West Tampa residents want a say in future urban redevelopment, including North Boulevard Homes

03/19/12 Liz McKibbon
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Tampa is considering redevelopment along its inner-city riverfront. It could include getting rid of some low-income housing and replacing it with mixed-use development. At a rally in one of those West Tampa neighborhoods on Saturday, some people were in favor of progress, but they don’t want to be cut out of Tampa’s future urban landscape.

In a parking lot across from the Occupy Tampa encampment on Main Street in West Tampa, fifty community activists and area residents gathered in the blazing afternoon sun to consider the future of their community. A recent Urban Land Institute study suggested demolition and redevelopment of North Boulevard Homes, part of Tampa Housing Authority public housing. Sean Samuels helped plan the event.

“And basically when they tear those apartments out and put in condos, office buildings, whatever, the property taxes will go up in such a way for the homeowners in this area, that if they can’t afford to pay them, they’ll be basically forced out. Either they’re going to get bought out for pennies on the dollar or the state will come take it through eminent domain. And we’re basically here to inform the residents and let them be aware of what’s going on. And we’re not against progress and we’re not against change. But we think the residents of this neighborhood should have a voice and a say in what goes on in their neighborhood.”

Public opinion of the revitalization was mixed. Some are concerned that the existing residents will be pushed out, years of cultural history expunged along with the people. Mary-Alice Dorsett is a homeowner in the neighborhood.

”Oh, I’ve lived in West Tampa since 1973.”

She says she feels resentful about the situation. She feels that poor people are being pushed further and further away from downtown areas, and don’t have a better quality of life because of it. She’s dealt being forced out of her neighborhood first hand, when she was a young homeowner and mother.

”They’re supposed to use it for a public something. They aren’t supposed to give it to somebody else. But its not true. They don’t do that. Because they took some property from me over in Ybor city. Eminent domain. And uh, that’s where you see that 711 store is, that’s part of the property. I wouldn’t sell so they take it. They set me outdoors.”

When the Urban Land Institute presented its recommendations to the City of Tampa in February, the group raised concerns about the perception that West Tampa is an unsafe neighborhood.

Tatiana Denson is a candidate for the Florida House of Representatives and was one of the handful of speakers to speak at the rally. The single mother of two used to live in North Boulevard Homes. The Tampa Housing Authority gave her an opportunity to work as supervisor.

“From me working at the Section 8 program, I then was on Section 8 and as a resident of Section 8, I then purchased my first home at 28 years old.”

Denson’s story is one of success, due in part to the help of public services. Although she sees the public housing development as part of her history, she believes the people in the community are a more important element than the structure.

“I want to say to you that regardless if they make a decision to no longer have North Boulevard Homes, we need to understand our right to vote. We need to understand our right to have a say in what’s going on with our communities.”

Activists sold tee-shirts depicting two hands, about to meet in a handshake with the words “Hands Off West Tampa.” Vincent Cambell is a young activist with Occupy Tampa wearing one of these shirts. He was encouraged to come from Fort Lauderdale because of his work with community and environmental activism.

“They will understand that they can’t just have these secret behind closed door meetings and think that people don’t know about it. Don’t think these people aren’t educated. That these people don’t have access or know how to access information. Understand that they know.”

The recommendations from the Urban Land Institute study of the Tampa riverfront are available on the city’s website. No concrete plans for redeveloping the area are underway.

Here are the final Urban Land Institute recommendations presented to the City of Tampa

Related WMMNF coverage: Reverend Charles McKenzie says residents of North Boulevard Homes must have a say in what happens to their homes on Last Call Friday

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