BOCA RATON — Generations of families have lived in Dixie Manor for 80 years.
They’ve raised children and grandchildren, seen families come and go. But now, they say history — and their homes — are in danger of being destroyed.
The Dixie Manor public housing community, home to 350 people, is facing the possibility of demolition and rebuilding from developers.
“It’s being wiped away,” said John Martin, 65, who lived in the neighborhood for 30 years. If the redevelopment goes ahead, “these people, some of whom have lived there all their lives, will be taken out and will not be allowed to move back in.”
Residents of the mostly Black neighborhood at 1350 North Dixie Highway fear that if it changes from public housing to affordable housing, they’ll be forced to relocate permanently.
Angela McDonald, 55, is a Dixie Manor resident of about four years and a Boca Raton Housing Authority member organizing neighbors to advocate for themselves. In addition to fighting back against redevelopment plans and displacement, she wants residents to communicate their needs to the property managers without fear of reprisal. Residents fear the housing authority management is ignoring the neighborhood’s rich history.
The development began as Army barracks for Black soldiers returning from World War II. The city of Boca Raton bought the property in 1952 as a place where farm workers could live. Soon after, the farm’s owner, August Butts, sold much of his farmland, which is now occupied by the Town Center Mall, Royal Oak Hills and Boca Square, according to the Palm Beach Historical Society. Other parcels were donated to Florida Atlantic University and Saint Andrews Episcopal Church.
The Housing Authority acquired Dixie Manor in 1979 with $1.4 million in Community Development Block Grant funds. Barracks style buildings existing on the site were rehabilitated into 40 rental units in 1982, using $1.3 million in federal funds, and later expanded.
Exactly what might be built at Dixie Manor now is still undetermined. John Scannell, executive director of the housing authority, said the area needs modernizing. “The Boca Raton Housing Authority is looking at various options to revitalize the Dixie Manor public housing site,” Scannell said, “to provide affordable, decent, safe and sanitary housing opportunities to low- and moderate-income families and individuals.” “Dixie Manor is an aging public housing site that is in need of significant capital investment,” he wrote in an email Thursday.
The housing authority plans to seek feedback from residents and other community members about its plans for the neighborhood, Scannell said. Atlantic Pacific Communities, a developer based in Boca Raton, has been selected to redevelop the property.
In a letter of interest to the housing authority, CEO Howard Cohen said the company is “deeply interested in working with the Boca Raton Housing Authority to provide a superior community that will benefit future residents, neighbors and visitors.” The letter goes on to say that Atlantic Pacific Communities is “sensitive to the impact of the demolition and construction process on current residents,” saying it will get input from the residents and assist with relocation, which could include vouchers for residents to live elsewhere.
Atlantic Pacific intends to “create beautiful new affordable residences that will enhance the community and improve lives,” a company spokeswoman said in an email. McDonald and other residents are not convinced. They characterize housing authority management as intimidating, condescending, unwilling to listen and, at times, racist. A native of the nearby, historically Black Pearl City, Darlene Goddard-Burch, who has since moved away but still has family in the area, described the dynamic as that of a “master-slave mentality,” at the housing authority’s last Zoom meeting on Aug. 25.
That brought an angry reaction from Scannell, the housing authority director. He said: “This is absolutely ridiculous. Every life matters here. Every resident matters. That is absolutely unacceptable that you just said that. I’m ending the meeting.” And then he did, without a vote to adjourn. Martin, the long-time Dixie Manor resident, moved out of the community to take care of his mother in Delray Beach, but he’s been raising the alarm about redevelopment efforts. “I grew up in Dixie Manor when it was the old Army barracks. For years, the city of Boca has built around Dixie Manor or Pearl City,” Martin said. “So my concern is coming about for the displacement of the people who live in Dixie Manor.”
He wants to prevent the Boca Raton Housing Authority from knocking down the neighborhood and building new apartments that he says current residents likely wouldn’t be able to afford.
McDonald and Martin want assurances that, regardless of what happens to the land, the concrete and the steel in Dixie Manor, the residents will be able to continue calling it home, if they choose to. But they fear it’s too late. “100% they’re gonna do it,” Martin said. “And it will not benefit us. I’m 100% sure.”
McDonald said: “We’re just residents of Boca, and some of us would like to stay [in this Black neighborhood]. Some of us may end up in a worse situation or worse area. We just want to be respected. We want to be asked what we want, and we want to be part of the decision-making process.”