Walton County mobile home defaced with derogatory graffiti; deputies seeking vandals
POINT WASHINGTON — The Walton County Sheriff's Office is asking for the public's help to determine who painted derogatory graffiti on the side of a prefabricated home being installed on a lot in the 1100 block of East Point Washington Road last weekend.
Anyone with information on the incident can anonymously contact Emerald Coast Crime Stoppers by telephone at 850-863-8477, online at www.emeraldcoastcrimestoppers.com or digitally via the P3 Mobile Tips App.
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Three sides of the house were spray-painted with graffiti messages, including a notation on the side of the house facing East Point Washington Road reading "Section 8 does not belong here."
Section 8 is a federal housing choice voucher program that helps "very-low income families, the elderly and the disabled to afford decent, safe, and sanitary housing in the private market," according to an online U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) explanation.
The vandalized home was brought to the site a couple weeks ago, according to a neighbor. As of earlier this week, with the graffiti removed, the home remained elevated on cinder blocks with electrical power running to it, but not yet ready for occupancy.
There is no indication that the home has any association with the Section 8 program. People qualifying for the program can live in a variety of housing types, from single-family homes to town houses or apartments, and are not limited to subsidized housing projects.
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In the years since the program's inception, the phrase "Section 8" has become a racial slur in some quarters. In 2016, the Washington University Journal of Law & Policy carried a scholarly article titled "Section 8 Is the New N-Word: Policing Integration in the Age of Black Mobility."
HUD has published guidance for the local public housing authorities that handle voucher programs which identifies "subjecting a person to pervasive racial epithets or defacing a person’s home with racially derogatory or threatening words or images" as just one type of illegal harassment of subsidized housing residents.
The property owner, who lives in Santa Rosa Beach several miles from the homesite, could not be reached for comment Thursday. But a resident of the home immediately adjacent to the manufactured home said Thursday it is his understanding the house will be offered for sale.
The neighbor said Thursday that he and his family were inside their home during the hours when the graffiti was painted on the house, and he didn't know anything about it until sometime later when he began receiving a string of text messages.
A photo of the vandalism featuring the "Section 8" reference was widely circulated on social media in the hours after the incident.
On the Facebook page titled "Walton County Ideas for Visioning and Quality of Life," reactions to the photo were overwhelmingly against the graffiti, with one person writing, "You know ... There are a lot of people out there with their noses in the air, looking down on others who are in self denial!!! Y'all are just one bad experience, one accident, one wrong deal, one major event, etc from being the one standing in line waiting to fill out those section 8 papers, asking for help!! ... "
After getting the text messages, the neighbor said he walked outside to see someone in the yard of the vandalized structure talking by phone with the Sheriff's Office. The neighbor added that he subsequently called the property owner to let him know what had happened.
Documentation provided to the Daily News by the Sheriff's Office indicated that the office was contacted by phone shortly before 9:30 a.m. Sunday. A deputy visited the property, and the last communication about the incident was made by the deputy shortly before 10:30 a.m.
The Sheriff's Office report identifies the incident as a case of criminal mischief, and Florida's state criminal mischief statute specifically mentions graffiti.
Under Florida law, a "person commits the offense of criminal mischief if he or she willfully and maliciously injures or damages by any means any real or personal property belonging to another, including, but not limited to, the placement of graffiti thereon or other acts of vandalism thereto."
Criminal mischief can be either a second-degree or a first-degree misdemeanor, depending on the dollar amount of the damage. Second-degree misdemeanors are punishable by a jail term of up to 60 days and a fine of up to $500. First-degree misdemeanors are punishable by a jail term of up to one year and fines of up to $1,000.
However, if the damage exceeds $1,000 or if the person charged has one or more previous convictions for criminal mischief, the charge becomes a third-degree felony. Third-degree felonies are punishable by up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $5,000.
The neighbor said Thursday that there was some concern in the neighborhood about the manufactured home, but he added quickly that the concern was not focused on any perceived low-end nature of the structure.
"I think the neighborhood was upset, not because it was a trailer, but the way it was installed," the neighbor said.
The home is installed sideways on the lot, with the master bedroom facing East Point Washington Road and the front door is along the side of the lot. Other homes along the road are oriented with their front doors toward the street.
Other than that, the neighbor said he has no issues with the house as long as it meets applicable local regulations. He added that he's willing to wait until the property owner finishes installing the home, landscaping the lot and putting in other finishing touches before judging the property.