Hillsborough County takes action to improve water quality in neglected community after push from advocates

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Dr. Sarah Combs of University Area CDC via Zoom

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A low-income community next to the University of South Florida has long suffered from a lack of clean water.

Dr. Sarah Combs is an advocate for the Hillsborough community of University and the CEO of University Area Development Corporation. When Combs overheard neighborhood mothers complaining about not being able to bathe their own children at home, she was concerned.

“They brought me to their house and showed me the water. When they turned on the faucet it was brown, and they said their kids were getting UTIs, ringworm, so they couldn’t bathe their children.”

Dr. Combs investigated, and what she found was troubling.

“It wasn’t just that specific apartment complex. It was a number of different apartments in the community and homes in the community that didn’t have access to clean drinking water, as well as sewer.”

Many homes were built without connections to water and sewer, or never connected when services became available. They rely on private wells and septic tanks, sometimes with poor water quality.

Hillsborough County has created a new program to improve water quality for residents by converting them to city water. It’s free for residential property owners.

However, a majority of University residents are renters.

For multifamily properties, the program will cover construction and related connection costs, but not City of Tampa’s application fee or impact fees. The impact fees are over a thousand dollars per equivalent residential unit (ERU).

“Being in a community that is majority renter, you wonder, is these new connection programs, are they going to be passed down to the resident? And so that’s kind of a hard line we have to walk in educating the owners”

Dr. Combs says they have been speaking with landlords about this issue of passing the costs down to their mostly low-income residents. She hopes that they will understand the benefits of the program. With Tampa’s rising rents, she wants to make sure people are not priced out and can benefit from the program.

“Majority of our community is people of color so we really want to make sure that residents in our community get the availability and opportunity to have what other community residents have.”

University Area residents interested in the program can email [email protected]

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