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Housing redevelopment leaves disabled vet in the lurch
Willie Glenn seeking affordable place to live
Gainesville resident and disabled Vietnam veteran Willie Glenn is losing his apartment because the complex is being renovated for higher-income residents. Unless he can secure residence somewhere, he will have nowhere to go at the end of the month.

Willie Glenn rolls up to the curb in his electric wheelchair, glad to escape the “war zone” of construction that has enveloped his home in recent weeks.

“Getting in and out ... it’s not easy,” he said.

The renovations to this apartment complex at the corner of Forrest Avenue and Bradford Street in Gainesville are designed to attract higher-income tenants. 

And so all the former residents have cleared out, their apartments now gutted. Dumpsters in the parking lot are full and workers are swinging their hammers with an echoing finish. 

“It’s lonesome over here ... since the neighbors moved out,” Glenn said.

Lazy afternoons once spent hanging outside with friends are now spent in a basement apartment curled up with the television. 

“Now, I’m completely separated from that,” Glenn said. “It’s like being in a jail.”

A 63-year-old disabled Navy veteran, Glenn was given an extra 30 days to find a new home. But that deadline is near and his prospects remain slim.

Glenn has called Gainesville home his entire life, save for a few years spent in the military during the Vietnam era, and did sheetrock and electrical work before health problems forced him into retirement.

He had his left leg amputated about seven years ago following medical complications from heart disease.

But Glenn’s attitude never seems to wax or wane. His perseverance is constant and cannot be tamed. His penchant for friendly conversation remains, but is not to be exploited.

For a time, Glenn received a pension check from Veterans Affairs, close to $1,000 a month, but that was cut once he started receiving Social Security.

“That was a major part of my ability to pay my bills and rent and everything,” Glenn said, adding that he now lives on just $595 a month. “It’s hard.”

The financial cost of moving, coupled with a lack of housing options, has pinned Glenn in. 

The complex he resides in is privately owned, but Glenn is thankful for the break he was given on rent, paying just $395 a month.

Still, he’s hard-pressed to find a home at that same price elsewhere in the city.

“For one, my whole check wasn’t enough to pay a lot of places ...” he said. “Of course, I’ve got to find the cheapest way out.”

The demand for affordable housing far exceeds supply in Gainesville, where about 28 percent of residents live below the poverty level, compared with a statewide average of just 17.4 percent.

“In Gainesville, the population has increased so much in the last 10, 15 years that, as far as affordable housing for handicapped and disabled, it’s limited,” he said.

The city already has a cap on the number of public housing units allowed, set at 500.

And Frank Norton Jr., a local real estate mogul and CEO/chairman of The Norton Agency, has conducted a survey for the Gainesville Housing Authority that reveals just how much need for subsidized housing exists in a city with many low-income and working-class families.

A roof over one’s head is “the foundation of pretty much everything,” Glenn said, adding that he’s only been able to get on the waiting list for government-subsidized units.

Glenn said he’s getting along with the help of relatives, a “loving church family” and the support of local programs like Meals on Wheels.

“I can’t say enough about them,” he said.

But with storm clouds shadowing a fading blue sky on a recent summer morning, like a mirror held up to his own life, Glenn stared down his uncertain future.

“Nothing’s for sure,” he said.

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