GIBSONTON — If the water is shut off in the Coquina Bayou mobile home park, most units won't be affected. They've already been condemned. But a few dilapidated homes hold residents who say they don't have many options if they're forced to move.
The first unit is blackened from a fire, empty and roped off by yellow, plastic tape. A bright orange sign reads "condemned." This week, a code enforcement officer stuck the signs on many units in the park at 8510 Gibsonton Road. They're unfit to live in, he says.
But residents still live in three of the homes. One is occupied by three men, a woman and her 3-month-old baby. They need the water, but they also need a place to live.
Helene Provenzano, who is listed as president of the business that owns the park, and her business partner, Andrea Trani, haven't paid the water bill since July. The park, owned by Martini Island Land Co., racked up more than $4,000 in charges, and county officials say they've notified them several times. Last week, the county sent a certified letter telling Provenzano the water will be turned off today if they don't pay.
Elsewhere, about two weeks ago, the water was shut off at the No Go Largo Village mobile home park, owned by Key Largo Communities. Trani is listed as president of that company. They were about $8,000 behind on their water bill.
Key Largo Communities also is nearly $6,000 behind on the water bill at Bragington Oaks, a neighboring mobile home park in Largo.
In the Gibsonton park, the residents still aren't sure what to do. Yessenia Maldonado moved to Gibsonton with her baby, husband and two other men three months ago. They paid a $650 deposit and $650 on the first of the month.
They don't know where they can move, they say. It's hard for them to find a place to live because of their immigration status, their friend Vicky Caez said. They moved from Mexico three years ago.
"They're pissed off," she said. "It's very bad management."
They tried to contact the owner when the county told them the water would probably be turned off, but the phone number they were originally given no longer works.
"She comes and picks up the rent, but she doesn't tell them anything," Caez said.
On Monday, county code enforcement director Dexter Barge visited the park with investigator William Langford. He knows the units need to be demolished, but wanted to make sure the residents are referred to social services first.
The property has accumulated more than $125,000 in fines for code enforcement violations. Fourteen units were declared unsafe to live in, but Langford says he doesn't see any worth saving.
The county would demolish them all within a few months, but budget cuts mean they can't get rid of every unit. They'll do as much as possible and put a lien against the property for the cost, in case the company ever tries to sell the land.
"It's a shame that the owners would allow the property to get to this point and still take rent from people who probably can't afford to live anywhere else," Barge said.
Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 661-2443.