TAMPA — After falling asleep with water heating on the stove, James Gaines awoke to a burning smell and an apartment full of smoke.
The smoke detector on his living room ceiling hadn't made a peep. The window he tried to open to get some air wouldn't budge.
He reported the problems to the Tampa Park Apartments maintenance office. But it wasn't until he summoned the local fire department that maintenance workers finally replaced his smoke detector, he said.
Inspectors in June found dozens of other problems at the housing complex, including blocked emergency and fire exits, damaged roofs and peeling paint. It's the third straight year the complex between Nuccio Parkway and Scott Street earned a failing inspection score.
Now the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has put the owners of the housing complex on notice that they could lose their Section 8 rent subsidies if they don't address the health and safety issues. A default notice sent to the owners gives them 60 days to make repairs.
That threat could reignite speculation about the future of the 23-acre property. Nestled between Ybor City and downtown Tampa, it has long been touted as a possible site for a new Tampa Bay Rays ballpark, especially by Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn.
Still, the concern for residents remains the conditions of their homes. Despite keeping his one-bedroom place spotless, Gaines said he fights a daily war to keep roaches at bay. He has been forced to remove the doors of some of his kitchen cabinets to try to deter the bugs from getting into his food.
Bug sprayers have visited his apartment only three times in the 21/2 years he has lived there, he said.
"It's literally been a nightmare," he said. "They're everywhere, every day."
Tampa Park Apartments is owned by a nonprofit group that is led by Florida Sentinel Bulletin newspaper publisher S. Kay Andrews, who did not return a call seeking comment. Other officers of the nonprofit corporation include leaders of Local No. 1402 of the International Longshoremen's Union.
Property manager Yolanda Anthony said her office has appealed the most recent inspection score and expects an improved rating. Inspectors will cite a roach infestation if they see just one bug, she said.
"I'm not worried about us failing," she said. "Most of the problems they pointed out were on the outside of apartments."
The administration office includes a maintenance crew of 10 workers, two of whom are supervisors. Reports about needed repairs from residents are dealt with quickly, she said.
The complex is completely occupied because it is well-kept, she said.
The June inspection gave Tampa Park Apartments a score of 50 out of 100 based on the number of health risks discovered. That was down from 59 the previous year and 54 in 2015. A score of less than 80 means a complex will be subject to annual inspections.
Inspectors, who viewed only a small sample of the complex's 370 units, flagged 30 health and safety issues. Many of the faults such as broken or cracked windows, damaged stoves and refrigerators, and exposed wiring were repeats from earlier inspections, the default notice states.
"If all buildings and units were inspected, it is projected that a total of 193 health and safety deficiencies would apply to the property," officials wrote.
The complex, the first phase of which was built in 1968, is home to about 1,200 residents. It was initially built as housing for longshoremen who worked at the nearby Port of Tampa, now called Port Tampa Bay.
Unlike some of Tampa's other aging public housing projects, Tampa Park Apartments has air conditioning. HUD subsidizes the rent for about 55 percent of the units.
Alvin Williams, who works as a longshoreman, showed a Tampa Bay Times reporter the cracks in the caulking between the bathtub and tiles. The tiling around the bath stops short of a hole where water can intrude into the wall.
Repairs do get made, but they are sometimes shoddy, he said.
"If I was a tile man and you came here and did that, you wouldn't be paid," he said.
Contact Christopher O'Donnell at [email protected] or (813) 226-3446. Follow @codonnell_Times.