.

“With the economy the way it is, things are tough,” Spilker said. “It’s hard to take care of yourself and your children, and sometimes you need help.”

Spilker is one of 20 single parents who recently moved into the Village Central apartments, a Bradenton Housing Authority project on 13th Avenue West at Fifth Street West.

A ribbon cutting and open house were held Wednesday to showcase the new 25-unit complex to the community.

Spilker and her daughters, Emily, 4, and Brie, 16 months, moved into the complex in March, with the hope of things getting better.

“The reduced cost of rent has really helped us save some money,” said Spilker, who is pregnant. “Hopefully, once I’m back on my feet I’ll be in a situation to be on my own.”

She just completed a medical assistant course and will take her state examination this week, which she hopes will put her in a better position to find a good job. Rent ranges from $300-600 per month, based on 30 percent of the resident’s income.

It is not only the roof over her family’s head that gives Spilker confidence in a better future, but the family self-sufficiency program that is provided. Along with reduced rent in the one- or three-bedroom apartments, participants in the program receive support services.

“We have a social worker on the property to help with transportation, food or any other problems,” said Bernadette Johnson, the on-site leasing manager.

“We also introduce them to each other so they become a community,” said Johnson, who five years ago was in the same situation as the residents now living in Village Central.

She was a single mother with two children on county assistance. She makes sure the new residents know her story.

“If you use the benefits the right way, as a hand-up, it works,” said Johnson, who was professionally dressed as she gave a tour of the model apartment. “I’m living proof of it every day.”

This is part of the new model in public housing, providing a holistic approach with social services to residents, according to Wenston DeSue, director of the Bradenton Housing Authority for the past 3 1/2 years.

“It’s our quality of life initiative,” DeSue said. “It’s about moving folks to self-sufficiency. First we put a roof over their heads,” he said, “but it doesn’t stop there.”

The housing authority works with several city, county and state agencies to provide the social services assistance the residents need, DeSue said, including workforce training and financial skills mentoring.

For resident Yaprecia Richardson, finding a sense of community with her neighbors is what makes living in Village Central attractive to her.

“It’s a comfortable place,” said Richardson, who moved into her apartment in March with her three teenage sons. “My boys made friends right away.”

The surrounding neighborhood also is safe for her family and extends her community, she said.

Built on the site of a former concrete plant, the five two-story buildings match in color and design with the other Bradenton Housing Authority projects that have been built over the past 13 years in the once depressed Singletary and Rogers Gardens neighborhoods.

With the replacement of the duplexes, prone to disastrous floodings, with the multi-colored Bradenton Village townhouses and the single-family homes scattered throughout the neighborhood, long-time residents have seen major improvements to the area.

“There’s no question this neighborhood is changing,” said Mayor Wayne Poston. “And with the school, it’s changing even more.”

The apartments are just across the street from the newly constructed G.D. Rogers Elementary School, which will open this August.

“People are feeling proud of their community again,” Poston said.

DeSue said he was proud of the work his agency has done in improving the area and the Village Central apartments specifically.

“This is my second major project, after the school, since becoming director,” he said.

DeSue said the apartment complex took less than 12 months to complete, thanks to the professional work of Manasota Construction. He also thought the community would be proud of the unique landscaping by landscape architect Beverly Burdette.

“The purple lavender attracts butterflies,” DeSue said.

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